December 13, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Prospective Juror’s Silence Properly Construed as Rehabilitation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Clemens on Monday, September 11, 2017.

Juror Rehabilitation—Voir Dire—Silence.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a prospective juror’s silence in response to rehabilitative questioning constitutes evidence sufficient to support a trial court’s conclusion that the juror has been rehabilitated. The court concluded that it does when, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the context of that silence indicates that the juror will render an impartial verdict according to the law and the evidence submitted to the jury at the trial. The court further concluded that, applying this test, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defense counsel’s challenges for cause. Accordingly, the judgment of the court of appeals was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Erroneous Denial of Challenge for Cause Does Not Require Automatic Reversal

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Newman, LLC v. Roberts on Monday, February 8, 2016.

Civil Law—Jury—Overruling Challenges to Jurors—Harmless Error— CRCP 61—Stare Decisis.

The Supreme Court held that allowing a civil litigant fewer peremptory challenges than authorized, or than available to and exercised by the opposing party, does not by itself require automatic reversal. Instead, the reviewing court must determine whether the error substantially influenced the outcome of the case in accordance with C.R.C.P. 61. This conclusion follows from People v. Novotny, 2014 CO 18, in which the Court determined that the automatic reversal rule in the criminal context rested on the assumption that impairment of the ability to shape the jury through peremptory challenges affected a “substantial right” and thus warranted automatic reversal. This same assumption undergirds the Court’s parallel rule in the civil context, but, as it held in Novotny, subsequent developments in the law concerning harmless error analysis and the significance of the right to shape the jury have invalidated that assumption. As such, the Court rejected the automatic reversal rule in the civil context and overruled prior decisions to the contrary. See Blades v. DaFoe, 704 P.2d 317 (Colo. 1985); Safeway Stores, Inc. v. Langdon, 532 P.2d 337 (Colo. 1975); and Denver City Tramway Co. v. Kennedy, 117 P. 167 (Colo. 1911).

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Single Entry Can Only Support One Count of Burglary

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Carter on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Burglary—Challenge for Cause—Cross-Examination—Relevance—Jury Instructions—Complicity Liability—Voir Dire—Reasonable Doubt—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

After Fuller, a former grade-school classmate of R.W., knocked on the door, asking to use R.W.’s phone, two or three men rushed inside, pushing past R.W. One of the perpetrators was armed with a rifle. While the perpetrators searched the house, several people called 911, and the police arrived moments later. Fuller and Golston fled, but were apprehended nearby. Defendant’s wife, a friend who was residing in the basement, and at least three minor children had been in the house and witnessed the incident.

Defendant was taken into custody several days later after his parole officer noted that his ankle monitor placed him within 150 to 200 feet of the residence on the night of the incident. He was convicted of four counts of first-degree burglary—assault/menace; one count of first-degree burglary—deadly weapon; and three counts of misdemeanor child abuse.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred when it denied his challenge for cause to a prospective juror who was a criminal investigator for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). However, the CPUC does not qualify as a public law enforcement agency under the applicable statute. Therefore, it was not error for the trial court to deny the challenge for cause.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by restricting him from eliciting, on cross-examination, information about two alleged incidents that he claims would have been relevant as to R.W.’s motive to testify and credibility. Specifically, defendant sought to cross-examine R.W. and Detective Meier, an investigating detective on the case, to support a defense that what happened at R.W.’s house on the eve of the incident was not a robbery but a botched drug deal. This evidence, however, was too speculative to support the relevance of these inquiries; therefore, they were properly excluded.

Defendant argued that the trial court erred when it gave a second instruction on complicity liability. Standing alone, the second instruction could be confusing, but it didn’t conflict with or contradict the first instruction. When read as a whole, the instructions accurately informed the jury of the applicable law.

Defendant contended that the trial court erred, during voir dire instructions to the jury, by analogizing the beyond a reasonable doubt standard to an incomplete jigsaw puzzle, and by allowing the prosecutor to make similar comments, consequently lowering the prosecution’s burden of proof. The trial court verbally instructed the jury twice on the definition of reasonable doubt, as stated in the model jury instructions and applicable case law, and provided final written instructions. Absent evidence to suggest otherwise, it is presumed that the jury followed these instructions.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecutor to make statements characterizing defense counsel as attempting to distract the jury with “magic trick[s]” and “red herrings.” Although the reference to defense counsel in the prosecution’s closing argument was arguably inappropriate, as a whole, the prosecutor’s statements were fair comments on the evidence. Therefore, they were not improper. Conversely, the prosecutor’s comments during voir dire did not appear to be tied to the evidence and were improper. However, these statements were not the focus of the overall voir dire and argument. Therefore, any error was harmless.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred in entering convictions on each of the five counts of first-degree burglary. Defendant’s burglary convictions were based on the same unlawful entry of the victims’ home. Because a single entry can support only one conviction of first-degree burglary, even if multiple assaults occur, defendant’s five first-degree burglary convictions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause.

The case was remanded to the trial court with directions to vacate defendant’s conviction and sentence for four counts of first-degree burglary—assault/menace and correct the mittimus accordingly. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Parental Consent Not Required for Victim to Consent to Recorded Phone Conversation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Richardson on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

Motion to Suppress Statements—Challenge for Cause.

Until the victim, C.S., was almost 12 years old, he lived with his great-grandmother. Defendant, the great-grandmother’s brother, often visited the home. When the victim was 11 years old, defendant inappropriately touched the victim and then progressed to performing oral sex on the victim.

Defendant was arrested and, after waiving his Miranda rights, substantially admitted the victim’s allegations regarding sexual contact. He subsequently was charged with and found guilty of sexual assault on a child, sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, and sexual assault on a child as part of a pattern of abuse.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the statements he made during his phone conversation with the victim, which were recorded by the police. Contrary to defendant’s argument, however, parental presence was not required for the victim’s consent to record the conversation with defendant to be valid.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred when it denied his motion to suppress the statements he made during a custodial interrogation. The record supports the trial court’s finding that defendant did not unequivocally invoke his right to silence. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erred in denying his challenge for cause to Juror M. On her juror questionnaire, Juror M indicated that a relative had been the victim of a sexual assault, and that this would affect her ability to be a fair and impartial juror. She also wrote that she believed she could not be a fair and impartial juror because the case involved “a crime against a child.” The court thereafter questioned Juror M, who affirmed that she understood that the prosecution carried the burden of proof, and that she would listen to all the evidence and base her decision on the evidence despite her background. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s causal challenge to Juror M.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Improperly Denied Challenges to Potential Jurors Based on Silence During Rehabilitation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Clemens on Thursday, December 5, 2013.

Assault—Jury—Challenge for Cause—Apparent Authority Doctrine—Warrant.

Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of second-degree assault of a female victim and third-degree assault of a male bystander. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s challenges for cause to three prospective jurors. The initial statements by the three jurors that they would hold it against defendant if he did not testify established sufficient grounds to challenge them for cause. The trial court responded to the jurors’ statements with a lengthy admonishment and then asked the entire venire whether it could apply the law as explained. The three jurors remained silent. Because a juror’s silence following a question or questions to the entire panel does not constitute sufficient rehabilitation, the trial court abused its discretion in denying defendant’s challenges for cause.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. Without obtaining a warrant, the officers immediately and forcefully entered defendant’s house, which he shared with the female victim. However, there was sufficient evidence admitted at the suppression hearing supporting the trial court’s finding that the officers reasonably believed the female victim had authority to consent to the entry. Under the apparent authority doctrine, the officers properly entered defendant’s house without a warrant. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress.

Summary and full case available here.