May 23, 2018

Tenth Circuit: Defendant Did Not Establish Significant Nexus Between Potential Alternative Perpetrators and Crimes

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Meisel on Tuesday, November 14, 2017.

In 2014, Detective Wright saw a user on the Ares file-sharing network offering child pornography. After identifying the IP address, Wright obtained a search warrant for a home Meisel shared with Thomas. Meisel’s personal computer was found to have child pornography on the external hard drive, with some pictures added just three days prior to the execution of the warrant. Meisel attributed the child porn to his son, W.R., who lived in the home previously. During the investigation, however, there was evidence of the child porn being viewed frequently after W.R. moved out of the home. Meisel continued to assert there was a sufficient nexus between three individuals, J.H., S.H., and W.R., and the child pornography. On appeal, Meisel asserted the district court (1) violated his right to present a complete defense by preventing him from presenting alternative perpetrator evidence; and (2) erred in denying his request to instruct the jury on “identity.”

As for the argument of J.H., Meisel asserted that J.H., Thomas’s caregiver, had unfettered access to the computer and external hard drive at times Meisel was absent from the home. Meisel asserts that the computer was logged into and child pornography was downloaded at times that Meisel was not at the home. Further, Meisel contends that J.H. has a high level of technical knowledge.

S.H. is J.H.’s brother, and Meisel contends that S.H. would often visit the home when the computer was accessible and that S.H. previously lived at the home and knew the wifi password.

W.R., Meisel’s son, lived at the home previously, and Meisel argue that he found W.R. accessing child pornography sites on his computer.

The district court determined that Meisel had not proffered sufficient evidence to establish the necessary nexus between any of the proposed perpetrators and the crimes with which Meisel was charged.

Meisel argued that the district court did not allow him to utilize the term “alternate perpetrator” in presenting his case to the jury. The question was whether the evidence was sufficient to allow Meisel to argue that a particular person was the one who placed the child pornography on his hard drive. The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did an appropriate balancing of evidence in finding that Meisel did not satisfy requirements for arguing that anyone else was responsible for downloading the child pornography.

The Supreme Court has noted that special considerations arise when a court is faced with a defense theory of an alternative perpetrator: “Evidence tending to show the commission by another person of the crime charged may be introduced by accused when it is inconsistent with, and raises a reasonable doubt of, his own guilt; but frequently matters offered in evidence for this purpose are so remote and lack such connection with the crime that they are excluded.”

The Tenth Circuit reexamined the three potential perpetrators Meisel provided. The information on S.H. was not admitted into evidence, as mere proximity and potential access are not sufficient to argue an alternative perpetrator to a crime. Further, the evidence implicating W.R. as the actual perpetrator set out a speculative and remote outcome. And at most, the evidence at trial demonstrated that W.R. used Meisel’s computer; however, there was no evidence indicating that W.R. was anywhere near Meisel’s computer for at least one year before the events at issue. J.H., however, seemed to be a viable alternative perpetrator for these crimes, as J.H. was present in the home four days a week and was present while Thomas slept during the day. Further, child pornography was downloaded on a day Meisel was possibly absent from the home, but J.H. was there. However, the theory that J.H. was responsible for the child pornography was presented to, and rejected by, the jury.

The Tenth Circuit found that the evidence of Meisel’s guilt was, contrary to protest, overwhelming. Unrebutted and unexplained forensic evidence demonstrated that Meisel’s assertion that he was unaware of the child pornography was implausible. Instead, the evidence overwhelmingly proved that after Thomas found child pornography on Meisel’s computer, Meisel took extraordinary efforts to limit access to his computer. For that very reason, Meisel stated during his interview that if child pornography was found on the computer, he was the responsible party. Although Meisel attempted to explain away that statement at trial with the theory he was only accepting ultimate responsibility for the computer, the Tenth Circuit found the evidence to the contrary to be overwhelming.

Lastly, Meisel asserted the district court refused to give his proffered identity instruction to the jury. The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the existing jury instructions made it clear to the jury that Meisel was legally responsible for the charges if he personally and knowingly possessed and distributed the child pornography found on his computer. The Tenth Circuit found that the district court’s jury instructions were not erroneous or inadequate as given.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the district court’s conviction.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor Committed Misconduct by Repeatedly Referencing Other Bad Acts Not Properly Admitted at Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Fortson on Thursday, April 5, 2018.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Character Evidence—Other Acts Evidence.

A jury found Fortson guilty of one count of sexual assault on a child and one count of sexual assault on a child as a part of a pattern of abuse.

On appeal, Fortson contended that the prosecutor improperly referenced and elicited evidence of other acts of sexual assault and sexual misconduct for propensity purposes and that she did so without first seeking to admit the evidence, presenting an offer of proof, or obtaining a ruling. The prosecutor committed misconduct when she repeatedly introduced, referenced, and argued to the jury that defendant previously committed uncharged sexual assaults against four other girls and the victim. The prosecutor did not seek the admission of the alleged uncharged sexual assaults for a proper purpose and improperly used this evidence for propensity purposes. The prosecutor’s pervasive misconduct undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial and cast serious doubt on the reliability of the judgment.

The judgments of conviction were reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Civil Service Commission Must Defer to Hearing Officer’s Findings of Fact

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Johnson v. City & County of Denver on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Police Officer DisciplineUse of ForceStandard of Review in Disciplinary Appeals.

Johnson, a Denver police officer, worked off-duty at a nightclub in downtown Denver. One night Brandon and his friends left the nightclub and began arguing with Johnson about Johnson’s earlier interaction with one of their friends. Johnson moved the group under a High Activity Location Observation (HALO) camera, which video-recorded their interactions (no audio was recorded). The video revealed that everyone in the group was visibly intoxicated. Eventually only Brandon and another man remained. Johnson then told Brandon he was going to detox and to turn around to be handcuffed. Brandon profanely told Johnson not to touch him. Johnson then suddenly moved toward Brandon and shoved him with both hands near the neck. Brandon fell backward onto some stairs and was handcuffed.

Brandon filed a disciplinary complaint against Johnson. The Chief of Police determined that Johnson had violated Denver Police Department Rules and Regulations RR-306 (inappropriate force) and suspended him for 30 days without pay. The Manager of Safety (MOS) approved the discipline imposed. Johnson appealed to a civil service commission hearing officer. The hearing officer reversed the suspension because (1) the MOS had erroneously applied the deadly force rather than the non-deadly force standard to Johnson’s conduct, and (2) the MOS had failed to present sufficient evidence to create a reasonable inference that finding a violation of RR-306 was correct.

The City appealed to the Civil Service Commission (Commission). The Commission reversed the hearing officer. The district court affirmed the Commission.

On appeal, Johnson contended that the Commission abused its discretion when it made its own findings of fact from a video recording of events at issue and rejected contrary facts found by the hearing officer. The “video exception” was created in a prior Commission case and is described as “statements an officer makes in direct contradiction to objectively verifiable facts in an otherwise authenticated video of the scene are not entitled to a presumption of truth.” Both the Denver City Charter’s and the Denver Civil Service Commission Rules’ standards of review govern the Commission’s review of the MOS’s order and the hearing officer’s findings, and they require the Commission to defer to the hearing officer’s findings of fact. They do not address a video exception, which is beyond the Commission’s authority to make. The video exception is contrary to law and invalid, and both the Commission and district court erred in relying on it to reverse the hearing officer’s decision.

The Court of Appeals further held that the Denver Police Department’s use of force policy articulates a single standard for reviewing an officer’s use of force and that separate standards do not exist for deadly and non-deadly force. Accordingly, the Commission correctly determined that the hearing officer erred in her application of the use of force standard.

Despite finding that the Commission erred in relying on the video exception to reverse the hearing officer’s decision, the Commission nevertheless reached the right result because (1) the hearing officer erroneously concluded that separate standards existed for deadly and non-deadly force, and (2) the hearing officer did not properly defer to the MOS’s findings as required by the clearly erroneous standard of review applicable to hearing officers and as set forth in the Commission’s rules. The hearing officer erred in substituting her own findings for those of the MOS.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Did Not Err in Not Allowing Courtroom Gallery to See Sexually Explicit Images of Minors

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Robles-Sierra on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Child Pornography—Constitutional Law—Sixth Amendment—Public Trial—Distribution—Publishing—File Sharing Software—Expert Testimony—Jury Instruction.

Sheriff’s department detectives found over 600 files of child pornography—in both video recording and still image form—on various electronic devices defendant owned. In each instance, defendant had downloaded someone else’s file to his computer using ARES peer-to-peer file sharing software. Defendant downloaded the files in such a way that other users downloaded hundreds of defendant’s files. Defendant admitted that he’d downloaded and looked at the sexually exploitative material, but stated as a defense that he hadn’t knowingly violated the law because he did not know how ARES software works. A jury found defendant guilty of four counts of sexual exploitation of a child.

On appeal, defendant challenged all the convictions. He first argued that the district court violated his constitutional right to a public trial by closing the courtroom during the presentation of parts of certain exhibits. Two of the prosecution’s witnesses testified about videos and still images taken from defendant’s devices, describing them in graphic terms. Over defense counsel’s objection, the prosecutor displayed the videos and still images using a screen that could be seen by the witnesses and the jurors, but not by anyone in the courtroom gallery. That portion of a trial when evidence is presented should be open to the public, but that right does not extend to the viewing of all exhibits by the public as those exhibits are introduced or discussed. The right concerns the public’s presence during or access to the trial; where no one is excluded from the courtroom, the right is not implicated. Here, the district court didn’t exclude any member of the public during the presentation of the evidence. Because the court didn’t close the courtroom, there wasn’t any violation of defendant’s right to a public trial.

Defendant also challenged all convictions on the basis that the district court erred by allowing the prosecution’s experts to testify to ultimate legal conclusions that were the jury’s sole prerogative to decide. Even assuming all of the challenged testimony was improper, any error fails the plain error test.

Defendant further challenged his two convictions for publishing, offering, or distributing sexually exploitative material because the prosecution’s theories of publishing and distributing were “legally insufficient.” He alleged that the mere downloading of sexually exploitative material to a share-capable file isn’t publication or distribution, and because we don’t know if the jury convicted on either basis or some proper basis, the verdicts on these counts can’t stand. The Court of Appeals analyzed the meaning of “publishing” and “distribution” and concluded that defendant’s downloading of sexually exploitative material to his computer using peer-to-peer file sharing software, and his saving of that material in sharable files or folders accessible by others using the same software, constituted both publishing and distributing the material within the meaning of the statute.

Finally, defendant challenged his two convictions for publishing, offering, or distributing sexually exploitative material because the jury instruction defining “offer” had the effect of directing a verdict against him on these charges. Here, the instruction was an accurate statement of the law and described a factual circumstance that would constitute an offer. The fact that the jury could have found that factual evidence existed from the evidence presented doesn’t mean the instruction directed a verdict.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor’s Use of Partially Completed Puzzle to Illustrate Reasonable Doubt was Misconduct

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Van Meter on Thursday, February 8, 2018.

Criminal Law—Possession of a Weapon by a Previous Offender—Reasonable Doubt—Mistrial—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Jury Instruction—Possession—Evidence.

Van Meter pleaded guilty to multiple crimes and served time in the Department of Corrections’ custody. After Van Meter was released on parole, his employer told Van Meter’s parole officer that Van Meter had a gun in his car and was possibly using heroin and stealing from customers. When Van Meter arrived at work he was arrested, and officers found a loaded semi-automatic handgun inside a toolbox in the trunk of his car. A jury found Van Meter guilty of possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO).

On appeal, Van Meter argued that the trial court reversibly erred in failing to declare a mistrial after a prospective juror stated in front of the panel that he was aware of the underlying case because he was a deputy sheriff and had transported Van Meter to court. The record supports the trial court’s determination that the challenged comments did not taint the entire panel because they did not necessarily imply that the deputy sheriff transported Van Meter to court for the underlying case rather than a previous case, and the POWPO charge required the jury to learn that Van Meter had a prior felony conviction. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to declare a mistrial.

Van Meter next asserted that the trial court reversibly erred by allowing the prosecutor to show the jury a picture of a partially completed puzzle of an iconic and easily recognizable space shuttle image to explain the concept of reasonable doubt. There was no contemporaneous objection. The challenged behavior constituted prosecutorial misconduct. However, because all the elements of the POWPO charge were clearly proven, and the error was neither obvious nor substantial, the trial court did not plainly err in allowing the prosecutor’s improper conduct.

Van Meter also argued that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the definition of “possession” in the context of the POWPO charge. The trial court gave the definition of “possession” from the new criminal jury instructions, and defense counsel affirmatively declined to object to the challenged instruction three times. The challenged instruction was not incorrect or otherwise confusing to the extent that it constituted plain error.

Van Meter next contended that the trial court reversibly erred in allowing evidence that the gun found in his vehicle was stolen and that Van Meter was allegedly using illicit drugs. Here, defense counsel offered no contemporaneous objections and strategically chose to elicit CRE 404(b) evidence, and there was overwhelming evidence of Van Meter’s guilt. Any error in allowing the challenged evidence did not rise to the level of plain error.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Full-Size Mock Up of Crime Scene Admissible Under Four-Part Douglas Test

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Palacios on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Criminal Law—Fifth Amendment—Photo Identification—Demonstrative Exhibit.

Defendant was convicted of felony murder, aggravated robbery, and other offenses after a drug-deal-turned-robbery ended in the shooting death of the victim by defendant’s accomplice.

On appeal, defendant argued that the court erred in failing to suppress a witness’s identification as the product of an impermissibly suggestive identification procedure because defendant’s photo was placed in position 3 in the photo array after the witness had selected a filler photograph in position 3 from the initial array. The witness, the victim’s girlfriend, witnessed the murder. She had previously selected photos in positions 1, 3 and 5. Position 3 did not have special suggestive properties, as defendant’s argument would apply with equal force if the officer had placed his photo in either position 1 or 5. The mere placement of defendant’s photo in a particular position, without more, does not render the identification procedure impermissibly suggestive. The court properly denied the motion to suppress the girlfriend’s identification.

Defendant also argued on appeal that the court erred in permitting the prosecution to use demonstrative aids because their size was inaccurate, and the inaccuracy rendered the mock-ups misleading and therefore unfairly prejudicial. Here, the prosecution used a full-size mock-up of the garage crime scene as a demonstrative aid during the testimony of a sheriff’s department investigator and the eyewitness drug supplier. The prosecution also referred to a smaller version of the mock-up during closing argument. A demonstrative aid must be authentic, relevant, a “fair and accurate representation of the evidence to which it relates,” and not unduly prejudicial. Here, the record demonstrated that the full-size mock-up was substantially similar to the actual garage, and defendant failed to show any prejudice from the use of such mock-up. Further, defense counsel admitted that the smaller mock-up was accurate. Accordingly, the district court did not err in allowing the prosecution to use the demonstrative aids.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: GPS Data from Ankle Monitor Properly Admitted to Show Defendant’s Location at Time of Robbery

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Campbell on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Constitutional Law—Fourth Amendment—Illegal Search and Seizure—Reasonable Suspicion—Reasonable Expectation of Privacy—GPS Data—Identification.

Campbell’s vehicle was pulled over and Campbell was arrested on suspicion of burglary. Officers searched Campbell and found he had on an ankle monitor, which he was wearing at the request of a private bail bondsman. A detective later requested and received the global positioning system (GPS) data from the company owning the ankle monitor. The GPS data revealed that, within the month before the victim’s home was broken into, Campbell had been at the location of two other homes when they were burglarized. The GPS data also placed Campbell at the victim’s house at the time of the break-in. Campbell was convicted of two counts of second degree burglary, one count of attempted second-degree burglary, and three counts of criminal mischief.

On appeal, Campbell contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an illegal seizure and search of his person. The officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Campbell based on his violation of traffic laws. Further, the officers had probable cause to believe defendant was committing the felony of vehicular eluding, and therefore constitutionally arrested and searched him. The trial court did not err in denying Campbell’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of his seizure and search.

Campbell also contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress GPS data obtained from the ankle monitor. The court of appeals concluded, as a matter of first impression, that defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS location data generated by the ankle monitor under the U.S. or Colorado Constitutions. Defendant voluntarily disclosed the data, which was transmitted to and collected by a third party that voluntarily gave the data to law enforcement officials. Further, the trial court did not err in admitting the GPS evidence without first conducting a hearing pursuant to People v. Shreck, 22 P. 3d 68 (Colo. 2001), to assess its reliability, because GPS technology is prevalent and widely regarded as reliable.

Campbell additionally contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification because the identification was unduly suggestive and unreliable. The victim had the opportunity to see the intruder for one or two seconds in a well-lit area while the two men were approximately 10 feet apart before Campbell ran out of the house. Although the victim was not wearing contact lenses or eyeglasses, he felt he was able to see the intruder sufficiently to identify him. The victim immediately called 911 and described Campbell. The police brought Campbell to the scene handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle for a one-on-one identification. The identification occurred less than an hour after the victim saw the intruder. Although the lineup was suggestive, it was reliable under the totality of the circumstances.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Prosecution’s Withholding of Evidence was Brady Violation and Sanctions Warranted

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Bueno on Monday, January 22, 2018.

Motion for New Trial—Evidence.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered two questions. The first is whether a Crim. P. 33(c) motion for a new trial is time-barred because it was filed more than one year after the defendant’s conviction, and thus arguably more than one year after “entry of judgment.” The second is whether the trial court erred in granting a new trial after concluding that the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to provide to the defense evidence that the prosecution had obtained at the outset of the investigation until after defendant’s conviction. The court held that “entry of judgment,” for the purposes of Rule 33(c), does not occur until both a verdict or finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence. The court concluded that, applying Brady’s disclosure requirements, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a motion for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Whether Minor Initiated Sexual Contact is Irrelevant Under Sexual Assault on a Child Statutes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Sparks on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Sexual Assault—Child—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Sufficiency of Evidence—Hearsay—Jury Instructions—Video Interview of Defendant.

Sparks attended a party at his wife’s cousin’s house. The cousin’s daughter, A.M., reported that while she was at the party and Skyping on her computer, Sparks touched her breast over her clothing. She also reported that as she was Skyping, her friend S.F. (the victim) and Sparks were behind her, and that through her computer’s camera she saw the victim grabbing Sparks’s groin area and making other movements. At the time, A.M. was 14 and the victim was 13. Sparks admitted to what A.M. reported and to touching the victim’s groin, breast, and bottom area. Sparks was convicted of one count of sexual assault on a child as to the victim.

On appeal, Sparks contended that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct by misstating the law and evidence during closing argument. Specifically, Sparks asserted it was error for the prosecutor to tell the jury that it did not matter that the victim initiated the sexual contact, arguing that C.R.S. § 18-3-405(1), the sexual assault on a child statute, required the prosecution to prove that he caused the victim to become subservient or subordinate or that the child victim initiated the sexual contact at his directive. Sexual contact includes the touching of the defendant’s intimate parts by the victim. The phrase “subjects another . . . to any sexual contact” in the statute does not require the People to prove that defendant caused the child-victim to become “subservient or subordinate” or that the child-victim initiated the sexual contact at defendant’s directive. There was no error in the prosecutor’s statement to the jury.

Sparks also argued that the prosecutor misstated the evidence by saying A.M. saw improper sexual contact between the victim and Sparks through a computer camera while on Skype and that Sparks knew exactly how old the victim was. As discussed below, the court did not err in admitting this evidence, and given this evidence, the prosecutor did not misstate nor draw improper inferences from it.

Sparks further contended that the prosecution failed to produce sufficient evidence to prove that he committed sexual assault on a child because the only evidence as to the victim’s age was inadmissible. He contended that the court erred in admitting the detective’s and A.M.’s testimony and Sparks’s interview statement about the victim’s age because these were hearsay. All of this evidence was admitted without objection. A.M.’s testimony may have been based on her personal knowledge or the victim’s reputed age, and thus would not have been hearsay or would have fallen within a hearsay exception. Thus, the trial court’s ruling on A.M.’s testimony was not erroneous, much less obviously so. Similarly, the basis for the detective’s testimony could not be determined, but the court of appeals could not conclude that the trial court’s admission of this testimony was obviously erroneous. And even assuming that admitting this testimony was obvious error, such error would be harmless in light of A.M.’s testimony and Sparks’s interview statement. CRE 805 does not apply to Sparks’s interview admission because as a party opponent his statement does not require firsthand knowledge to be admissible. It was not plain error to admit the evidence, and it was sufficient.

Sparks also asserted that the court abused its discretion by instructing the jury that it could assign his interview video any weight it wanted when the court provided the video to the jury during deliberations. The court did not instruct the jury to give Sparks’s statements any weight it wanted. Further, no special protections against undue emphasis as to a defendant’s out-of-court statements were required. Lastly, the court provided specific instructions for the jury to follow in viewing the evidence, and thus appropriately exercised its discretion.

Sparks further contended that the trial court denied him his constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel by providing his interview video to the jury during deliberations without notifying his counsel. The court agreed, but concluded this error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Non-Law Enforcement Evidence Need Not Be Admitted in Affidavit Form in Revocation Hearing

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Department of Revenue v. Rowland on Monday, January 8, 2018.

Evidence—Revocation of License—Evidence of Sobriety Tests.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether C.R.S. § 42-2-126(8)(c) requires all written statements from non-law enforcement sources to be presented in affidavit form and sworn to under penalty of perjury before they can be considered as evidence in driver’s license revocation hearings. C.R.S. § 42-2-126(8)(c) provides that, in driver’s license revocation proceedings, a hearing officer “may consider evidence contained in affidavits from persons other than the respondent,” so long as those affidavits meet certain requirements, including the requirement that the affidavits be sworn to under penalty of perjury. The supreme court held that C.R.S. § 42-2-126(8)(c) does not require all written statements from non-law enforcement sources to be presented in affidavit form and sworn to under penalty of perjury before they can be considered as evidence in driver’s license revocation hearings.

Specifically, the court held that the blood alcohol content test report in this case did not have to meet the affidavit requirements of C.R.S. § 42-2-126(8)(c) for the hearing officer to consider its contents. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Erroneously Denied Defendant’s Challenge for Cause

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Abu-Nantambu-El on Thursday, December 14, 2017.

Juror—Challenge for Cause—Law Enforcement Agency—C.R.S. § 16-10-103—Disqualification—Res Gestae Evidence.

Defendant forced his way into an apartment and physically attacked the occupants, one of whom died from the result of stab wounds. A jury convicted defendant of multiple offenses against two victims, including first degree murder (felony murder); second degree murder; first degree burglary (assault/menace); and first degree burglary (armed with explosives/weapon).

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred in denying his challenge to a juror who was a compensated employee of a law enforcement agency. The Attorney General conceded that the court should have excused the juror, but contended that reversal was not required because the juror did not indicate that she was actually biased. The juror was disqualified under C.R.S. § 16-10-103(1)(k), which sets out categories of jurors deemed to be impliedly biased. This statute does not require a showing of actual bias that would violate due process.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred in admitting as res gestae evidence about defendant’s emotional state after a friend (one of the victims at issue in this case) left him at a 7-Eleven store three days before the charged offenses. This evidence provided context for the jury and a more complete understanding of events leading up to the charged offenses and was properly admitted.

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

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Erred in Omitting Jury Instruction on Right Not to Testify, but Reversal Not Required

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Deleon on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Child—Jury Instruction—Right Not to Testify—Hearsay.

Defendant was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child.

On appeal, defendant contended that the district court erred by rejecting his tendered jury instruction on his right not to testify and by failing to instruct the jurors immediately before closing arguments of his constitutional right not to testify. The trial court did not err in choosing to give the jury the pattern jury instruction on defendant’s right not to testify because defendant’s proposed instruction went beyond the language of the pattern instruction. However, the trial court had an obligation to instruct jurors about defendant’s right not to testify before the attorneys made their closing arguments. Although the court violated Crim. P. 30 by not reading the instruction to the jury before closing argument, the court properly instructed jurors on defendant’s right not to testify during voir dire and reminded the sworn jurors of its earlier remarks. Reversal isn’t warranted because the error doesn’t cast serious doubt on the reliability of the judgment of conviction.

Defendant also argued that the district court erred by admitting into evidence the victim’s out-of-court statement to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE nurse) that defendant had been “kicked out of the house.” Defendant argued that by saying he got kicked out of the house, the victim implied that her mother had kicked him out because of the victim’s allegations, which implied that the victim’s mother believed those allegations. Even assuming that the statement was inadmissible hearsay, any error in allowing it was harmless because any inferences defendant drew from the statement were speculative, and the victim’s mother testified that she did not believe the victim.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.