May 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Error in Trial Court’s Refusal to Provide Expert Witness Without Funding to Indigent Defendant

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stroud on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

Child Abuse—Expert Witness Funding—Indigency—“Admission”—Dependency and Neglect Testimony—Effective Representation—Consecutive Sentences—Presentence Confinement Credit.

This appeal arises from allegations of child abuse concerning defendant’s 11-week-old daughter, R.S., and his stepchildren, C.H. and S.H. The judgment was affirmed.

On appeal, Stroud contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for funds to hire an expert. Here, Stroud was eligible for a court-funded expert because he was indigent and represented by a private attorney who began representing him on a pro bono basis. Thus, the trial court should have provided him expert witness funding without an initial determination of indigency by the Public Defender’s Office. Although the trial court abused its discretion, however, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, because Stroud did not establish that an expert was necessary and there was overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

Stroud also contended that the trial court erroneously admitted his testimony from a previous dependency and neglect case. An “admission” under CRS § 19-3-207(3) only refers to a parent’s formal admission or denial of the allegations in a petition. It does not preclude admissions made during testimony in a dependency and neglect case in a subsequent criminal case. Therefore, the trial court did not err in admitting Stroud’s testimony from his dependency and neglect case.

Next, Stroud argued that his convictions for child abuse should have been reversed because his trial counsel labored under an actual conflict of interest that denied him effective assistance of counsel. Here, the absence of expert testimony did not undermine defense counsel’s representation. Further, the record refutes Stroud’s argument that his trial counsel did not vigorously contest the prosecution’s evidence. Accordingly, there was no actual conflict of interest that adversely affected defense counsel’s performance.

Finally, Stroud contended that the trial court did not make specific findings of fact to justify its imposition of consecutive sentences for his misdemeanor and felony convictions, and that the trial court erroneously denied him presentence confinement credit. Here, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences after considering the nature of the offense, Stroud’s character and rehabilitative potential, his respect for the law, the deterrence of crime, and protection of the public. Further, the court did not abuse its discretion in applying Stroud’s credit for presentence confinement to his misdemeanor sentence rather than his felony sentence.

Summary and full case available here.

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