October 22, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statute of Limitations Tolled While Defendant Incarcerated in Minnesota

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Butler on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Child—Statute of Limitations—Tolling—Out-of-State.

In 1995, Butler was convicted in Colorado and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for sexually assaulting a child. In 1999, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) placed Butler in a Minnesota prison, where he served the remainder of his Colorado sentence until he was released in 2006. A month after his release, Butler attempted to contact L.W., prompting L.W. to report abuse he had allegedly suffered as a child between January 1992 and May 1995. Charges were then brought against Butler in the present case based on L.W.’s allegations of sexual assault, and he was convicted. Butler filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion asserting that the charges were barred by the applicable 10-year statute of limitations. The postconviction court denied Butler’s motion based on tolling of Colorado’s limitations period while Butler was incarcerated and thus “absent from the state of Colorado.” Butler did not raise the statute of limitations argument on direct appeal.

The people initially contended that Butler was barred from pursuing his statute of limitations claim in a postconviction proceeding under the abuse of process rule. However, under an exception to the abuse of process rule, any claim that the sentencing court lacked subject matter jurisdiction may be pursued in a postconviction proceeding. Consequently, Butler’s claim was not barred.

On appeal, Butler contended that the postconviction court erred in ruling that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction for purposes of the statute of limitations’ tolling provision because he was absent from Colorado while he was incarcerated in Minnesota for his prior Colorado convictions. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that a defendant is “absent” from Colorado for statute of limitations purposes when he has been transferred by the DOC to an out-of-state facility to serve out the remainder of a Colorado sentence. Consequently, the applicable 10-year limitations period was tolled while Butler was in Minnesota. Additionally, under the circumstances here, the prosecution’s failure to plead Butler’s absence from the state did not deprive the court of jurisdiction to proceed.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Denial of Crim. P. 35 Motion Without Hearing was In Error

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Smith on Thursday, January 27, 2017.

Crim. P. 35(c)Post-Conviction ReliefPlea AgreementIneffective Assistance of CounselHearing—Sentencing.

Smith was charged with three sexual offenses. As the result of an unwritten plea agreement, Smith pleaded guilty to added counts of first degree assault with a deadly weapon and attempted sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. The original charges were dismissed, and Smith was sentenced to a determinate 28-year term in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

Acting pro se, Smith timely moved for post-conviction relief under Crim. P. 35(c). The district court appointed counsel to expound on Smith’s claims in a supplemental motion. The court sought and received a response from the prosecution, which attached a report authored by the prosecution’s investigator. Smith filed a reply that did not specifically challenge the investigator’s report but rather identified contested issues of fact and requested an evidentiary hearing. In a written order, the district court denied Smith’s motion without holding a hearing.

On appeal, Smith contended that the district court erred in denying his motion without a hearing because he asserted sufficient facts to support his claim that plea counsel was ineffective. Under certain circumstances, a trial court may deny a post-conviction motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing if the motion, the files, and the record show the defendant is not entitled to relief, and where the court refers the matter for additional briefing, as it did here, it may enter a ruling based on the pleadings if it finds it appropriate to do so. Here, the district court relied, in part, on the report authored by the prosecution’s investigator in determining that Smith was not entitled to relief. Because the attachment was not part of the file and record of the case, and did not qualify as a pleading, the district court’s reliance on that document was error. It was also error for the court to rely on Smith’s plea colloquy in denying his claims related to that phase of the proceedings because Smith alleged sufficient facts to warrant a hearing on his claim of ineffective assistance related to his plea.

Smith also claimed ineffective assistance of counsel at his sentencing. The Colorado Court of Appeals determined that this claim was conclusory, vague, and lacking in detail, and that it failed to adequately allege the required prejudice.

The district court’s order on Smith’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing was affirmed. The district court’s order on Smith’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel related to his plea was reversed and the case was remanded for a hearing solely on that claim.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lengthy Delay in Postconviction Proceedings Did Not Violate Due Process

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hardin on Thursday, December 1, 2016.

William Hardin was accused of robbing three men and killing two of them. When his 1988 trial concluded, Hardin was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of felony murder, and two counts of murder after deliberation. He was sentenced to two consecutive 16-year sentences for the aggravated robbery convictions and two life sentences for the felony murder convictions. He was not sentenced for the murder after deliberation convictions. Hardin appealed and was also granted a limited remand to pursue a Crim. P. 35(c) ineffective assistance claim. Over the next six years, Hardin was appointed a series of private attorneys for his postconviction claim; Hardin repeatedly filed pro se motions expressing frustration with his legal representation and his appointed attorneys’ lack of action on the postconviction claim.

In 1997, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals vacated Hardin’s limited remand and decided his direct appeal. It affirmed Hardin’s convictions but remanded for sentencing on the murder after deliberation convictions and vacate one of the felony murder convictions. That division also concluded that Hardin’s ineffective assistance claims should be decided in a postconviction proceeding. Hardin filed a pro se postconviction proceeding in 1999, which the court denied without a hearing. Another division of the court of appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to hold further proceedings on the postconviction claims. After several more years, Hardin’s current attorney was appointed. Eight years after her appointment, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Hardin’s postconviction claims. The postconviction court denied Hardin’s motion after the hearing, and he appealed.

The court of appeals analyzed whether the excessively lengthy delay in the postconviction proceedings violated Hardin’s due process rights. Hardin argued that he should have been granted a new trial because the delay impaired his ability to present his claims for postconviction relief, as shown by the witnesses’ faded memories and the unavailability of certain records. The court of appeals disagreed with Hardin, but affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of his motion for relief. The court of appeals found that the length of the delay weighed in Hardin’s favor, the reason for the delay was mixed and therefore neutral, the defendant properly asserted his rights, and the delay did not prejudice Hardin. The court found that although some of the witnesses’ memories were dimmed, it was not so significant as to prejudice Hardin. The court emphasized that although it did not find prejudice, the lengthy delay is unacceptable in a legal system designed to provide speedy resolutions to criminal defendants.

The court of appeals next addressed Hardin’s contention that the postconviction court abused its discretion by not making findings of fact or conclusions of law as to whether his trial counsel was inefficient for failing to object to the trifurcation of the aggravated robbery charges. The court found that although the trial court did not directly address this issue, it made factual findings about Hardin’s lack of prejudice on all issues, therefore the trifurcation issue was presumably covered.

The court of appeals affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of Hardin’s motion for relief.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Facts, If True, Would Establish Justifiable or Excusable Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Torres on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Guilty Plea—Immigration Status—Post-Conviction Motion—Statutory Time Bar—Justifiable Excuse—Excusable Neglect.

Chavez-Torres is a citizen of Mexico who came to the United States with his family when he was a child. While in high school, Chavez-Torres pleaded guilty to first degree criminal trespass. The trial court sentenced him to probation, which he successfully completed.

Seventeen years after his criminal trespass conviction, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings, alleging that Chavez-Torres was not legally present in the United States and had been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Chavez-Torres moved for post-conviction relief from his criminal trespass conviction under Crim. P. 35(c) based on ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleged that he had informed his plea counsel that he was not a U.S. citizen but counsel advised him to accept the plea agreement without telling him that the guilty plea carried a risk of adverse immigration consequences. He claimed that had he been properly advised he would have insisted on going to trial. He asserted that as a result, his plea and conviction were constitutionally infirm. While acknowledging that his post-conviction motion was untimely, he alleged that these circumstances amount to justifiable excuse or excusable neglect. The trial court denied the motion as untimely, finding that the prejudice to the state would be too great, given the passage of time, and that he failed to assert facts amounting to justifiable excuse or excusable neglect.

On appeal, Chavez-Torres contended that the district court erred in summarily denying his post-conviction motion based on the statutory time bar because he asserted facts that, if true, would establish justifiable excuse or excusable neglect. Here, even though Chavez-Torres had informed plea counsel that he was not a citizen of the United States, counsel had advised him to accept the plea agreement without telling him that the guilty plea carried a risk of adverse immigration consequences. Chavez-Torres subsequently completed his probation and did not learn that his conviction had adverse immigration consequences until the removal proceedings were initiated. Under these circumstances, it cannot be concluded, as a matter of law, that justifiable excuse or excusable neglect did not exist.

Defendant also argued that the finding that the State would suffer “great” prejudice has no record support. The Colorado Court of Appeals determined that the existing record does not support the district court’s finding that the state will suffer great prejudice.

The order denying the post-conviction motion was reversed and the case was remanded to the district court to determine whether Chavez-Torres has established justifiable excuse or excusable neglect for his untimely post-conviction motion. If he can, the court must then consider the merits of his post-conviction motion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Entitled to At Least a Hearing on Ineffective Assistance Claims

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hunt on Thursday, June 16, 2016.

Postconviction Relief—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Transferred Intent—Complicity.

Defendant was charged with first degree “after deliberation” murder, first degree “extreme indifference” murder, conspiracy to commit murder, possession of a weapon by a previous offender, and three crimes of violence (sentencing enhancement) counts. Under a plea agreement, defendant pleaded guilty to an added count of second degree murder and to one of the original crime of violence counts in exchange for (1) the dismissal of the remaining charges and (2) a stipulated sentence of between 30 and 40 years’ imprisonment.

Defendant later wrote two letters to the district court asking to withdraw his guilty plea. He asserted that he was not guilty of murder because he had not intended for the shooter to kill the victim and his attorney had erroneously advised him that he could, if tried, be found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment under a complicity theory. Plea counsel then filed a motion to withdraw from the case based on an alleged conflict of interest and asked the court to allow defendant to withdraw his guilty plea. Following a hearing, the court found no conflict of interest and directed counsel to file a Crim. P. 32(d) motion to withdraw guilty plea on behalf of defendant. Counsel filed the motion three days later. The court did not address the motion and sentenced defendant to 40 years’ imprisonment.

Defendant subsequently filed two pro se Crim. P. 35(c) motions for postconviction relief based on ineffective assistance of plea counsel, again alleging that he had been incorrectly advised that he could be found guilty of murder as a complicitor simply because he was present when a person he had not intended to be killed was killed. The court appointed new counsel who expounded on defendant’s claims, and the court, without a hearing, denied the motions for postconviction relief.

On appeal, defendant argued that he was entitled to a hearing on his ineffective assistance of counsel assertions, and the Court of Appeals agreed. An ineffective assistance of counsel claim requires a defendant to establish that counsel’s performance fell below the level of reasonably competent assistance demanded of attorneys in criminal cases and that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. A hearing is required unless the record establishes that the allegations, if proven true, would fail to establish either of these conditions. Here, defendant argued that he was not aware that the shooter intended to kill someone other than a person whom defendant wanted to kill. If true, these facts would not support a conviction for first or second degree murder under a complicitor theory, and failure to advise defendant of this could have constituted deficient performance on the part of plea counsel. Because there was no hearing to determine what plea counsel advised defendant and what the professional norms were, or whether defendant would have pleaded guilty anyway, the case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing on this issue. Remand is also necessary for an evidentiary hearing on defendant’s claim that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him about appealing the ruling denying his Crim. P. 35(c) motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Non-Disclosure of Victim’s Juvenile Adjudication Did Not Render Plea Ineffective

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Corson on Monday, May 16, 2016.

Guilty Pleas—Voluntariness—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Crim. P. 16.

Respondent Corson pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child, position of trust. Corson sought to overturn his conviction because the prosecutor, who had previously obtained a juvenile adjudication against the victim for falsely reporting a sexual assault in another case, did not disclose the victim’s prior false-reporting adjudication. The Supreme Court held that the prosecution’s non-disclosure did not render Corson’s guilty plea involuntary or his plea counsel ineffective. The Court also held that juvenile adjudications are not criminal convictions and therefore are not subject to automatic disclosure under Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1)(V).

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Potential Conflict of Interest Relevant in Determination of Prejudice to Defendant

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Villanueva on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Benjamin Garcia-Diaz’s wife called the police for a domestic violence incident, and authorized a search of the residence. Police found $30,000 worth of cocaine during the search. Garcia-Diaz retained Charles Elliot to defend the domestic violence charges, and although the prosecution moved to add drug charges, the motion was still pending when Garcia-Diaz disappeared in March 2005. His body was found in September 2005, and Martin Villanueva was arrested for the murder.

Villanueva retained Elliot, who had represented him in the past. Elliot advised Villanueva that the prosecution might seek to disqualify him because of his prior representation with Garcia-Diaz, and later Elliot entered into an agreement with the prosecution where neither party would mention his prior representation of Garcia-Diaz. The trial court was never told about the conflict of interest.

At trial in 2006, the prosecution’s theory of the case was that Garcia-Diaz was about to enter into an agreement with the prosecution and would have laid the blame on Villanueva, his supplier, so Villanueva shot him at a crucial time. In fact, as Elliot knew, Garcia-Diaz had not negotiated at all with the prosecution and was not preparing to blame Villanueva, but because of his agreement Elliot could not rebut the prosecution’s theory.

Villanueva was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. He then filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion alleging that Elliot’s performance was deficient because he had a conflict of interest that adversely affected his trial performance. The district court denied the postconviction motion.

On appeal, the court of appeals evaluated Villanueva’s claims under the framework set forth in West v. People, 2015 CO 5, which clarified the correct standard for evaluating conflict of interest claims. Under West, to show an adverse effect from a conflict of interest, the defendant must identify a plausible defense or strategy, show that the alternative strategy was objectively reasonable, and establish that counsel’s failure to pursue the alternative strategy was linked to the conflict. Villanueva contended that Elliot was ineffective for failing to rebut the prosecution’s theory of the case. The trial court determined that because Villanueva showed only a potential conflict, not an actual conflict, his argument failed. However, under West, Villanueva needed only to show a potential conflict.

The court of appeals remanded for the district court to consider whether Elliot’s duties to Garcia-Diaz were inherently in conflict with Villanueva’s suggested alternative strategy of rebutting the prosecution’s evidence regarding whether Garcia-Diaz was about to snitch on Villanueva.

Tenth Circuit: Trial Counsel’s Strategic Decision Does Not Constitute Ineffective Assistance

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Jones v. Warrior on Tuesday, November 10, 2015.

As Paul Howell parked his Suburban in his parents’ driveway with his two young daughters and his sister, he was shot by a black man in a white shirt with a black hat and a red bandanna covering his face. His sister grabbed the girls out of the backseat and ran them into the house, and Howell’s parents ran out to find their son, lifeless, in the driveway. The Suburban was gone. Howell died later that day from a gunshot wound to the head. Police later found the Suburban in a convenience store parking lot on the south side of Oklahoma City and canvassed the area, looking for suspects. They interviewed Kermit Lottie at a nearby auto body shop, who informed them that Ladell King and at least one other person had attempted to sell him the Suburban the previous day but he refused to buy it. Police tracked down King later that day, and he gave them a phone number and address for Julius Jones.

Police surrounded Jones’s parents house and called him to tell him that they wanted to talk to him about the murder. Jones escaped through a second-story window. Officers obtained warrants and searched the house, finding in Jones’s room a white t-shirt and black stocking cap that matched the descriptions given by Howell’s sister. Police also found a .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol and ammunition matching the bullets in the Suburban and Howell. Two days later, officers arrested Christopher Jordan, and after a citywide search, they found and arrested Jones. Jordan pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Jones at trial. Jones was eventually found guilty of first-degree felony murder and sentenced to death.

Jones appealed his convictions and death sentence to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA). He asserted numerous claims of error, including that his trial counsel, David McKenzie, was ineffective for failing to call Emmanuel Littlejohn, an inmate who briefly shared a cell with Jordan, who Jones asserted would have testified that Jordan admitted to shooting Howell and said that Jones wasn’t involved at all. After interviewing Littlejohn and speaking to his attorney about his credibility, McKenzie decided that Littlejohn was a “pathological liar” and lacked credibility. The OCCA found that Jones’ argument about McKenzie’s ineffective assistance went to trial strategy, and found nothing unreasonable about McKenzie’s decision not to call Littlejohn. The OCCA affirmed his convictions and sentence.

Next, Jones sought post-conviction relief in state court, claiming, among other things, that McKenzie was ineffective for failing to investigate whether anyone could corroborate Littlejohn’s story. Jones asserted that Christopher Berry, another inmate who had shared a cell pod with Jordan, had heard Jordan bragging about shooting Howell. McKenzie was also Berry’s attorney, but he never asked Berry about Jones’ case. The OCCA rejected Jones’ claims, noting that Berry suffered from the same credibility problems as Littlejohn and the inmates’ accounts showed only that Jordan changed his story to suit his needs.

Jones then sought federal habeas relief. The federal district court rejected all of Jones’ eight asserted grounds for relief, but granted a certificate of appealability on only one issue: whether McKenzie was ineffective for failing to investigate Littlejohn’s claim that Jordan confessed to the shooting. Using the Strickland analysis, the Tenth Circuit determined that the OCCA had denied relief on the performance prong and had not evaluated the prejudice prong. The Tenth Circuit found that the OCCA had applied the correct legal standard in its decision, and had analyzed trial counsel’s purported deficiency for failing to investigate and present the two witnesses at trial. The Tenth Circuit found Jones failed to establish that the OCCA’s decision was contrary to established law. The Tenth Circuit similarly found no basis for Jones’ claim that the OCCA’s decision was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of habeas relief, and denied Jones’ motion to extend the COA to include several additional claims of ineffective assistance.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Underrepresentation of Asian Americans in Jury Pool Not Constitutionally Significant

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Luong on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

Man Hao Luong was convicted of several crimes based on acts occurring in 2005 and was sentenced to 96 years imprisonment. On direct appeal, the court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, and on remand his sentence was reduced to 64 years. Luong then filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion for postconviction relief, arguing his counsel was ineffective because he had not investigated the underrepresentation of Asian Americans in the jury pool at Luong’s trial. The postconviction court denied his motion and Luong appealed.

Luong’s original trial took place in Jefferson County, where Asian Americans comprise 2.63% of the population. Of the 100 member jury pool at Luong’s trial, none were Asian American. Luong argued his counsel should have investigated whether jurors of Asian descent were systematically or intentionally underrepresented in his jury as well as other juries in the county. Luong also asserted that the state’s destruction of the master jury list (jury wheel) and jury panel violated his constitutional rights because the destruction prevented him from proving his counsel’s performance prejudiced him. After he filed his appeal but before the court of appeals issued its opinion, the state court administrator informed Luong that the records of the jury wheel and jury panel had been found, and provided a list of the 324 people who reported for jury service on the date of Luong’s trial. Luong moved to remand for reconsideration of that information, but the court of appeals denied his motion.

On appeal, the court of appeals first noted that to establish that the composition of a jury pool is a prima facie violation of the Sixth Amendment, the defendant must prove (1) the excluded group is distinctive, (2) the representation of the group is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community, and (3) the underrepresentation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury selection process. The court of appeals, acknowledging that Asian Americans are a distinctive group, evaluated whether the representation of Asian Americans in the jury pool was fair and reasonable in relation to the population within the community. The court noted that implicit in Luong’s argument was a presumption that his counsel should have known the percentage of Asians in Jefferson County and been surprised that there were not at least two people of Asian descent in the 100-person jury pool. The court initially noted that counsel’s performance was not grossly incompetent and a hearing on the Crim. P. 35 motion was unnecessary. Next, using statistical analyses, the court found no constitutional violation from having a 100-person jury pool with no Asian Americans. Because the population of Asians in Jefferson County was small, the absolute impact of the absence of Asians on the jury pool was insignificant.

The court of appeals affirmed the denial of Luong’s Crim. P. 35 motion for postconviction relief.

 

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defense Counsel Did Not Err by Refusing to Call Expert Witness who Agreed with Prosecution

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Garner on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

First-Degree Murder—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Rebuttal Expert—Jury Instructions—Conflict of Interest.

Defendant was charged and found guilty of first-degree murder for stabbing a female friend to death when the two were most likely high on methamphetamine.

On appeal, defendant contended that the post-conviction court erred in denying his motion because the evidence at the post-conviction hearing established that his trial counsel was ineffective. Defense counsel was not ineffective for failing to call a rebuttal expert to testify regarding the cause of the victim’s death after defendant’s first expert changed her mind and agreed with the prosecution’s expert witnesses. Further, because the subject of hypothermia as a potential cause of death was not central to the case, defense counsel did not err in failing to call an expert on this issue. It was also reasonable for defense counsel to forgo calling a methamphetamine expert, who could cause more harm than good to defendant’s case, and to forego calling another inmate, Mr. K, when this witness had three felony convictions and two other inmates had already been used as impeachment witnesses to rebut the prosecution’s witness. It was also not a conflict of interest for defense counsel to represent defendant after previously having represented Mr. K, who was a potential witness for defendant.

Defendant also asserted that his attorney erred by not objecting to the jury instructions, which only contained a partial instruction regarding intoxication law. However, voluntary intoxication was not consistent with defendant’s theory of the case, which was that he did not kill the victim. Therefore, although defense counsel should have asked to include a complete instruction regarding intoxication law since the prosecution had introduced the instruction, it was not err in failing to do so given the theory of the case. In light of these considerations, the post-conviction court correctly determined that defendant had not shown an actual conflict of interest adversely affecting his counsel’s performance.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Retrospective Competency Evaluation Showed Defendant’s Plea Knowing, Intelligent, and Voluntary

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Pendleton on Thursday, October 22, 2015.

Retrospective Competency Determination—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel.

Defendant gave birth in a public restroom and discarded her newborn son in the trash, where he was later found dead. In exchange for accepting a plea to the child abuse charge, the prosecution dismissed the murder charge and agreed to a sentencing range of between 16 and 40 years in prison. The trial court accepted the agreement and sentenced defendant to 40 years in prison. Almost three years later, defendant filed a motion for post-conviction relief under Crim.P.35(c), seeking to withdraw her plea. The motion was denied.

On appeal, defendant claimed that the post-conviction court erred when it retrospectively determined that she was competent at the time she entered her guilty plea. The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that (1) the nature of defendant’s post-conviction claims made it necessary for the post-conviction court to evaluate defendant’s competency at the time of her plea; (2) the court had enough information to make a retrospective competency determination; and (3) the record supported the finding that defendant was competent. The Court also rejected defendant’s argument that her guilty plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, because this claim hinged on defendant’s contention that she was not competent when she entered her plea.

Defendant also argued that the post-conviction court erred when it denied her motion for post-conviction relief on the ground that her plea counsel was ineffective. Defendant’s claim failed because she did not show both deficient performance and prejudice. Counsel’s advice to defendant to abandon her insanity defense in favor of the plea offer, as well as decisions counsel made regarding investigation of the case and defenses, did not fall outside the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Further, counsel argued effectively on defendant’s behalf at the sentencing hearing. The order was affirmed.

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

Colorado Supreme Court: District Courts Should Order Disclosure of Possibly Exculpatory Material Throughout Post-Conviction Proceedings

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People v. Owens on Monday, June 30, 2014.

CAR 21 Original Proceeding—Death Penalty—CRS §§ 16-12-201 to -210—Discovery and Disclosure.

Owens and Ray petitioned pursuant to CAR 21 for relief from a series of discovery rulings of the district court relative to post-conviction proceedings in their respective death penalty cases. Each had moved to discover the prosecution’s investigation of the claims raised by Owens’s motion for post-conviction review, on the grounds that such disclosure was required either by Crim.P. 16 or by the federal or state constitution. The district court ruled that Crim.P. 16 did not impose obligations on the prosecution with respect to its preparation to meet defendants’ post-conviction claims, but that the prosecution continued to have obligations to disclose information that was both exculpatory and constitutionally material, without regard for the time of or impetus for its discovery.

The Supreme Court issued a rule to show cause why the district court’s ruling should not be disapproved for too narrowly limiting the prosecution’s discovery obligations during the unitary review proceedings prescribed by statute for all death sentences and convictions resulting in death sentences in this jurisdiction. The Court held that because Crim.P. 16 imposes disclosure obligations on the prosecution only with regard to materials and information acquired before or during trial, the district court did not err in finding it inapplicable to information acquired in response to defendants’ post-conviction claims. However, because the Court previously has held not only that a prosecutor’s constitutional obligation to disclose information favorable to an accused extends through the appeal of a death sentence, but also that district courts should order the disclosure of some possibly exculpatory material, despite being unable to find a reasonable probability that nondisclosure would change the result of the proceeding, the Court remanded the cases with directions for the district court to apply the due process standard and procedure announced in People v. Rodriguez, 786 P.2d 1079 (Colo. 1989).

Summary and full case available here.