October 17, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Appellate Courts May Rely on Comparative Juror Analyses in Reviewing Batson Rulings

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Beauvais on Monday, April 24, 2017.

Juries and Jury Selection—Peremptory Challenges—Batson Challenges.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a trial court must make express findings about the credibility of a party’s reasons for exercising a peremptory challenge when the other party has challenged that strike under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The court also considered when two or more jurors are similarly situated for comparison under Batson such that the dismissal of one but not the other indicates impermissible discrimination. The court held that although express credibility findings significantly aid appellate review, they are not strictly necessary if the trial court’s ultimate Batson ruling is otherwise reviewable on the record. The court also held that appellate courts may rely on comparative juror analyses in reviewing Batson rulings, but only where the record facilitates comparison of the jurors in all respects that reportedly motivated the peremptory strike. The court concluded that the record here supports the trial court’s Batson ruling and that the trial court did not clearly err in denying defendant’s Batson challenges. The court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in its entirety.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Affirmative Self-Defense Instruction Available for All General Intent Crimes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. DeGreat on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Self-Defense—Robbery—Jury Instruction—Peremptory Challenge—BatsonChallenge.

DeGreat’s criminal charges arose from an altercation with a taxi cab driver over the fare, which culminated in DeGreat stabbing and wounding the driver. DeGreat defended on a theory of self-defense. The jury found DeGreat guilty of aggravated robbery and a related crime of violence count.

On appeal, DeGreat contended that, given the unique facts presented, he was entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense as an affirmative defense to aggravated robbery. A person may use physical force to defend himself from what “he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force” by another person. Here, evidence was presented that supported an affirmative self-defense instruction, and DeGreat successfully defended against attempted murder and first-degree assault charges on that basis. Because the robbery was intertwined with the assault, the jury could have concluded that DeGreat had the right to defend himself. The refusal to give the self-defense instruction for the charge of aggravated robbery lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof and was not harmless. Therefore, DeGreat’s aggravated robbery conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

DeGreat also contended that the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenge to the prosecutor’s use of a peremptory challenge to remove Juror M, an African American, from the panel [Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)]. In light of the prosecutor’s stated basis for the strike, which was Juror M’s reaction to self-defense questioning, the trial court did not err in finding the prosecution offered a good faith, race-neutral basis for its peremptory challenge.

DeGreat contended that the trial court plainly erred in failing to sua sponte strike testimony that DeGreat had been offered a plea bargain. DeGreat’s attorney did not make a contemporaneous objection to this testimony. Because no binding precedent clearly precludes evidence regarding plea offers, the trial court could not have been expected to sua sponte strike such unsolicited testimony.

DeGreat contended that the trial court erred in admitting recorded phone calls he placed from jail in which he attempted to solicit the victim not to appear for trial. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in phone calls placed from jail. Furthermore, the wiretapping statute does not apply to inmate phone calls placed from jail. Thus, the trial court did not err in admitting the jailhouse phone calls.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Proper Remedy for Inadequate Batson Findings is Remand for Further Findings

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Rodriguez on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Batson Challenges.

The Supreme Court held that when a trial court conducts an inadequate inquiry into an equal protection challenge to the exercise of a peremptory strike, the proper remedy is to remand the case so that the trial court may conduct the three-part analysis announced in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), as it is described in this opinion. An inquiry is inadequate when the trial court’s findings are insufficient to determine whether the challenger has proved that the proponent of the peremptory strike purposefully discriminated against a prospective juror on account of the prospective juror’s race. Here, the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard and overruled defendant’s Batson challenge for failure to demonstrate a pattern of discrimination. In so doing, the court never decided whether defendant established that the prosecutor engaged in purposeful discrimination by striking two minority venire members. Accordingly, the Court ordered the case returned to the trial court with directions to conduct the three-part Batson analysis.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Court Reviewing Batson Challenge Should Only Reverse for Clear Error

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Wilson on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Batson Challenges.

In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court created a three-part analysis to uncover and prevent unconstitutional discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges. In the instant case, the court of appeals held that the prosecutor necessarily violated Batson and engaged in purposeful discrimination because the record refutes her asserted race-neutral reason for peremptorily striking a black venire member. However, a discrepancy between a strike proponent’s justification and the record of voir dire sometimes reflects a mistaken recollection rather than purposeful discrimination.

The Supreme Court held that an error in recollection does not compel a finding of purposeful discrimination in contravention of the Equal Protection Clause as interpreted in Batson. Rather, the Batson analysis requires the trial court to assess the credibility of the proponent of a peremptory strike and determine whether to believe her race-neutral explanation. Unless the opponent of the strike can prove purposeful discrimination, the trial court should deny the Batson challenge. Because the trial court in this case did not clearly err by accepting the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanation, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: District Court Required to Review All Circumstances in Determining Validity of Batson Challenge

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Vann on Friday, January 16, 2015.

Rayvell Vann paid cash for a one-way Amtrak ticket from Los Angeles to Kansas City two hours before the train departed. A confidential informant relayed the unusual circumstances of the ticket purchase to DEA Agent Small in Albuquerque, and when the train made a scheduled stop in New Mexico, Agent Small boarded the train and located Vann. After a brief conversation, Agent Small asked to search Vann’s bags and he consented. The search revealed two bottles of codeine, 25 OxyContin pills, and two jars containing approximately 100 grams of PCP. Vann was interrogated and admitted to dealing drugs, but he contended he did not know the PCP was in the box where the pills were found because he had shipped the PCP via UPS. He was charged with two counts of possession with intent to distribute PCP and codeine, and was convicted on both counts. He dismissed his attorneys at sentencing, deciding instead to proceed pro se, and was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. He appealed, raising four issues.

Vann’s first issue on appeal was that the district court committed legal error during jury selection because it improperly administered the three-part Batson test after the government moved to strike the sole African-American member of the venire. Both sides concede that the other party met its obligation as to the first and second parts of the Batson test, so the Tenth Circuit analyzed only the third part — the district court’s obligation to consider all circumstances in determining whether there was racial animosity in the juror strike. During trial, Vann objected to the prosecution’s strike of the juror, but Vann also filed a post-trial Rule 33 motion, arguing that the government’s reasons for striking the juror were pretextual. The Tenth Circuit examined the record, acknowledging the record was limited as to the district court’s reasons for accepting the prosecution’s race-neutral explanations. However, the Tenth Circuit noted that its precedent makes clear that the district court need not make a complete record as to the reasons for denying a Batson challenge, although the better practice may be to complete the record. As to Vann’s post-trial motion, the Tenth Circuit strongly discouraged the practice, finding that this put the district court into an awkward position. Vann could have instead reiterated his Batson challenge after the completion of voir dire but before the jury was empaneled, which would have allowed the court to adequately compare similarly situated jurors before the trial began.

Vann next contended the district court erred by allowing Agent Small’s expert testimony at trial. Vann does not claim error in the court’s qualification of Agent Small as an expert, contesting only the reliability of the testimony. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court properly vetted Agent Small through a Daubert hearing and at trial. The Tenth Circuit also found that, contrary to Vann’s assertions, Agent Small had considerable experience in the drug trade and had attested to numerous PCP arrests. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion.

Vann’s third claim was that the district court erred in not sua sponte addressing alleged prosecutorial misconduct during trial. After reviewing the record, the Tenth Circuit found that the prosecution’s comments were “simply lawyering,” or attempts to influence the jury’s verdicts by presenting evidence favorable to its case. Further, a limiting instruction provided by the district court and limiting remarks made by the prosecutor mitigated any error there might have been.

Vann’s final claim is that he did not knowingly waive his right to counsel at sentencing. The district court had conducted a waiver-of-counsel inquiry at the beginning of trial, and Vann elected to have representation at trial. When Vann discharged his attorney at the sentencing phase, the trial court questioned whether he was firing his attorney as a tactic to gain time, since he had fired two previous attorneys. The court allowed him to proceed pro se at the sentencing phase. Vann contends that he did not receive an adequate waiver-of-counsel inquiry prior to sentencing, but the Tenth Circuit found he was adequately informed of the risks of proceeding unrepresented due to the previous inquiry.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Insufficient Findings on Batson Challenge Warranted Reversal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Beauvais on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Jury Selection—Peremptory Challenge—Batson Challenge.

A jury found Beauvais guilty of one count of stalking under CRS § 18-3-602(1)(c) after she repeatedly called, e-mailed, and sent text messages to a man she met on the Internet. On appeal, she contended that the trial court committed reversible error in the jury selection process, and that CRS § 18-3-602)(1)(c) is unconstitutional.

Beauvais first contended that the trial court clearly erred by failing to sustain her Batson challenge to the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse potential jurors on account of their gender [Batson v. Kentucky, 476, U.S. 79 (1986)]. The record refutes several of the prosecutor’s explanations for excusing potential jurors. The prosecutor did not attempt to excuse several males on the panel that had the same characteristics for which the prosecutor claimed he excused the female jurors. However, the prosecutor also claimed that each of the potential jurors he had excused was either young, sick, or a college student. These justifications are objectively verifiable and could potentially form the basis of a legitimate peremptory challenge. However, the trial court made no findings regarding the potential jurors’ ages or health, and there is nothing in the record to show whether the trial court believed that the prosecutor sought to excuse any of them because they were college students. Because the record was insufficient to determine whether the trial court’s ruling was clearly erroneous, the matter was remanded to the trial court for additional findings.

Beauvais next contended that, on its face, CRS § 18-3-602(1)(c) (the stalking statute)is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The Colorado Supreme Court and a division of the Court of Appeals have both concluded that a prior substantially identical version of this statute was neither unconstitutionally vague nor overbroad. Therefore, Beauvais’s facial challenge was rejected.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Merely Identifying Group to Which Excluded Juror Belonged Not Enough for Batson Challenge

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Morales on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Sexual Assault—Jury Selection—BatsonChallenge—Penetration—Evidence—Double Jeopardy.

The evidence presented at trial showed that, on the night of the charged assault, the victim, 16-year-old B.R., attended a party at the apartment of an acquaintance. B.R. became intoxicated and eventually fell asleep in a bedroom. B.R. woke up with Morales, A.R.’s step-father, kissing her, touching her, and placing his penis on her. Someone turned on the lights in the room when B.R. began screaming at Morales and alleging that he had tried to rape her. A jury convicted him of multiple charges of sexual assault.

On appeal, Morales first sought a limited remand for the trial court to make a better record on the third step of his Batson challenge [Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)]. Merely identifying cognizable groups to which the excluded juror might have belonged is insufficient, without more, to establish a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination. Here, a remand was unnecessary, because the court properly determined that Morales failed to make a prima facieshowing of discrimination at step 1 of the Batson analysis.

Morales also contended that the evidence was not sufficient to prove that he committed the crime of sexual assault because there was no sexual penetration. Sexual assault in violation of CRS §18-3-402 requires the knowing infliction of either sexual intrusion or sexual penetration on a victim. Here, the prosecution presented evidence that Morales performed cunnilingus on B.R. The evidence was therefore sufficient to support Morales’s convictions for sexual assault, and the jury was properly instructed as to these definitions.

Morales further argued that one of his convictions must be vacated to comport with the prohibition against double jeopardy. Specifically, he claims that he should not stand convicted and sentenced for both the felony sexual assault and attempted felony sexual assault because the actions underlying both convictions constitute a single crime. All of the sexual conduct Morales inflicted on B.R. occurred within five minutes or less, with no break in between the different sexual acts. There was no evidence of intervening events. Because Morales’s separate convictions for felony sexual assault and attempted felony sexual assault violated double jeopardy principles, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to merge the charges into a single conviction.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Need Not Be Same Race as Excused Juror to Make Batson Challenge

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Friend on Thursday, September 25, 2014.

Child Abuse—Murder—Batson Challenge—Jurors—Challenge for Cause—Expert Testimony—Merger.

M.B., the 12-year-old daughter of defendant’s girlfriend, C.H., was declared brain dead and taken off life support after defendant physically abused her, causing her fatal injuries. A jury convicted defendant of (1) first-degree murder—victim under the age of 12, position of trust; (2) child abuse causing death; (3) child abuse causing death—pattern of conduct; (4) two counts of child abuse causing serious bodily injury; and (5) child abuse causing serious bodily injury—pattern of conduct.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in holding that he did not have standing to assert a challenge under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Defendant made a Batson challenge when the prosecutor used a peremptory challenge to excuse Juror H, an African American. The prosecutor asserted that defendant could not make a Batson challenge because he was not African American. The trial court agreed and concluded that the challenged juror and defendant had to be of the same race. A defendant does not have to be of the same race or cognizable group as that of an excused juror to make a Batson challenge. However, the prosecution provided race-neutral grounds for excusing Juror H, and defendant did not establish purposeful discrimination. Therefore, the court did not err.

Defendant contended that the trial court should have granted his challenges for cause to two prospective jurors, Juror C and Juror W, who were later removed by peremptory challenges. Because defendant failed to demonstrate that a biased juror actually sat on the jury, the court did not err.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of three expert witnesses regarding injuries consistent with non-accidental trauma, as well as Detective Thrumston’s testimony recounting M.B.’s removal from life support. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion nor err in admitting the testimony.

Defendant further argued that the court erred in failing to merge his convictions. Defendant is correct that the four child abuse counts must merge into one conviction because they are alternative ways of committing the offense of child abuse. The child abuse convictions, however, should not have merged into the first-degree murder conviction, because each offense contains an element not included in the other. The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.