May 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Merely Identifying Group to Which Excluded Juror Belonged Not Enough for Batson Challenge

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Morales on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Sexual Assault—Jury Selection—BatsonChallenge—Penetration—Evidence—Double Jeopardy.

The evidence presented at trial showed that, on the night of the charged assault, the victim, 16-year-old B.R., attended a party at the apartment of an acquaintance. B.R. became intoxicated and eventually fell asleep in a bedroom. B.R. woke up with Morales, A.R.’s step-father, kissing her, touching her, and placing his penis on her. Someone turned on the lights in the room when B.R. began screaming at Morales and alleging that he had tried to rape her. A jury convicted him of multiple charges of sexual assault.

On appeal, Morales first sought a limited remand for the trial court to make a better record on the third step of his Batson challenge [Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)]. Merely identifying cognizable groups to which the excluded juror might have belonged is insufficient, without more, to establish a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination. Here, a remand was unnecessary, because the court properly determined that Morales failed to make a prima facieshowing of discrimination at step 1 of the Batson analysis.

Morales also contended that the evidence was not sufficient to prove that he committed the crime of sexual assault because there was no sexual penetration. Sexual assault in violation of CRS §18-3-402 requires the knowing infliction of either sexual intrusion or sexual penetration on a victim. Here, the prosecution presented evidence that Morales performed cunnilingus on B.R. The evidence was therefore sufficient to support Morales’s convictions for sexual assault, and the jury was properly instructed as to these definitions.

Morales further argued that one of his convictions must be vacated to comport with the prohibition against double jeopardy. Specifically, he claims that he should not stand convicted and sentenced for both the felony sexual assault and attempted felony sexual assault because the actions underlying both convictions constitute a single crime. All of the sexual conduct Morales inflicted on B.R. occurred within five minutes or less, with no break in between the different sexual acts. There was no evidence of intervening events. Because Morales’s separate convictions for felony sexual assault and attempted felony sexual assault violated double jeopardy principles, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to merge the charges into a single conviction.

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

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