June 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: People v. Blackwell

on June 10, 2010.

Evidence—Due Process—Witness—Fifth Amendment—Sixth Amendment—Hearsay.

Defendant Blackwell appealed the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of first-degree murder after deliberation, vehicular eluding with injury, and two habitual offender counts. The judgment was affirmed.

After firing a gun at rival gang members, defendant and his accomplice, C.W., fled the scene. A high-speed car chase ensued, and the police apprehended defendant and C.W. after they crashed into a police car.

Defendant contended that he was deprived of the right to a fair trial because the trial court erroneously excluded important defense evidence. Specifically, defendant argued that he was deprived of due process because the government improperly interfered with a defense witness’s choice to testify. Defendant subpoenaed J.N., C.W.’s former cellmate, to testify concerning statements C.W. allegedly had related to him. However, J.N. was appointed counsel to represent him after the prosecution determined that J.N.’s account of the facts contained numerous inaccuracies. J.N.’s counsel advised him to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to avoid committing perjury. Here, the prosecution did not threaten J.N.; there was record support of J.N.’s inconsistencies with the evidence; and the prosecutor properly requested that the court appoint independent counsel for J.N. Therefore, the prosecutor did not coerce J.N. into refusing to testify, and the Court of Appeals was not required to balance J.N.’s Fifth Amendment right not to testify against defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to present a defense. Accordingly, defendant was not deprived of his ability to present a defense.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in excluding an audio recording of J.N.’s police interview. However, there was ample evidence that the audio recording lacked reliability and trustworthiness. Further, J.N. could not be cross-examined regarding the audio recording because he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Therefore, the court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the recording.

Defendant further argued that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that an unidentified witness approached a security guard and reported that a black Ford Taurus with tinted windows and its headlights off sped off from the same parking lot as defendant’s car after the shooting. Because the witness was unavailable, defendant sought to elicit testimony about the unidentified car through the security guard. The trial court properly court excluded the evidence because no hearsay exception applied and it raised C.R.E. 403 concerns.

This summary is published here courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer. Other summaries by the Colorado Court of Appeals on June 10, 2010, can be found here.

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