July 16, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Evidence of Alternative Suspect’s Past Sexual Conduct with Someone Other than the Victim Was of Questionable Relevance and Could Mislead Jury

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In Re People v. Salazar on March 19, 2012.

Criminal Defense—Relevant Evidence—Propensity Evidence—Rape Shield Statute—C.R.E. 403.

In this case involving sexual assault on a child, defendant sought to introduce evidence of an alternative suspect, the child’s grandfather. Defendant asserted that the alternative suspect had sexually assaulted his own daughter when she was a child and was present in the home when the incidents for which the defendant was charged allegedly occurred. Thus, defendant argued that the alternative suspect had motive and opportunity to commit the charged offenses and, therefore, evidence of the alternative suspect’s previous sexual conduct was relevant to the identity of the perpetrator in his case. The trial court ruled that the evidence was relevant and its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion of the issues.

The Supreme Court determined that, under Court precedent, evidence of an alternative suspect’s past sexual conduct with someone other than the victim was of questionable relevance to the identity of the perpetrator of the charged offense. The Court concluded that, even assuming the relevance of the alternative suspect’s past sexual conduct, the evidence should be excluded under C.R.E. 403, because its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of confusing the issues and misleading the jury. Noting that the grandfather never was charged criminally for the alleged abuse of his daughter, and that testimony addressing the grandfather’s alleged abuse of his daughter would shift the focus of the trial from the abuse of the victim to the past abuse of the daughter, the Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in finding the evidence admissible in this case.

Summary and full case available here.

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