April 28, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Robberies Were Sufficiently Similar for Joinder of Criminal Trials

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Butson on Thursday, April 20, 2017.

Bank RobberyJoinderSpecial ProsecutorStatements to PoliceSettlement NegotiationsCRE 408.

Butson was charged in three cases with bank robbery and conspiracy to commit bank robbery. Butson was interviewed by police, waived his Miranda rights, and provided details about the planning and commission of the robberies. He later moved to suppress his statements on the theory that he made them during the course of settlement discussions and therefore they were inadmissible at trial under CRE 408. The trial court denied the motion. Butson was also charged with witness tampering based on a letter he sent to a witness. Because the prosecutor in the bank robbery cases had handled the letter, Butson contended that he was entitled to a special prosecutor in all of his cases. The court determined that the prosecutor was not a potential witness in the witness tampering case and denied Butson’s request for a special prosecutor. The prosecution moved to join the three bank robbery cases for trial, which motion was granted, and a jury found Butson guilty of all but two counts. The witness tampering case was later dismissed.

On appeal, Butson first contended that the district court erred by joining the three bank robbery cases for trial. A trial court may try two or more criminal complaints together if the offenses could have been joined in a single complaint. Two or more offenses may be charged in the same charging document if the offenses are of the same or similar character or are based on two or more connected acts or transactions or are part of a common scheme or plan. Here, Butson and his sons committed all of the robberies during the course of a few months, all involved the same banks in relatively close proximity to each other, and all were sufficiently similar in planning and execution. Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in joining the cases for trial.

Butson next contended that where the lead prosecutor in the consolidated bank robbery cases was endorsed as a witness in the later-filed witness tampering case, the district court erred in denying his motion for a special prosecutor. Butson argued that a special prosecutor was necessary to prevent the appearance of impropriety created by the prosecutor’s potential appearance as a witness in the related witness tampering case. However, appearance of impropriety is not a basis for disqualification, and Butson failed to show any prejudice. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Butson’s motion for a special prosecutor.

Butson also contended that his statements to police during a custodial interrogation constituted settlement negotiations, or an offer to compromise a claim, and therefore the interview was inadmissible under CRE 408 to prove his guilt. Generally, Rule 408 bars the admission in a criminal proceeding of statements made in connection with the settlement of a civil claim. As Butson acknowledges, his statements to police, even if construed as an offer to compromise, were made during discussions concerning criminal charges, not a civil claim. Moreover, his statements, which he made to a government agent, would be admissible under an exception to the rule. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying his motion to suppress the statements.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Foreman’s Affidavit Allowable Under CRE 606(b) Due to Mistake in Entering Verdict

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Malpica-Cue v. Fangmeier on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

Mistake on Special Verdict Form—CRE 606(b).

Malpica-Cue sued Fangmeier for damages resulting from a car accident. After trial, the jury filled out a Special Verdict Form B that included three different damages amounts. All six jurors signed the form, and the judge read the verdict and each separate amount of damages aloud in open court. The jury foreman confirmed the verdict. Counsel for both parties declined to poll the jury.

Fangmeier filed a post-trial motion averring that while the jurors were still in the courthouse, defense counsel spoke with some of them about the amount of damages they had awarded. They said they had intended to award $2,500 for noneconomic losses, $18,373.38 for economic losses, and $0 for physical impairment or disfigurement. The total damages intended, $20,873.38, had mistakenly been added together and inserted on the line for physical impairment and disfigurement, making the total damages $41,746.76. Defense counsel told the court clerk that all six jurors agreed they had made a mistake on the verdict form and wanted to fix it. The judge denied counsel’s request to reconvene the jury that day and told him to file a motion.

Fangmeier filed a motion asking the court to vacate the jury verdict awarding $41,746.76 and enter judgment awarding $20,873.38. The motion included an affidavit from the jury foreman saying the jury had made a mistake. The district court denied the motion, stating that CRE 606(b) precluded it from considering the foreman’s affidavit.

On appeal, Fangmeier argued that the foreman’s affidavit should not have been precluded because an exception to Rule 606(b) allows jury testimony regarding “whether there was a mistake in entering the verdict onto the verdict form.” Here, all the jurors agreed that there should have been no recovery for physical impairment or disfigurement and the foreman misread the jury form, so the exception applies. While the affidavit by itself does not require the verdict to be changed, Fangmeier is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on the issue. Thus, it was error to not reconvene the jurors on the day the trial ended and in later failing to reconvene the jurors to ascertain the true verdict in response to the post-trial motion.

The order was vacated and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Challenge to Sentence Moot when Court Affirmed on Evidentiary Complaints

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Valdez on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

Murder—Robbery—DNA Evidence—Collateral Estoppel—Expungement—Constitutionality—Katie’s Law—Surveillance Camera—Evidence—Jury.

A jury convicted Valdez of first degree murder after deliberation and several other charges arising from the robbery of a jewelry store during which one of the two hooded robbers shot and killed the owner. Valdez did not testify but defended based on misidentification. Valdez was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the first degree murder count, was consecutively sentenced to 32 years on the aggravated robbery count, and received concurrent sentences on the other counts.

On appeal, Valdez argued that the match of his DNA to the DNA evidence from the crime scene was derived from a sample unconstitutionally collected when he was arrested on an unrelated charge in a traffic case. Valdez’s DNA sample was taken during his arrest for aggravated driving under restraint—habitual offender. Although Valdez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in that traffic case and was eligible to apply for DNA expungement under C.R.S. § 16-23-105 (part of Katie’s Law), he failed to either move to suppress the DNA sample before pleading guilty or seek expungement based on his misdemeanor plea. The constitutionality of Katie’s Law was not determined in the traffic case. Because Katie’s Law, as applied to Valdez, is constitutional, the trial court did not err in denying his motion to suppress.

Valdez also argued that the district court erred in admitting a surveillance camera video of the robbery in progress depicting the owner’s dying moments because it was unfairly prejudicial, and further erred by improperly giving the jurors unfettered access to replay all of the videos during deliberations. The recording of the robbery in progress showed the actual crime. Therefore, it was not unfairly prejudicial, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the surveillance video from the overhead camera. Additionally, the videos were played for the jurors only after their request, and the court clerk supervised the playback. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to limit the number of times the jury could view the videos or in refusing to impose other restrictions on the jury’s consideration of them.

Having affirmed Valdez’s convictions on all charges, including first degree murder, Valdez’s argument that it was error to impose a lesser sentence consecutively rather than concurrently is moot.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Court Procedure Met Joinder Statute’s Purpose of Preventing Successive Prosecutions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Leverton on Thursday, March 23, 2017.

Theft by Receiving—Possession—Drug Paraphernalia—Mandatory Joinder—Double Jeopardy—Prior Statements—Impeachment—Evidence.

The victim started her car and left it running while she went inside her home to retrieve some belongings. When she returned to where the car had been parked, the car was gone. She immediately reported the theft to the police. A few days later, a police officer pulled over the stolen car. Leverton and two women were passengers. Leverton told the officer that the car belonged to the victim, whom he claimed was his girlfriend. Leverton was arrested and transported to the police station. After removing Leverton from the police vehicle, the officer discovered a pipe typically used to smoke methamphetamine. Leverton was initially charged with possession of drug paraphernalia. Shortly thereafter in a separate case he was charged with theft by receiving. The cases were later joined on the prosecution’s motion, over defendant’s objection. The women passengers testified at Leverton’s trial and were questioned by the prosecutor about oral statements they allegedly had made to police following their arrests. Leverton was convicted as charged.

On appeal, Leverton argued that the trial court erred when it rejected his guilty plea on the paraphernalia charge and then permitted the prosecution to add that charge to the theft complaint because the result was that he was effectively charged with the same offense in two separate cases. He claimed that this violated Colorado’s mandatory joinder statute and the Double Jeopardy Clauses of both the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. The Court of Appeals noted that Leverton did not allege that he was reprosecuted for either offense after he was convicted or that he was sentenced or otherwise punished multiple times for those offenses. Here, the prosecution moved to join the two offenses prior to Leverton’s attempt to plead guilty to the paraphernalia charge. The court’s procedure met the purpose of the mandatory joinder statute, to prevent successive prosecutions, and Leverton raised no claim of unfair prejudice resulting from the procedure. Further, the court acted within its discretion when it rejected Leverton’s guilty plea to the petty offense. And because the court had not accepted Leverton’s guilty plea on the paraphernalia charge, double jeopardy had not attached and there was no due process violation.

Leverton next argued that the trial court erred in permitting the prosecution to examine the two women witnesses about their prior statements to the police, alleging this evidence was inadmissible and violated his confrontation rights. Both women testified that they did not remember what happened the night the stolen car was pulled over, nor did they remember any statements they made to the police. To impeach the witnesses, the prosecutor was entitled to confront them with the exact language of their prior inconsistent statements. Therefore, the court properly admitted the statements.

Leverton also argued that the prosecution did not present sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed theft or possessed drug paraphernalia. A few days after the car had been reported stolen, the police found Leverton sitting in the car’s front passenger seat. Though Leverton told the police that the car had been given to him by the victim, his statement was directly refuted by the victim’s testimony that she had never met him. This and other evidence was sufficient to support the theft by receiving conviction. There was also sufficient evidence concerning the pipe found in the police vehicle for the jury to convict Leverton of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Leverton also argued that his convictions were based on his associations with other persons. Having found that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence proving that Leverton and not some other person committed the crimes, the Court rejected this argument.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: District Court Did Not Err in Finding Assault Occurred Despite Poor Quality Evidence

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Henry on Friday, February 3, 2017. Panel rehearing was granted for the sole purpose of adding a footnote; that opinion is available here.

Tremale Henry finished a prison sentence for violating federal drug laws and was under supervised release for five years thereafter. During his five year supervised release, Mr. Henry was found by the district court to be responsible for two separate assaults with a dangerous weapon. The district court sentenced Mr. Henry to a 24-month prison term followed by six further years of supervised release. Mr. Henry argues that the district court impermissibly relied on hearsay when reaching its judgment.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Mr. Henry’s first assault charge. In finding that Mr. Henry committed this assault, the district court relied on statements from a witness, Candace Ramsey. Ms. Ramsey testified that she saw Mr. Henry lunge at his victim with a small object, but that she could not see exactly what that object was. A probation officer then testified that Ms. Ramsey told him before the hearing that she saw Mr. Henry use a knife. The district court apparently credited this hearsay. Additionally, the district court relied on a surveillance video that showed Mr. Henry make rapid movements towards the victim. Although the video quality was poor and a knife could not clearly visible, the district court found that the reaction of the victim was consistent with a violent assault with a dangerous weapon. The district court found that all of these facts taken together established that Mr. Henry committed the first assault with a dangerous weapon.

The Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not err in its finding regarding the first assault. The Tenth Circuit stated that the usual rules of evidence do not apply in revocation hearings, and that the Supreme Court has allowed hearsay into supervised release proceedings. The Tenth Circuit went on to state that Fed. R. Crim. P. 32.1(b)(2)(C) grants a defendant in a revocation hearing the opportunity to question any adverse witness. Additionally, in United States v. Jones, the Tenth Circuit held that the application of Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) requires a district court to conduct a balancing test to weigh “the defendant’s interests in confronting a witness against the government’s interest in foregoing the witness’s appearance.”

The Tenth Circuit held that neither Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) nor Jones was applicable with regard to the first instance of the assault charge because the witness was available for cross-examination. Ms. Ramsey did appear at the hearing and Mr. Henry had the chance to question her about her hearsay statement. Additionally, Mr. Henry did not provide evidence to establish that his minimal due process rights were violated.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the second assault charge, which consisted of the stabbing of the victim. The district court relied on out-of-court statements that the victim and the victim’s girlfriend made to a police detective. That detective then relayed the statements to Mr. Henry’s probation officer. Mr. Henry’s probation officer presented these statements at the revocation hearing, but neither the victim, his girlfriend, nor the detective was subject to cross-examination. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that Rule 32.1(b)(2)(C) and Jones did apply to this assault charge, and that the district court failed to conduct the balancing test Jones required.

The Tenth Circuit held that the district courts failure to apply the relevant tests was not a harmless error. The Tenth Circuit came to this conclusion because it determined that the district court considered both assault charges when it fashioned its sentence. Therefore, the error was not harmless and the Tenth Circuit remanded the case back to the district court for resentencing.

SB 17-036: Limiting Evidence Presented in District Court on Appeal from Agency Groundwater Decisions

On January 11, 2017, Sen. Ray Scott and Reps. Jon Becker & Jeni Arndt introduced SB 17-036, “Concerning the Appellate Process Governing a District Court’s Review of Final Agency Actions Concerning Groundwater.”

Under current law, the decisions or actions of the ground water commission (commission) or the state engineer regarding groundwater are appealed to a district court, and the evidence that the district court may consider is not limited to the evidence that was presented to the commission or state engineer. Therefore, unlike appeals from other state agencies’ decisions or actions under the ‘State Administrative Procedure Act’, a party appealing a decision or action of the commission or state engineer may present new evidence on appeal that was never considered by the commission or state engineer.

The bill limits the evidence that a district court may consider, when reviewing a decision or action of the commission or state engineer on appeal, to the evidence presented to the commission or state engineer.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy Committee.

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Doctrine Did Not Apply to Statements

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Archuleta on Thursday, January 26, 2017.

On December 5, 2012, Roger Louis Archuleta and his roommate in the housing facility left Archuleta’s apartment around 7 a.m., as captured by surveillance video. The roommate returned home around noon, and Archuleta returned later, remaining home the rest of the night. That night, other residents of the housing facility reported hearing loud noises. Around 4 a.m. on December 6, the surveillance video showed Archuleta dragging his roommate’s body down the hall, then back to his room. Archuleta then informed a residential aide at the housing facility that he had a body in his apartment that needed to be removed.

When the police arrived at defendant’s apartment, they found the deceased victim lying just inside the door, covered by a blanket. The police observed the victim had blood on him and appeared to have been beaten. They also found defendant seated on a mattress in the living room, apparently highly intoxicated and with a substantial amount of dried blood on his face and hands. There was blood spattered on all four walls in the apartment bedroom, which the prosecution’s expert testified was consistent with an altercation between two people.

The police took defendant to the police station; advised him of his Miranda rights under and interviewed him. They also took pictures of him, collected his clothing, and took swabs of suspected blood. Defendant ended the interview at the police station by indicating he wanted to speak to an attorney. Without obtaining a court order or defendant’s consent, police took defendant to the hospital, where three samples of his blood were drawn at one hour intervals. The court later held that the blood draw was unconstitutional; that holding was not challenged on appeal. Defendant was charged with second degree murder and first degree assault, and the jury found him guilty as charged.

Defendant appealed, arguing his convictions must be reversed because under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the trial court erred by failing to suppress statements he made in the course of his transport to and detention at the hospital for his blood draws, and also because there were errors in the jury instructions and the trial court improperly elicited and admitted testimony from the prosecution’s blood spatter analysis expert that his conclusions were independently verified. The court of appeals addressed the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine argument first.

The court found no error in the trial court’s admission of defendant’s statements to police officers while at the hospital and in transit. Defendant had made numerous rambling statements to the police while at the hospital, including several comments that seemed to relate to the victim’s death. At one point, the officer left but a recorder was left on in the room. Defendant was heard saying, “Shit. [Victim’s name]. You’re dead, you’re dead brother. I killed you.” The trial court held that the fruit of the poisonous tree was the result of the blood draw, not the statements. The court noted that it was entirely speculative whether defendant would have continued to make statements while at the police station, and the vast majority of his statements were spontaneous. The court of appeals agreed, noting that the exclusionary rule was properly applied to the blood draw results, and that the statements were not fruit of the poisonous tree. The court found that defendant failed to establish a causal connection between the illegality of the warrantless blood draws and the challenged statements.

Defendant also contended the jury instruction defining “cause” misstated the law because it instructed the jury that the victim’s preexisting physical condition was not a defense to the murder and assault charges. He argues that while a victim’s preexisting conditions generally do not impact the causation element, they are relevant to the culpable mental state. The court of appeals disagreed. The court held that because the trial court’s instruction that “it is no defense that the victim was suffering from preexisting physical ailments, illnesses, injuries, conditions or infirmities” was not a stand-alone instruction but rather was embedded into the definition of “cause,” there was no error. The court noted that it is no defense that a victim who had been in good physical condition would have survived an attack; a defendant cannot be excused from guilt and punishment because his victim was weak and could not survive the torture he administered. The court rejected defendant’s contention that the instruction misstated the law.

The defendant also asserted that the trial court plainly erred by giving an erroneous elemental instruction for first degree assault and admitting hearsay testimony from the prosecution’s blood spatter analysis expert. The court of appeals again disagreed, finding that the instruction tracked the statutory language and was therefore sufficient, and the blood spatter analyst’s testimony that someone else always reviews his work was a general statement that did not rise to the level of plain error.

The court of appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions.

Top Ten Programs and Homestudies of 2016: Litigation

The year is drawing to a close, which means that the compliance period is ending for a third of Colorado’s attorneys. Still missing some credits? Don’t worry, CBA-CLE has got you covered.

Today on Legal Connection, we are featuring the Top Ten Litigation Programs and Homestudies. Litigation encompasses several practice areas, including commercial litigation, tort/insurance, civil litigation, and more, but some things are common to all trial attorneys. CBA-CLE offers many great programs for litigators, and our litigation library contains both helpful treatises and reference guides. Find the program, homestudy, or book you need at cle.cobar.org/Books/Litigation.

And now, for the Top Ten Litigation Programs and Homestudies of 2016.

10. Expert Witness Introduction for Colorado Practitioners: Top 10 Tips
This CLE covers key basics of Colorado expert witness practice: who is an expert witness (CRE 702);  what are the requirements of being an expert (CRE 702); when may an expert witness testify (CRE 702); what are the discovery requirements applicable to expert witnesses (CRCP 26(a)(2)(B); what is the timing for required disclosure of expert witnesses (CRCP 26(a)(2)(C) and the sanctions for failing to disclose expert witnesses properly and timely (CRCP 37(c)(1))? This CLE will be based on Colorado law, but will present a comparison to federal law, and identify key federal cases under analogous Rules where Colorado law is absent. Order the Video OnDemand here and the MP3 here. Available for 1 general credit.

9. Making Your Record: The Why, When, and How of Appellate Advocacy in Trial Court
Learn how to “make your record” in state and federal court to preserve your issue on appeal in the Pre-trial, Trial, and Post Trial phases. Attorney Kendra Beckwith will cover Pleadings, Pre-Trial Motions, Discovery Disputes, Trial Objections and Motions, Jury Instructions and Verdict Forms, Post-Trial Motions, and Notice of Appeal. Order the Video OnDemand here and the MP3 here. Available for 1 general credit.

8. Deposition Practice: Nuts and Bolts
You will leave this half-day program immediately prepared to plan and implement more effective depositions. This is a skills building program that covers every aspect of the deposition process, filled with tips on questions that will draw out information, obtain admissions, support motion practice and set up successful cross examination at trial. You will also learn how to prepare your witness to be deposed, conveying information truthfully while avoiding manipulation. Your seasoned presenter and litigator has extensive knowledge and experience, and will provide you with invaluable pointers and information. Trial lawyers of all experience levels will pick up tips, ideas, and insights. This program is about the art as well as the science of discovery practice. Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 3 general credits.

7. Direct & Cross Examination and Opening & Closing: Top To-Dos
You know from many a sleepless night and anxious day that your examinations of witnesses, and your openings and closings at trial must be independently effective and collectively coordinate as part of a winning strategy. The best part is that you don’t have to change your style and personality to develop the skills to become more effective in court! This program will be full of tips, methods and suggestions about how to build immediately on your abilities as a litigator to be that much more effective and persuasive right now in your trial practice. This program will help you be a better trial lawyer now and set you on the path to be an even better lawyer as you continue to work on what you will learn in this program. Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 3 general credits.

6. New Technology for Evidence Preservation: Drones, Black Boxes, and More
Drones, computers in vehicles, and Event Data Recorders (EDRs) have evolved in popularity and sophistication. This program will focus on data to be collected and preserved following an accident, including physical data, electronic data, and photographs. In addition, there will be a review of some of the ethical issues involved including the use of investigators, data collected, and privacy issues.  Relevant Case law and the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct will be referenced. Order the Video OnDemand here and the MP3 here. Available for 2 general credits.

5. Courtroom Technology & Voir Dire
If you are a litigator, you are always looking for ways to gain the edge in the courtroom: with the judge, with the jury, and with opposing counsel. From pre-trial discovery and depositions through jury instructions and closing argument, every step is vital to winning your case. Watch this half-day homestudy on courtroom technology and voir dire that will give you the edge in your next case. Find out the latest in courtroom technology, voir dire tips, and hear the fascinating case study of the voir dire in the Oklahoma City bombing case! Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 3 general credits.

4. Preparing the Case for Trial: Motions, Mock Trials, and Motions In Limine
This program explains the benefits of mock trials, including how to prepare for a mock trial and what you will learn; motions practice and oral advocacy, including organization and presentation of arguments, how to interact with the judge, how to handle questions, and how to effectively implement oral persuasion skills; and Schreck challenges and motions in limine, including laying the foundation for admission or striking of expert testimony, the different standards for Schreck challenges and Daubert motions, and how to make effective motions in limine. Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 3 general credits.

3. E-Discovery 2016
Law and technology intersect on a continuing – and accelerating – basis.  Attorneys in all areas of practice must become familiar with new electronic devices and the media through which they and their clients communicate and conduct business.  At the same time, existing state and federal rules that govern civil and criminal proceedings and the Rules of Professional Conduct must address technologies such as social media, webpages, and shared work places.  Electronic information impacts all aspects of an attorney’s practice, whether litigation, transactional, or otherwise. For example, electronically stored information affects all employers and information governance professionals.  This program is a must-attend for any attorney practicing today and tomorrow. Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 8 general credits, including 1 ethics credit.

2. Collecting Judgments: Strategies for Success
This program presents a practical approach to maximizing your ability to collect judgments within the bounds of the law and ethics rules. Your expert faculty will guide you through the process and let you know the options that are available. They will tell you how, when, and why to select one strategy over another. In addition, you receive a primer on the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and the perspective of the court. Learn the dos and don’ts of effective and ethical collections practice. Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 6 general credits and 1 ethics credit.

1. Winning at Trial 2016: Practical Pointers
This is your annual one day trial advocacy program presented by the Colorado Chapter of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Its distinguished faculty are highly experienced litigators and strategists who will share with you practical pointers for winning your clients’ cases. Topics include Jury Selection, Creating Trial Themes and Graphics, Taking Depositions, Opening Statement, Direct Examination, Cross Examination, and Social Media. Don’t Miss This Opportunity to Learn from Those Who Know Trial Law Inside and Out! Order the Video OnDemand here, the CD homestudy here, and the MP3 here. Available for 7 general credits.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Any Relevance of Polygraph Examination Overly Prejudicial and Confusing to Jury

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of G.E.S. on Thursday, December 15, 2016.

Dependency and Neglect—Sexual Abuse—Evidence—Psychosexual Evaluation—Polygraph Examination—Child Hearsay.

Father’s 12-year-old stepdaughter, J.O-E., made allegations of father’s inappropriate sexual behavior toward her to her therapist. She made additional allegations in a recorded forensic interview. Shortly thereafter, J.O-E. recanted her story. In the meantime, the family voluntarily cooperated with the Department of Human Services (Department) and followed the Department’s recommended safety plan, which required father to leave the family home and have no contact with his infant child G.E.S. or any of his three stepchildren. Father took a psychosexual evaluation, but because he refused to take a polygraph examination, the Department filed a dependency and neglect petition as to G.E.S. Father denied the allegations and requested a jury trial. At a pre-trial hearing, the court determined that J.O-E. was unavailable to testify, and at trial, admitted her hearsay statements without her testifying. The court also ruled that the probative value of evidence regarding the evaluation and polygraph refusal outweighed its prejudicial effect and allowed this evidence. After the jury returned its verdict, the court entered judgment adjudicating G.E.S. dependent and neglected.

On appeal, father contended that the district court erred in admitting evidence that he underwent a psychosexual evaluation and refused to undergo a polygraph examination. Under the Children’s Code, father had no duty to cooperate by completing a psychosexual evaluation and polygraph. Further, evidence of polygraph test results is per se inadmissible at an adjudicatory trial because they are not reliable. Here, the prejudicial impact of both the polygraph evidence and evidence of father’s partial cooperation with the Department’s request that he complete its evaluative processes required reversal.

Father also contended that the court erred in admitting J.O-E.’s hearsay statements. Under CRS § 13-25-129(1), an out-of-court statement made by a child describing an unlawful sexual offense, which would otherwise be inadmissible, is admissible if the court determines that (1) the time, content, and circumstances of the statements provide sufficient safeguards of reliability; and (2) the child either testifies at trial or is unavailable as a witness and there is corroborative evidence of the act that is the subject of the statements. Here, father did not challenge the court’s findings that the statements were reliable and that corroborative evidence supported J.O-E.’s statements. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that the Sixth Amendments’ Confrontation Clause does not extend to dependency and neglect cases, and the record supported the finding that J.O.-E. was not available to testify, because testifying would gravely harm her mental and emotional health. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting J.O-E.’s hearsay statements.

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

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Error in Allowing Victim’s Mother and Brother to Hear Other Witnesses’ Testimony

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lopez on Thursday, December 15, 2016.

Corey Lopez spent an evening drinking heavily with his girlfriend, R.B., her friend, her mother, and her brother. After an argument, R.B. separated from Lopez and her mother and brother. The three returned home and found R.B. sleeping on the couch. At about 5 a.m., Lopez and R.B. returned to their apartment. Later that afternoon, Lopez called 911 to report that R.B. was not breathing. When police and paramedics arrived, she was dead.

An ex-girlfriend of Lopez’s, S.E., contacted police to inform them that she believed R.B. might have been strangled, because during a fight she had with Lopez while they were dating, he had strangled her, but she had been saved when her friend intervened. After R.B.’s autopsy, the cause of death was determined to be manual strangulation. Lopez was charged with first degree murder after deliberation as to R.B. and attempted first degree murder after deliberation as to S.E. At defendant’s request, the jury was also instructed as to lesser non-included offenses. Lopez was convicted of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and the lesser offenses.

On appeal, Lopez contended the trial court erred in allowing R.B.’s mother and brother, who were witnesses for the prosecution, to attend the trial and listen to the testimony of other witnesses. The Colorado Court of Appeals found no abuse of discretion. At the preliminary hearing, defense counsel contended R.B.’s mother and brother should have been excluded from the courtroom because they were not collateral witnesses and because of a concern that they would change their testimony based on what they heard from other witnesses. The prosecution cited the Colorado Constitution and the Victim’s Rights Act, C.R.S. §§ 24-4.1-301, et seq., noting that victims have the right to be informed at all critical stages of trial. The court agreed with the prosecution and allowed R.B.’s family to remain. The issue arose again at trial, but the court determined that the admonishment given to the family sufficed to warn them not to discuss the trial outside the courtroom. The court of appeals found no abuse of discretion in this decision.

Defendant next argued the basketball analogy used by the court to explain the law of intoxication constituted reversible error. The court of appeals disagreed, finding that there was no evidence that the jury interpreted the court’s comments the same way defendant did, and reversal was not required under a plain error standard.

Finally, defendant argued the court erred in precluding him from asking S.E.’s friend if S.E. had used marijuana on the day of her attempted strangulation. The court of appeals disagreed, finding that the risk of prejudice outweighed any potential probative value of that line of questioning, and also finding that defendant was allowed to question S.E. directly about her marijuana use.

Defendant’s convictions were affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Objection to Prejudicial Evidence Preserved Despite Direct Examination Testimony

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McGill v. DIA Airport Parking, LLC on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Trina McGill filed a negligence claim against DIA Airport Parking after the side mirror on one of its shuttle buses hit her in the head. Before trial, McGill moved to exclude evidence of a 20-year-old conviction for check kiting, a type of check fraud. The trial court denied her motion under CRE 608(b) but did not address CRE 403. At trial, McGill introduced the check fraud evidence on direct examination. The jury returned a verdict in favor of DIA, and McGill appealed, arguing the trial court erred in admitting the evidence under CRE 608(b) and 403. DIA argued McGill could not challenge the admission because she introduced it first on direct examination.

The Colorado Court of Appeals found that invited error did not apply because McGill did not expressly acquiesce in the trial court’s ruling. Instead, the trial court ruled over her objection that the evidence was admissible, and she strategically introduced it at trial in an attempt to mitigate the damage. The court of appeals also declined to rule that she waived her right to challenge the evidence. McGill’s attempt to counter the effect of the impeachment evidence was not an intentional abandonment of her objection.

The court of appeals evaluated the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Ohler v. United States, 529 U.S. 753, 755 (2000), and found the dissent by Justice Souter persuasive. Because Ohler‘s ruling did not address constitutional issues, it is not binding on state courts. Justice Souter’s dissent asserted that the majority opinion fostered unfairness at trial. The court of appeals agreed, and ruled that when a party has objected to the admission of impeachment evidence, it is unnecessary and unfair to force her to choose between preserving that objection for appeal and pursuing the most advantageous trial strategy. The court therefore concluded that McGill could challenge the trial court’s ruling on appeal.

The court next addressed McGill’s argument that the trial court erred by admitting the underlying facts of her check fraud conviction under CRE 608(b) because the fact that she passed bad checks many years ago was not probative of her character for truthfulness. The court of appeals disagreed, finding that the small amount of the crime and the length of time intervening went to the weight of the evidence, not the admissibility. The court found no error.

The court turned to McGill’s argument that the trial court erred in not evaluating the evidence under CRE 403. The court found that although the trial court did not make express findings, there was nothing to suggest that it had not conducted a CRE 403 analysis. The court noted that because McGill did not argue on appeal that the evidence was inadmissible under the rule, it would not address that argument.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Police Officers Are Public Servants as Contemplated by C.R.S. § 18-8-306

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Sena on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

Defendant was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his cousin when Greeley Police Officer Bridge pulled the vehicle over for a traffic infraction. Officer Pfeiler, who was assisting, asked defendant for his name and birth date. Defendant provided the name of a relative and a birth date that was not his own. The officers could not find any record of a person with the name and birth date provided by Defendant. The officers let the vehicle go with a warning, but Officer Pfeiler investigated the false name further and found a picture of Defendant, who happened to share a last name with the vehicle’s driver. The two officers agreed with certainty that the person in the picture was the same person who was the vehicle’s passenger. They then located an active arrest warrant for Defendant from a neighboring county.

Defendant was charged with one count of attempt to influence a public servant pursuant to C.R.S. § 18-8-306. A jury convicted him and he was sentenced to 6 months of probation with 90 days in the county jail and 100 hours of community service. Defendant appealed, arguing (1) the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to support his conviction for attempt to influence a public servant, and (2) the district court erred by taking judicial notice of his outstanding warrant at trial and improperly instructing the jury on judicial notice.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first addressed Defendant’s contention that police officers do not fall within the statutory definition of “public servant.” The court noted that the statute includes any officer or employee of government, whether elected or appointed, and police officers clearly fell within the statutory definition. Defendant argued that the phrase “whether elected or appointed” should be construed to exclude any government employees who were not elected or appointed, but the court disagreed, noting that even if it agreed with Defendant’s construction the employees were “appointed” for purposes of the statute. Defendant also argued that because other statutes excluded “peace officers” from their definitions of public servant, they should be excluded here as well. The court of appeals disagreed, finding those statutes acknowledged that peace officers were generally considered public servants.

Defendant also argued that the prosecution could not prove his intent in providing the false name. However, the prosecution only needed to provide sufficient evidence for a rational trier of fact to conclude that Defendant anticipated a different result if he would have provided his true identity. The court found that a rational trier of fact could have concluded that the evidence was sufficient that Defendant intended to alter the officers’ actions through deceit.

Defendant also contended the court erred in taking judicial notice of his arrest warrant. The court of appeals perceived no error. The fact that the warrant arose in another jurisdiction was of no consequence, and the court’s taking of judicial notice did not invade the province of the jury because the warrant was not an element of the crime charged.

The court of appeals affirmed Defendant’s conviction.