August 20, 2019

Archives for May 12, 2015

Colorado Court of Appeals: Other Bad Act Evidence Impermissibly Invited Jury to Infer Defendant Acted in Accordance with Character Propensities

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Harris on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

Murder—Child Abuse Resulting in Death—Reckless Endangerment—CRE 404(b)—Other Acts Evidence.

Harris was convicted of child abuse resulting in death and reckless endangerment. In 2005, Harris lived with her two children, L.L. and O.W., and her husband and his son, S.H. On July 25, S.H. (age 4) fell down the stairs and hit his head. He was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. He was discharged three days later. Thereafter, S.H. suffered from seizures, and on the morning of August 22, he became unconscious. Harris put S.H. in the car with the other children, drove to her mother’s house, and then drove S.H. to the hospital. Upon arrival in the emergency room, S.H. was not breathing, but doctors successfully resuscitated him. S.H. died on September 2.

On appeal, Harris argued that the court erred by admitting other acts evidence pursuant to CRE 404(b). Specifically, L.L.’s father and his fiancée testified that in 2003, when they went with their infant child to pick L.L. up from Harris’s mother’s house, Harris got into an argument with the fiancée and chased after her in a vehicle, intentionally ramming into the fiancée’s vehicle with the infant inside. This evidence was not logically relevant to Harris’s mental state on August 22, nor was it sufficiently similar to the charged conduct in this case. The only thing to which the car-chase incident was logically relevant was Harris’s propensity to get angry and failure to consider how her actions could pose a safety risk to children. This evidence invited the jury to infer that she acted in conformity with the anger propensity when S.H. was fatally injured, which is precisely the inference that CRE 404(b) expressly prohibits. Therefore, admitting evidence of this car-chase incident was an abuse of discretion. Furthermore, the prosecution’s case was not so strong, and the improperly admitted evidence may have substantially swayed the jury to its verdict. As a result, any error was not harmless. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Error for Trial Court to Deny Defendant’s Request to Represent Himself

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Johnson on Thursday, May 11, 2015.

Murder—Trespass—Criminal Mischief—Right to Counsel—Sixth Amendment—Waiver—Circumstantial Evidence.

A jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder, trespass, and criminal mischief; the district court sentenced him to life in prison. A division of the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment due to instructional error and remanded the case for a new trial. The court thereafter denied defendant’s request to represent himself at the second trial, finding that although the request was made voluntarily, it was not made knowingly and intelligently. Defendant was represented by alternative defense counsel (ADC) throughout the second trial, and the jury returned guilty verdicts on all three charges.

On appeal, defendant argued that the district court violated his right to represent himself. The right to self-representation is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, a defendant must show that he or she “knowingly and intelligently” relinquishes the benefits of representation by counsel. The court must honor a defendant’s request to self-represent if it is satisfied that defendant knows what he or she is doing and understands the consequences. Here, the record shows that the district court conducted a thorough and comprehensive inquiry of defendant; defendant’s requests to proceed pro se were unequivocal and not made for the purpose of delay or tactical advantage; and defendant demonstrated through his responses that he was knowingly and intelligently waiving his right to counsel. Under these circumstances, the court erred in denying defendant the right to represent himself. The conviction was therefore reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Defendant also argued that the evidence was not sufficient to support his convictions for trespass and criminal mischief. Although no direct evidence established that defendant committed trespass and criminal mischief, the circumstantial evidence that he (1) sexually assaulted his girlfriend two nights before the vandalism; (2) knew where the victim (his girlfriend’s best friend) lived in Steamboat Springs; and (3) rented a car and drove approximately 400 miles the night of the vandalism (enough for a round trip to Steamboat Springs) was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed these crimes. Thus, he may be retried on these charges.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Admission of “Overkill” Testimony Acceptable Despite Lack of Findings Regarding Scientific Significance

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ruibal on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

Domestic Violence—Limiting Instruction—Expert Testimony—CRE 404(b)—CRS § 18-6-801.5—Hearsay—Photographs.

Defendant Ruibal appealed his judgment of conviction and sentence to forty years imprisonment entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of second-degree murder. The victim, D.P., was fatally beaten during a December weekend in 2007. She died in the apartment that she and Ruibal shared. The prosecution theorized that, in an act of domestic violence, Ruibal assaulted D.P. in their apartment on a Saturday evening, and that D.P. died on Sunday or Monday from injuries sustained in the beating.

On appeal, Ruibal contended that the trial court erred when it did not give a limiting instruction during the testimony of the prosecution’s domestic violence expert. CRE 404(b) and CRS § 18-6-801.5 permit a trial court to admit evidence of other acts of domestic violence between a defendant and a victim if offered to show common plan, scheme, design, identity, modus operandi, motive, guilty knowledge, or some other purpose. In such cases, the trial court must instruct the jury as to the limited purpose for which the other acts evidence is admissible. Here, the expert did not specifically reference any prior acts of domestic violence between Ruibal and D.P. She merely explained the general dynamics that exist in abusive relationships. Based on these circumstances, the trial court did not err when it declined to give a limiting instruction during the testimony of the prosecution’s domestic violence expert.

Ruibal also contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it permitted a pathologist to present expert testimony regarding victim “overkill.” Although the trial court should have entered specific findings on the reliability of the underlying scientific theories, the court overruled Ruibal’s objection to the overkill evidence, implicitly determining that the pathologist’s expert testimony was based on a reliable scientific principle. Further, the trial court did not err when it permitted the expert to testify that his opinion was based on his experience.

Ruibal further contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted five gruesome color photographs that showed the inside of D.P.’s head. The photographs were relevant to show the extent of injuries and the mental state of intent, which outweighed any prejudicial impact. Therefore, the trial court did not err in admitting these photographs. The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Rational Basis Supported Tendered Lesser Non-Included Offense Instruction

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Naranjo on Thursday, May 7, 2015.

Felony Menacing—Lesser Non-Included Offense—Disorderly Conduct.

Defendant Naranjo was convicted of two counts of felony menacing. The victims, a father and daughter, testified at trial that as the father was merging onto the highway, Naranjo cut them off, pointed a gun at the daughter, and threatened both of them. Naranjo testified that the father was the aggressor, that he inadvertently showed his gun as he was putting it away in the glove box, and that he did not make any threats.

On appeal, Naranjo contended that the trial court reversibly erred in declining to instruct the jury on the lesser non-included offense of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon. Although Naranjo’s asserted reason for grabbing the gun was, as the trial court put it, “perfectly benign,” a jury could nonetheless conclude that handling a weapon while traveling on a public highway supported a finding that Naranjo consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the gun would be displayed to someone outside the car. Thus, the record supports a rational basis from which the jury could have convicted Naranjo of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon and acquitted him of felony menacing. The trial court therefore erred in declining to give the lesser non-included offense instruction to the jury. Because this error was not harmless, the judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 5/12/2015

On Tuesday, May 12, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and four unpublished opinions.

Brown v. Marriott Hotel

Lieb v. Patton

United States v. Jenkins

Guerra v. Janecka

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.