June 25, 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: 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.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Evidence From One Trial Would Have Been Admissible at Other so Joinder Proper

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Bondsteel on Thursday, November 19, 2015.

Joinder—Crim.P. 13—CRE 404(b)—Pretrial Lineups—Unduly Suggestive—Challenge for Cause—Jury—Kidnapping—Evidence—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

The trial court joined two separate cases against Bondsteel for trial: (1) the Signal Mountain Trail case in which Bondsteel had attacked two women while they were hiking; and (2) the motorcycle case in which Bondsteel approached four women in three separate cars while on his motorcycle, taking their cell phones and other belongings and demanding that the women move or remove portions of their clothing. A jury convicted him of multiple offenses, including second-degree kidnapping, aggravated robbery, unlawful sexual contact, and attempted sexual assault.

On appeal, Bondsteel first contended that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecution to join the two cases for trial. However, Bondsteel failed to satisfy either prong of the misjoinder test. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in joining the cases.

Bondsteel next contended that because the pretrial lineups in which N.D. and K.D. both identified him as their attacker were unduly suggestive, their identifications should have been suppressed. All six lineup participants were dressed in camouflage with head coverings, leaving only their eyes visible, just as the victims had described their attacker to sheriff’s office deputies. Four of the participants had blue eyes; Bondsteel and one other participant had brown eyes. The disparity in the participants’ eye colors did not render the lineups impermissibly suggestive. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying his motion to suppress.

Bondsteel contended that the trial court wrongfully denied his for-cause challenge to juror J.H., whom he eventually excused with a peremptory challenge. Even if the trial court abused its discretion in denying the challenge for cause, Bondsteel was not entitled to relief because he failed to show that a biased or incompetent juror sat on the jury instead of J.H.

Bondsteel further contended that the trial court committed reversible plain error by failing to instruct the jury sua sponteon the limited purposes for which it could consider evidence of the motorcycle case in relation to the Signal Mountain Trail case. However, Bondsteel failed to raise this issue, and a trial court’s failure to give a limiting instruction sua spontein the CRE 404(b) context was not reversible plain error.

Bondsteel argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him for second-degree kidnapping of N.D. and K.D.; alternatively, he contended that the jury instructions on these counts were deficient. Although Bondsteel only moved N.D. a short distance, it substantially increased the risk of harm to N.D. by moving her off the public path. In contrast, there was no evidence in the record that Bondsteel moved K.D. at all. Because the evidence on the second-degree kidnapping conviction of K.D. was insufficient, this conviction was reversed and the accompanying sentence was vacated.

Finally, Bondsteel argued that the judgments must be reversed because the prosecutors misrepresented the nature of DNA evidence during closing argument. Bondsteel’s counsel did not object to the arguments at trial, and there was either support in the record for the prosecutor’s arguments or there was a lack of evidence in the record that defense counsel’s failure to object was tactical instead of inadvertent. Therefore, reversal was not required.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Need Not Renew Pretrial Objection to Joinder to Preserve Issue

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Curtis on Thursday, August 14, 2014.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Joinder—Motion to Suppress Evidence.

Curtis appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child and two counts of aggravated incest, all arising from sexual acts with his two daughters, S.C. and C.C. These assaults began when the victims were 9 or 10 years old and continued until they were removed from the home several years later.

On appeal, Curtis contended that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecution to join for trial the charges involving the two victims. Sexual assault offenses may be joined if the evidence of each offense would be admissible in separate trials. Here, the evidence of Curtis’s assaults of the two victims would have been admissible in separate trials under both CRE 404(b) and CRS §16-10-301. The evidence at issue related to material facts, including Curtis’s intent and the fact that he was engaged in a common plan, scheme, or design, and this evidence was relevant because it made it likely that Curtis had committed the crimes charged. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the prosecution to join the charges pertaining to both victims.

Curtis also contended that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress the statements that he made during his interview with an agent from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. Curtis claimed these statements were involuntary and were made after he had invoked his right to silence. However, Curtis voluntarily waived his Miranda rights, agreed to take a polygraph examination, was not in custody during the examination, and did not unambiguously invoke his right to silence. In addition, the officer’s conduct was not coercive. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying Curtis’s motion to suppress.

Finally, Curtis contended that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence of his conduct concerning S.C.’s stillborn baby after its birth (specifically, that Curtis removed the stillborn baby from S.C.’s room and concealed it in a box and then in a jar). Curtis’s conduct after the stillborn birth reflected efforts to conceal that birth, shows consciousness of guilt, explained how the abuse continued leading to S.C.’s second pregnancy, and undermined Curtis’s defense that he was unaware he had intercourse with S.C. because she had drugged and sexually assaulted him. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence at issue here. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Successful Objection to Joinder of Two Cases at Trial Barred Joinder of Dismissal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Marshall on Thursday, April 10, 2014.

Joinder—Objection—Waiver Dismissal.

A grand jury indicted defendant in November 2009 for securities fraud, theft, conspiracy, and organized crime. In February 2012, the prosecution filed a second case by information that contained numerous similar counts. The prosecution moved to join the two cases, but defendant objected, and the court denied the prosecution’s motion. A jury acquitted defendant in the first case. He then asked the court to dismiss the second case because the charges in that case should have been joined with the first case. The court agreed with defendant’s argument and granted his request.

The People argued on appeal that the trial court erred in dismissing the second case against defendant. Defendant’s successful objection to the prosecution’s motion to join the two cases barred his subsequent motion to dismiss the second case, because it was not joined with the first. Therefore, defendant waived his joinder rights under Crim.P. 8(a)(1) and CRS § 18-1-408(2). The judgment dismissing this case was reversed, and the case was remanded to the trial court to reinstate the charges against defendant.

Summary and full case available here.