November 18, 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: Statute with “Other Apparatus” Category Not Unconstitutionally Vague As Applied to Gym Lockers

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

Third-Degree Burglary Statute—Vagueness Challenge—Sufficiency of the Evidence—Jury Instructions—Closing Argument.

Nerud stole money and a backpack from three lockers at a 24 Hour Fitness Center on three occasions. He was apprehended on the third theft and eventually admitted to all three thefts, but denied breaking any locks to enter the lockers. He claimed he rummaged through belongings in unlocked lockers until he found money to take. Nerud was charged with two counts of third-degree burglary related to the first two incidents and three counts of theft. The jury found him guilty on all counts.

On appeal, Nerud argued that the third-degree burglary statute, CRS § 18-4-204(1), is unconstitutionally vague on its face and as applied to him because it prohibits entering or breaking into “other apparatus or equipment.” The Court of Appeals reviewed the case law interpreting the phrase and held the statute is not vague on its face because “other apparatus and equipment” is limited to containers with the same characteristics as the other items listed in the statute (specifically, containers designed and used for the safekeeping of money or valuables). The Court found the lockers were clearly “other apparatus and equipment” because they were used to safeguard personal valuable items while members worked out in the gym and a person of ordinary intelligence would not have to guess at this meaning. Thus, the statute was not unconstitutionally vague as applied.

Nerud argued that the evidence presented was insufficient to prove the lockers were “other apparatus or equipment” that were locked. The Court found copious evidence in the record to support the findings of the jury; the testimony of the victims alone was sufficient.

Nerud argued that the jury instruction on “other apparatus or equipment” was improper. The Court disagreed, finding that the jury instruction correctly defined the phrase.

Nerud argued that the jury instruction on the inference that may be drawn from a defendant’s unexplained, exclusive possession of stolen property was error. The Court found any error harmless; Nerud conceded the theft but only contested whether the lockers he had stolen from were locked.

Nerud further argued that the prosecutor in his closing argument improperly offered personal opinions about witness credibility and drug paraphernalia found in Nerud’s backpack. The Court found no reversible error. It first noted no contemporaneous objection and therefore a plain error standard of review applied, and then reviewed the objected to statements and found no plain error. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Confrontation Clause Violation where Defendant Not Allowed to Elicit Testimony Regarding Victim’s Truthfulness

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wilson on Thursday, September 11, 2014.

Sexual Assault—Challenge for Cause—Impeachment—Veracity—Collateral Issue—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

A.M. claimed she was sexually assaulted by defendant and his friend in a parking garage. Defendant claimed the sex was consensual. A jury convicted defendant of two counts of sexual assault.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in denying one of his challenges for cause and granting two of the prosecution’s challenges for cause. All three of the challenged jurors expressed a possible bias. Because Juror R indicated that she thought she could fulfill her duties as a fair and impartial juror, the court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s challenge for cause as to this juror. The court also acted within its discretion in removing Jurors W and S based on its conclusion that it was not satisfied that they would render an impartial verdict after expressing bias.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in not allowing him to impeach A.M.’s testimony that she had truthfully answered all of a detective’s questions in an interview regarding a previous narcotic’s arrest. However, because the subject of A.M.’s narcotics arrest raised a collateral issue, the trial court acted within its discretion in precluding defendant from inquiring of A.M. whether she had been truthful to the detective on that subject. It follows that defendant’s constitutional right to confront adverse witnesses was not violated.

Defendant further argued that reversal was required because of prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument. However, the prosecutor was drawing reasonable inferences from the evidence rather than professing her personal opinion as to A.M.’s veracity. Although asking the female jurors to conduct an experiment to determine whether the evidence was credible was improper, no plain error occurred. In asking the jury to evaluate the evidence, based on the experience of its female members, the prosecutor was not asking the jury to decide the case on impermissible grounds.

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

Tenth Circuit: Prosecutor’s Closing Remarks Did Not Clearly Use Co-Conspirators’ Guilty Pleas to Support Defendant’s Guilt

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Woods on Friday, August 22, 2014.

James Woods and several co-conspirators were indicted for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The co-conspirators agreed to testify against Woods at the indictment in connection with their guilty pleas. Woods’ defense at trial was that he was not distributing meth. At trial, prosecutors introduced several phone calls between Woods and the co-conspirators allegedly talking about meth, although meth was never mentioned explicitly or in code. Defense argued they could have been talking about some other drug or something else. The co-conspirators also testified against Woods regarding the meth distribution scheme. Defense repeatedly pointed to their agreements to testify in exchange for reduced sentences. During closing argument, the prosecution argued that the co-conspirator witnesses would not have testified that they were involved in a meth distribution scheme had they not actually been distributing meth. Defense did not simultaneously object. Woods was indicted, and appealed.

On appeal, Woods argued that the prosecutor’s closing remarks impermissibly encouraged the jury to look at the co-conspirators’ guilty pleas and the fact of prosecution as substantive evidence of Woods’ guilt. Because he did not raise the issues in the district court, the Tenth Circuit conducted a plain error review and found none. The prosecutor’s remarks could be interpreted multiple ways, including to bolster the argument that the co-conspirators were truthful since their credibility had been attacked by defense counsel. Because there was no “clear and obvious” error, the Tenth Circuit upheld the indictment.

Colorado Supreme Court: Investigators’ Opinions of Witness Truthfulness Admitted to Explain Interrogation Tactics, Not as Opinion on Credibility

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Davis v. People on Monday, September 9, 2013.

Criminal Law—Admissibility of Evidence—Witness Credibility.

The Supreme Court considered whether law enforcement officials may testify about their perception of a witness’s credibility during an investigative interview. The Court held that such testimony is admissible when it is offered to provide context for the interrogation tactics and investigative decisions of law enforcement officials. Because this holding is dispositive as to all of the testimony at issue in the case, it is unnecessary for the Court to reach the question of whether an opening statement can open the door to otherwise inadmissible or irrelevant evidence.

Summary and full case available here.