June 26, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Single Entry Can Only Support One Count of Burglary

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Carter on Thursday, March 12, 2015.

Burglary—Challenge for Cause—Cross-Examination—Relevance—Jury Instructions—Complicity Liability—Voir Dire—Reasonable Doubt—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

After Fuller, a former grade-school classmate of R.W., knocked on the door, asking to use R.W.’s phone, two or three men rushed inside, pushing past R.W. One of the perpetrators was armed with a rifle. While the perpetrators searched the house, several people called 911, and the police arrived moments later. Fuller and Golston fled, but were apprehended nearby. Defendant’s wife, a friend who was residing in the basement, and at least three minor children had been in the house and witnessed the incident.

Defendant was taken into custody several days later after his parole officer noted that his ankle monitor placed him within 150 to 200 feet of the residence on the night of the incident. He was convicted of four counts of first-degree burglary—assault/menace; one count of first-degree burglary—deadly weapon; and three counts of misdemeanor child abuse.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred when it denied his challenge for cause to a prospective juror who was a criminal investigator for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). However, the CPUC does not qualify as a public law enforcement agency under the applicable statute. Therefore, it was not error for the trial court to deny the challenge for cause.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by restricting him from eliciting, on cross-examination, information about two alleged incidents that he claims would have been relevant as to R.W.’s motive to testify and credibility. Specifically, defendant sought to cross-examine R.W. and Detective Meier, an investigating detective on the case, to support a defense that what happened at R.W.’s house on the eve of the incident was not a robbery but a botched drug deal. This evidence, however, was too speculative to support the relevance of these inquiries; therefore, they were properly excluded.

Defendant argued that the trial court erred when it gave a second instruction on complicity liability. Standing alone, the second instruction could be confusing, but it didn’t conflict with or contradict the first instruction. When read as a whole, the instructions accurately informed the jury of the applicable law.

Defendant contended that the trial court erred, during voir dire instructions to the jury, by analogizing the beyond a reasonable doubt standard to an incomplete jigsaw puzzle, and by allowing the prosecutor to make similar comments, consequently lowering the prosecution’s burden of proof. The trial court verbally instructed the jury twice on the definition of reasonable doubt, as stated in the model jury instructions and applicable case law, and provided final written instructions. Absent evidence to suggest otherwise, it is presumed that the jury followed these instructions.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erred when it allowed the prosecutor to make statements characterizing defense counsel as attempting to distract the jury with “magic trick[s]” and “red herrings.” Although the reference to defense counsel in the prosecution’s closing argument was arguably inappropriate, as a whole, the prosecutor’s statements were fair comments on the evidence. Therefore, they were not improper. Conversely, the prosecutor’s comments during voir dire did not appear to be tied to the evidence and were improper. However, these statements were not the focus of the overall voir dire and argument. Therefore, any error was harmless.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred in entering convictions on each of the five counts of first-degree burglary. Defendant’s burglary convictions were based on the same unlawful entry of the victims’ home. Because a single entry can support only one conviction of first-degree burglary, even if multiple assaults occur, defendant’s five first-degree burglary convictions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause.

The case was remanded to the trial court with directions to vacate defendant’s conviction and sentence for four counts of first-degree burglary—assault/menace and correct the mittimus accordingly. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed.

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

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