June 26, 2019

Archives for December 9, 2015

Colorado Court of Appeals: Harmless Error to Include Inconclusive DNA Test Results as Evidence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Marks on Thursday, December 3, 2015.

Robbery—Murder—DNA Evidence—Expert Testimony—Jury Instruction—Theory of Defense.

On January 25, 2011, two armed men forced their way into the home of S.W., a marijuana dealer, in search of money and marijuana. The robbery was interrupted by the arrival of S.W.’s husband and son. As S.W.’s husband struggled with the robber who was carrying a shotgun, the other robber fired his handgun. One of the bullets struck S.W. and killed her. Marks was charged with the crime.

On appeal, Marks contended that the trial court erred in admitting evidence of “inconclusive” and “no conclusion” DNA results without evidence of their statistical significance. The “inconclusive” DNA results were harmless because they were irrelevant and didn’t prove anything. However, the “no conclusion” testing result meant that it could be determine that a person was included as a possible contributor, but the “statistical weight” could not be provided for the result and, therefore, it did not reveal a conclusion. That left the jury with only half the necessary information: that Marks was included, or could not be excluded, as a possible contributor to the DNA on various items of evidence. Without the probability assessment, the probative value of the “no conclusion” results were substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice and misleading the jury. The district court therefore abused its discretion in admitting that evidence. Given the remaining evidence admitted at trial, however, the error was harmless.

Marks also contended that the trial court erred in refusing to give his tendered jury instruction regarding evidence that an alternate suspect, Rocha-Lovatos, committed the crime. Marks was only entitled to a theory of defense instruction, which he declined to submit. Therefore, the trial court did not err in refusing to give the tendered alternate suspect instruction.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Entry Into Motor Vehicle Contemplated by Motor Vehicle Theft Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wentling on Thursday, December 3, 2015.

First-Degree Criminal Trespass—Evidence—Motor Vehicle Theft—CRS § 18-1-303(1)—Equal Protection—Presentence Confinement Credit.

Wentling was arrested in Utah after he was found asleep in a vehicle that had been reported as stolen in Colorado. Wentling was charged with multiple offenses in Colorado, including first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft.

On appeal, Wentling contended that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft. However, the motor vehicle theft statute does not preclude prosecution under a general criminal statute, and the People had discretion to prosecute under either. Here, there was sufficient evidence that Wentling entered the motor vehicle with the intent to commit motor vehicle theft inside the vehicle, which was sufficient to prove first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft.

In the alternative, Wentling contended that he was improperly prosecuted in Colorado in violation of CRS § 18-1-303 because he was previously convicted in Utah for the same conduct. Wentling’s prosecution under the Colorado statute was not barred by CRS § 18-1-303(1) because the law defining each offense was intended to prevent a substantially different harm or evil.

Wentling also contended that when the People charged him with first-degree criminal trespass with intent to commit motor vehicle theft rather than attempted motor vehicle theft, it violated his right to equal protection under the law because it subjected him to more severe punishment. Attempted motor vehicle theft and criminal trespass have different elements and, thus, it is permissible for the legislature to prescribe different penalties for similar conduct. Therefore, the trial court did not violate Wentling’s right to equal protection.

Wentling further contended that the trial court erred when it denied his request for 89 additional days of presentence confinement credit (PSCC). Wentling was entitled to PSCC from October 11, 2011, when he arrived in Moffat County Jail, until February 7, 2012, when he finished his Utah sentence, because this period of time resulted from the charges brought by the State of Colorado. The case was remanded to amend the mittimus to include the correct additional PSCC days.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Sufficient Consequence” Language in Sexual Assault Statute Not Unconstitutionally Vague

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Komar on Thursday, December 3, 2015.

Sexual Assault—Unconstitutionally Vague—Jury Instructions—Mens Rea—Prior Inconsistent Statements.

M.A., the victim, celebrated her 21st birthday with several others and later went to bed in a severely intoxicated state. M.A. testified that she awoke to find defendant engaging in sexual intercourse with her. She told him to stop, screamed for help, and defendant continued the assault until M.A.’s friends pulled defendant off of her. The jury found defendant guilty of sexual assault by causing the victim’s submission through means of sufficient consequence to overcome her will, a class 4 felony.

On appeal, defendant argued that the “sufficient consequence” language of the sexual assault statute, CRS § 18-3-402(1)(a), is unconstitutionally vague, both on its face and as applied to him. When the statute is read as a whole, a reasonable person is put on notice that a class 4 sexual assault is committed when causing submission by “means of sufficient consequence.” Further, the evidence supporting defendant’s conviction showed, at a minimum, that defendant continued to sexually penetrate M.A. after she explicitly and forcefully instructed him to stop. Imposing sexual penetration despite clear and affirmative non-consent paradigmatically constitutes sexual penetration “by means of sufficient consequence reasonably calculated to cause submission.” Accordingly, this statute is not unconstitutionally vague on its face or as applied to defendant.

Defendant also argued that the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury that the mens rea element of “knowingly” applies to the fourth element of sexual assault. Although the instruction did not specifically tie “knowingly” to the last element of the offense, it did inform the jury that to convict it must find the sexual penetration had been achieved by means “reasonably calculated to cause submission against the victim’s will.” Hence, the district court adequately instructed the jury.

Defendant next argued that the district court reversibly erred by sustaining the prosecutor’s objection to testimony concerning M.A.’s prior inconsistent statements and by limiting defense counsel’s questions concerning those statements. On direct examination by defense counsel, M.A. testified that she had never accused anyone other than defendant of sexual assault and no other individual had sexually assaulted her. Defense counsel called Stone as a witness to impeach M.A.’s in-court testimony and to show that M.A. had previously made false accusations of sexual assault. The trial court abused its discretion when it excluded Stone’s testimony concerning M.A.’s prior statements; however, any error was harmless.

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

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 12/8/2015

On Tuesday, December 8, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued one published opinion and one unpublished opinion.

Lozano Granados v. Lynch

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