August 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Judgment Reversed in Bias-Motivated Crime Case Because Officer’s Testimony Constituted Expert Opinion

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ramos on Thursday, November 8, 2012.

Bias—Third-Degree Assault—Lay Witness—Expert Testimony—DNA Sample—Crim.P. 41.1(c) and 16(II)(a)(1).

Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of committing a bias-motivated crime and third-degree assault. The judgment of conviction was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court.

While riding in the front passenger seat of a car driven by his girlfriend, defendant turned to the back seat, where victim R.L. was riding, and made bias-related comments to her. Defendant then proceeded to assault R.L., punching her several times in the face and lower neck.

On appeal, defendant asserted that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing a police detective to testify as a lay witness regarding blood spatter and transfer evidence that defendant left on R.L.’s clothing. When an officer’s opinions require the application of, or reliance on, specialized skills or training, the officer must be qualified as an expert before offering such testimony. Here, although the detective had not been qualified as an expert, (1) the detective testified about his extensive experience investigating cases involving blood; (2) the detective used the technical terms “spatter” and “transfer” and defined them for the jury; (3) the prosecutor advised the court that the detective was testifying “as to his training and experience,” and used that phrase four times in questioning the detective; and (4) the detective’s testimony was not based on his personal knowledge or investigation of this case. The trial court abused its discretion by allowing the detective to testify as a lay witness regarding blood spatter and blood transfer, and this error was not harmless. Therefore, the judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in compelling him to provide a DNA sample, because the People did not provide an affidavit setting forth the grounds to support an order to collect evidence pursuant to Crim.P. 41.1(c). Based on the plain language of Crim.P. 16(II)(a)(1), the trial court did not need an affidavit or showing of special circumstances to order defendant to provide non-testimonial evidence. Therefore, the trial court did not err in this regard.

Summary and full case available here.

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