November 18, 2017

Archives for October 25, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Expert Testimony that Child Did Not Seem to be Coached Proper Under Circumstances

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Heredia-Cobos on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Child—Forensic Interviewer—Expert Testimony—Credibility—Defendant’s Theory of the Case—Evidence—Prior Acts—CRE 404(b).

Defendant was convicted of sexual assault on his 9-year-old great niece, Y.P.

On appeal, defendant contended that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the forensic interviewer who had interviewed Y.P. to testify that Y.P. didn’t show any signs of having been coached. Although such testimony ordinarily is improper (because it’s tantamount to vouching for the child’s credibility), in this case the testimony was admissible to rebut defendant’s defense theory that Y.P. had made up the allegations. Because defendant opened the door to this testimony, it was not error to allow it.

Defendant also contended that the district court erred by allowing evidence of his prior acts of a sexual nature involving other relatives in violation of CRE 404(b). He argued that the prior acts were too dissimilar to his alleged assault of Y.P. to be admissible. Evidence that defendant physically assaulted two female relatives who lived with him was probative of defendant’s intent to sexually assault another female at his home and was relevant to refute his claim that Y.P. fabricated the allegation. Further, the other act evidence was especially relevant because Y.P.’s testimony was the only direct evidence of defendant’s guilt. Thus the potential for unfair prejudice did not outweigh the evidence’s probative value, and the district court did not err in admitting evidence of these acts. Additionally, evidence that defendant masturbated in front his 19-year old niece several times (although he did not physically assault her) was also relevant and no more potentially prejudicial than the evidence of the acts involving the other two relatives. But even assuming that allowing this evidence was error, any error was harmless.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Video Recording by Confidential Informant Need Not Be Suppressed per Fourth Amendment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Mendez on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Confidential Informant—Audio Recording—Video Recording—Fourth Amendment—Discovery Violation—Remedy—Evidence—Non-Testimonial—Jury Deliberations.

A confidential informant (CI) approached a police investigator with a potential target for a controlled drug buy. The investigator arranged for the CI to purchase methamphetamine from Mendez in a controlled drug buy with concealed audio and video. After the buy, the People charged Mendez with distribution of a schedule II controlled substance. Mendez moved to suppress evidence obtained during the CI’s entry into his apartment. The district court denied the motion.

On appeal, Mendez contended that his conviction must be reversed because the video recording of the controlled buy should have been suppressed as the result of an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that the use of video surveillance by a CI in this case did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Mendez invited the CI into his apartment to engage in a drug transaction. Because Mendez consented to the CI’s presence in his home, he gave up any reasonable expectation of privacy in what the CI could observe or visually record. The district court properly denied the motion to suppress the resulting video recording.

Mendez next asserted that the district court abused its discretion by failing to provide an adequate remedy for a discovery violation. He argued that the prosecution’s failure to disclose a conversation between the CI and a police investigator about the Department of Homeland Security constituted a violation of his constitutional rights and the district court’s chosen remedy deprived him of a fair trial. As a sanction for the discovery violation, the district court ordered the investigator to make himself available for an interview with defense counsel to determine the scope of his representations to the CI. The district court denied defense counsel’s request that the CI be subject to recall for cross-examination. The district court’s discovery sanction was inadequate because Mendez was given no opportunity to cross-examine the CI about whether he believed he would receive immigration support from Homeland Security for his willingness to participate in the controlled buy. That belief could have been relevant to the CI’s motive, regardless of the investigator’s memory of the conversation. And the district court’s remedy did not cure that potential prejudice. Nevertheless, the district court’s error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and did not warrant reversal given the overwhelming evidence against Mendez at trial, and the fact that Mendez was able to successfully call the CI’s credibility into doubt by the end of trial.

Finally, Mendez argued that the district court abused its discretion in failing to limit the jury’s access to the video recording and transcript during deliberations. A district court need not limit juror access to non-testimonial evidence. It was not an abuse of discretion for the court to allow the jury unfettered access to the video recording and transcript.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor’s Racially Charged Statements Necessitate Reversal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Robinson on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Racial Prejudice—Evidence.

Robinson was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, and unlawful sexual contact. During opening statement in his criminal prosecution, the prosecutor described the incidents to the jury using race-based statements. Defense counsel did not object and the trial court did not admonish the prosecutor or instruct the jury to disregard the prosecutor’s statements. The jury convicted Robinson of two counts of unlawful sexual contact and two counts of the lesser included offense of attempted sexual assault. The trial court sentenced Robinson under the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act to four years to life imprisonment.

On appeal, Robinson argued that the prosecutor’s description of “a dark penis going into a white body” during opening statement constituted prosecutorial misconduct amounting to plain error, requiring reversal of his convictions. Viewed objectively, the prosecutor’s opening statement, by its words and in the context it was presented to the jury, was an appeal to racial prejudice and improper. The statements cast serious doubt on the reliability of Robinson’s convictions.

Robinson also argued that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct when she implied that Robinson was unfaithful to his girlfriend. The nature of Robinson’s relationship with the woman with whom he lived, and whether he might have been unfaithful to her, was irrelevant.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Plea Counsel Correctly Advised Defendant of Likelihood of Deportation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Juarez on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Foreign National—Immigration—Criminal Attorney—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Deportation.

Juarez is a Mexican foreign national who has lived in Denver since he was approximately 6 years old. In 2009 he was granted lawful permanent residence status. In 2011, after cocaine was found in his possession, Juarez was charged with one felony count of possession of a controlled substance. Juarez pleaded guilty to possession of a schedule V controlled substance, a class 1 misdemeanor. During his providency hearing, Juarez’s attorney acknowledged that this misdemeanor under Colorado state law was the equivalent of a felony under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Juarez told the court that he understood that the plea could affect his immigration status. Juarez was sentenced to drug court, and after testing positive for THC, he was deported to Mexico. He filed motions for postconviction relief alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, which were denied.

On appeal, Juarez argued that his attorney performed deficiently by failing to inform him that he would be subject to “mandatory deportation” if convicted. Juarez’s attorney acted within the objective standard of reasonableness by informing Juarez that he was “very likely” to be deported by entering into the plea agreement. Therefore, Juarez’s attorney provided constitutionally effective representation.

Juarez also argued that his attorney was required to advise him that his guilty plea would result in lifetime inadmissibility to the United States, mandatory detention, and destruction of the defense of cancellation of removal. Criminal defense attorneys are not required to function as immigration lawyers, and the court of appeals found no support for these arguments. Counsel’s performance was within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 10/24/2017

On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

United States v. Smith

Brooks v. Colorado Department of Corrections

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.