February 27, 2017

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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Cell Phone Records Created in Regular Course of Business are Nontestimonial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ortega on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

Two men, one masked and one not masked, held up a fast-food restaurant at gunpoint. The unmasked man was identified in surveillance video as David Maestas. Police found a car nearby that was registered to Maestas’ wife, and in the car was a cell phone and pair of jeans consistent with those used in the robbery. DNA on the waistband of the jeans was traced to defendant, and several cell phone calls were made to a number listed in the phone as “Ray’s mom.” Defendant was tried separately from Maestas, and a jury convicted him of aggravated robbery. He was adjudicated a habitual offender.

Defendant appealed, arguing three points of error: (1) his Confrontation Clause rights under the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions were violated by admission of the cell phone records; (2) he was denied a fair trial because the prosecutor misstated the evidence; and (3) during the habitual offender trial, his Confrontation Clause rights were violated by admission of sentencing and prison records.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first addressed Defendant’s contention that admission of the cell phone records violated his Confrontation Clause rights. The court examined Crawford v. Washington and found that in order to be considered testimonial, the records must have been made in anticipation of litigation. The court also found a Tenth Circuit opinion dispositive, United States v. Yeley-Davis, 632 F.3d 673 (10th Cir. 2011). In Yeley-Davis, the Tenth Circuit determined that cell phone records kept in the course of regular business by the cell phone company were nontestimonial. The Colorado Court of Appeals found this reasoning persuasive. Although the printout of the records was ultimately included in evidence, the cell phone company created the records in the ordinary course of business and not for litigation purposes. Defendant also contended that his Colorado constitutional rights were violated because there was no showing that the custodian of the records was unavailable. The court of appeals disagreed, citing People v. Dement, 661 P.2d 675 (Colo. 1983). The supreme court’s Dement test provides that the unavailability requirement is subject to an exception when the utility of trial testimony is very remote. Because there would be little practical effect of having the cell phone company’s custodian of records testify, the court found no error.

Defendant also contended the prosecutor impermissibly informed the jury that it was impossible that someone other than Defendant had contact with the jeans. The court of appeals disagreed with Defendant’s characterization of the prosecutor’s statements. The court found that, although the prosecutor’s statements could have been worded more artfully, he did not tell the jury with certainty that the jeans came from Defendant. The court found no error. The court also found no cumulative error, since it found no error at all.

Defendant argued that, during the habitual offender phase of his trial, the court erroneously allowed evidence of sentencing and prison records without requiring the presence of the record custodian. The court of appeals found this contention analogous to Defendant’s argument about the cell phone records and found no error for the same reason.

The court of appeals affirmed the judgment.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence of Decedent’s Driving History Properly Excluded

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Alhilo v. Kliem on Thursday, October 6, 2016.

Wrongful Death—Exemplary Damages—Habitual Traffic Offender—Evidence—Flight from Scene—Circumstantial Evidence—Noneconomic Damages Cap—Comparative Negligence.

Alhilo died in a collision between his motorcycle and a car driven by defendant Kliem. Alhilo’s mother, the plaintiff, brought this wrongful death action against Kliem. The jury allocated the fault and awarded noneconomic and exemplary damages. Kliem appealed the judgment entered on the verdict.

On appeal, Kliem contended that the trial court erred by excluding evidence of the deceased’s driving record and his status as a habitual traffic offender (HTO). Kliem argued that this evidence was admissible under the exception in C.R.S. § 42-4-1713; however, this case does not support admitting either type of evidence under this statute. Admissibility of HTO status evidence is subject to the rules of evidence, primarily CRE 401 and 403. Here, both rules weigh against admission. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by precluding evidence of the deceased’s status as an HTO and his driving record.

Kliem also contended that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of Kliem’s two prior convictions for driving while impaired. The trial court found this evidence relevant, and acknowledging the potential for prejudice, gave an appropriate limiting instruction. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing evidence of Kliem’s prior alcohol offenses for purposes of exemplary damages.

Kliem further contended that the trial court erred by admitting evidence that he fled the accident scene. Evidence of Kliem’s flight was relevant to explain why plaintiff was unable to present direct proof of Kliem having been impaired by alcohol, such as a breath test or blood draw shortly after the accident occurred. Further, evidence of Kliem’s flight showed his consciousness of liability. For these reasons, the trial court did not abuse its considerable discretion in allowing evidence of Kliem’s post-accident flight.

Kliem next contended that there was insufficient evidence to prove plaintiff was entitled to exemplary damages. However, the alcohol containers found in Kliem’s vehicle, and the facts that he failed to immediately seek medical attention for his severe injuries, fled the accident scene, and failed to immediately turn himself in to police constitute sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the exemplary damages award.

Kliem also argued that exemplary damages were improper because his left-hand turn was legal. There is no authority requiring that a traffic law violation be shown before exemplary damages can be awarded.

Finally, Kliem contended that the noneconomic damages cap in C.R.S. § 13-21-203 must be applied to an award of noneconomic damages before comparative negligence is apportioned. Once the amount of a plaintiff’s recovery is determined, the noneconomic damages cap in C.R.S. § 13-21-203 comes into play, which merely limits a plaintiff’s recovery to a specified maximum amount. Therefore, the trial court properly determined the amount of plaintiff’s recovery by first apportioning the percentage of comparative negligence attributable to Kliem and then applying the noneconomic damages cap in C.R.S. § 13-21-203 to that amount.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Event Data Recorders, Drones, and Evidence: What You Need to Know

DroneThe Denver District Attorney’s monthly newsletter for September 2016 warned consumers about connecting their cell phones to the computers in rental cars. The newsletter warned, “Once your phone is connected to the car, it can access all your phone’s information such as GPS searches, home address, phone calls, contacts, etc. The information is stored indefinitely, waiting for the next person to connect to the car, and to your private information. The risk is obvious.”

The risk to rental car drivers concerns the car’s Event Data Recorder, or EDR. However, EDRs in cars can be useful for more than accessing another driver’s playlist. EDRs can record when and how often drivers use certain features in cars, such as the hand brake or the turn signal. The raw data from a vehicle’s EDR can be enormously useful in litigation. C.R.S. § 12-6-402 governs the use of EDR evidence in litigation, providing

EDR data is the personal information of the vehicle’s owner and the data shall not be retrieved by a person who is not the owner unless:

  1. The owner or the owner’s agent has consented to the retrieval in the last 30 days;
  2. The data is retrieved by a technician performing service or repair;
  3. The data is subject to discovery pursuant to the rules of civil procedure in an auto accident case;
  4. A court or administrative agency with jurisdiction orders the data be retrieved;
  5. The EDR is installed after the manufacturer or dealer sells the vehicle; or
  6. A peace officer retrieves the data pursuant to a court order as part of an investigation.

Another relatively new source of litigation evidence comes from drones. Drones, or unmanned aerial systems, collect video evidence from their on-board cameras. The use of drones is fraught with controversy, as cases collect regarding people shooting drones in the airspace above their property, people expressing surveillance concerns regarding drones, and more. The Federal Aviation Administration has promulgated rules regarding the use of drones, but more will be developed as these unmanned aircraft gain popularity.

Savvy lawyers need to know about the complexities of digital evidence preservation and the ethical considerations of working with technology and the experts who gather the data. Join Fay Engineering and Chad Lieberman, Esq. for an exciting presentation about the cutting edge technology of drones, dash cams and black boxes. Digital information is being gathered by our vehicles, our phones, and in nearly every aspect of our lives. The technology of aerial photography continues to rapidly change. The presentation covers the latest advances in evidence collection by drones and commercial services. Register online here, or by clicking the links below.

 

CLELogo

CLE Program: New Technology for Evidence Preservation: Drones, Dashcams, Black Boxes and More

This CLE presentation will occur on September 26, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Register for the live program here or register for the webcast here. You may also call (303) 860-0608 to register.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here: MP3Video OnDemand.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Time Limit Exists for Prosecuting Sexual Assaults Where DNA Proves Defendant’s Identity

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Shores on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Sexual Assault—Statute of Limitations—CRE 404(b) Evidence.

In 1994, an elderly woman was found badly beaten and sexually assaulted. No suspect was initially identified. The victim died in 2000 from cancer. In 2010, the DNA evidence from the victim’s case was matched to Shores’s DNA, but the district attorney’s office chose not to file charges against Shores at that time. Several years later, the Denver Police Department learned that Shores had been tied, through DNA, to a 2013 sexual assault of a woman, D.B., in Texas. This information led to the 2014 charges against Shores for first degree sexual assault and a crime of violence enhancer. Shores was convicted as charged.

On appeal, Shores argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for failure to file charges within the 10-year statute of limitations in effect in September 1994. The change in the statute, however, provides that there is no time limit for prosecuting certain sexual assaults committed after July 1, 1991, if (1) the defendant’s identity is determined in whole or in part by DNA and (2) the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency within 10 years after its commission. Shores conceded that his identity was determined by DNA but argued that the second prong was not met because the victim herself did not report the crime to law enforcement. The statute does not require that the victim be the person who reported the offense, only that the offense was reported. Here, the police had known about the physical assault on the victim from their response to the initial call, and they received further information from the hospital about her condition, including the results of the sexual assault examination kit.  Accordingly, there was no statutory time limit in which to file charges against Shores, and the trial court correctly denied his motion to dismiss.

Shores next argued that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting CRE 404(b) evidence of the 2013 sexual assault in Texas. The evidence relating to D.B. was probative of the ultimate fact of whether Shores committed the offense charged and was logically relevant independent of bad character evidence because it had a tendency to make it more probable that the victim did not consent than it would be without the evidence. The court acted within its discretion in determining that the danger of unfair prejudice did not outweigh the probative value of this evidence.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Holder of Evidence of Debt May Initiate Foreclosure with Copy of Evidence of Debt

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Edwards v. Bank of America, N.A. on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Mortgage—Foreclosure—Standing—Summary Judgment—Affidavit.

Plaintiff obtained a loan to finance the purchase of property. When she defaulted on the loan, defendant sold the house through foreclosure. During the foreclosure proceedings, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that defendant lacked standing to file a C.R.C.P. 120 motion and to commence foreclosure proceedings. The district court granted defendant’s summary judgment motion and subsequently denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider the judgment.

On appeal, plaintiff contended that the district court erred in granting defendant’s summary judgment motion. The holder of an evidence of debt may initiate foreclosure proceedings with a copy of the evidence of debt and deed of trust, rather than the original documents. Here, defendant produced sufficient evidence to establish that it was entitled to foreclose and that plaintiff failed to demonstrate there was a genuine issue of material fact as to defendant’s standing to foreclose. Accordingly, the district court did not err in granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff also contended that the district court erred in denying her motion to reconsider summary judgment because the court prematurely granted summary judgment without giving her sufficient opportunity to conduct discovery. C.R.C.P. 56(f) allows a party who cannot produce facts essential to its opposition to a motion for summary judgment to submit an affidavit explaining why it cannot do so. Plaintiff did not submit a C.R.C.P. 56(f) affidavit. Accordingly, the district court properly denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider summary judgment.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.