March 20, 2019

Archives for June 8, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: At-Risk Status of Victim Need Not Be Known to Defendant to Apply

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Nardine on Thursday, June 2, 2016.

C.R.S. § 18-6.5-103(7)(c)—Mens Rea Element—At-Risk Juvenile—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Character Evidence—Other Acts Evidence.

Nardine was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct on an at-risk juvenile.

On appeal, Nardine contended that C.R.S. § 18-6.5-103(7)(c) has an implied mens rea element that requires the prosecution to prove that a defendant knew of the victim’s at-risk status. He thus argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict him and the trial court erroneously instructed the jury by submitting a special interrogatory that did not include a mens rea for the at-risk element. The court of appeals disagreed with his interpretation of the statute. A defendant need not know that the victim is “at-risk” in order to be convicted of unlawful sexual contact on an at-risk juvenile. Consequently, Nardine’s challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and the special interrogatory were rejected.

Nardine also contended that numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument, in their totality, rose to the level of plain error and required reversal of his conviction. Under the circumstances of this case, the prosecutor improperly (1) characterized the defense theory as a disingenuous scheme commonly perpetuated by defense attorneys to take advantage of victims with mental illness to obtain wrongful acquittals; (2) appealed to the jurors’ religious beliefs and “lambasted” the defense theory by characterizing it as an attack on these beliefs; (3) argued that defense counsel did not believe his own client; (4) argued facts outside the record; and (5) vouched for witness credibility. Because the misconduct so undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial as to cast serious doubt on the reliability of the verdict, reversal was required.

Additionally, Nardine contended that the trial court should have excluded CRE 404(a) character evidence that he was “a sexual predator” and “not a very good person,” and CRE 404(b) evidence of specific other acts of sexual misconduct. The witness statements about Nardine being “not a good person” and a “sexual predator” were inadmissible under CRE 404(a). Evidence of other acts of sexual misconduct against others, however, was permissible to show that Nardine had a similar intent, motive, common plan, scheme, and method of operation.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Aggravated Sentence Upheld Where Jury Would Have Found Supporting Facts

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Mountjoy on Thursday, June 2, 2016.

Consecutive Sentencing—Aggravated Range—Jury—Evidence.

Defendant was convicted of manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm (reckless), and tampering with physical evidence. The trial court imposed a sentence in the aggravated range on each count, to be served consecutively.

On appeal, defendant first contended that each of his aggravated range sentences violated Apprendi v. New Jersey and Blakely v. Washington. Answering a novel question, the court of appeals determined that if a trial court sentences in the aggravated range based on facts not found by a jury, the sentence may be affirmed based on harmless error if the record shows beyond a reasonable doubt that a reasonable jury would have found those facts had the jury been requested to do so by special interrogatory. Based on the overwhelming evidence of guilt in this case, a jury would have found the facts on which the trial court relied in imposing aggravated range sentences, and therefore any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendant also contended that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him consecutively on each conviction. A trial court may impose either concurrent or consecutive sentences where a defendant is convicted of multiple offenses. But when two or more offenses are supported by identical evidence, the sentences must run concurrently. Here, separate acts supported defendant’s convictions for manslaughter and illegal discharge of a weapon. Further, the facts supporting the tampering with evidence conviction did not involve the same acts as either the illegal discharge or manslaughter convictions. Because the record shows that each conviction was supported by distinct evidence, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences.

The sentences were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Community Corrections Resident Has Little to No Expectation of Privacy

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Triplett on Thursday, June 2, 2016.

Residential Community Corrections Facility—Search—Reasonable Expectation of Privacy—Fourth Amendment—Fifth Amendment—Voluntary Statements.

Triplett was serving a sentence at a residential community corrections facility. A community justice officer conducted an unscheduled search of Triplett’s clothing while he was showering and discovered a vial of drugs. Triplett was convicted of possession of a controlled substance.

On appeal, Triplett contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress  (1) the drugs found in his clothing, because this find resulted from an unconstitutional search, and (2) his statements to the police officer who questioned him about the drugs, because the statements should have been suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree” and were involuntary. The court of appeals found that the search was proper because, as an inmate, Triplett had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his clothing while at the residential community corrections facility, and the search was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Because the search was reasonable, Triplett’s argument that the statements he made to the police officer were fruit of the poisonous tree failed.

Alternatively, Triplett contended that his statements to the police officer should have been suppressed under the Fifth Amendment as involuntary under the totality of the circumstances. The court disagreed, finding the statements were voluntary and admissible.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: District Court Did Not Abuse Discretion by Denying Competency Based Stay of Habeas Proceedings

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ryder v. Warrior on Monday, January 11, 2016.

In 1999, James Ryder killed Daisy Hallum and her adult son Sam in a dispute over personal property. Mr. Ryder had been storing supplies at the Hallum residence for his upcoming move to the Yukon Territory, where he was planning to flee and live in the wild in order to avoid an impending apocalypse, but when he went to collect them the Hallums refused to give him his supplies so he murdered them. The State of Oklahoma charged him with two counts of first degree murder. Before trial, psychologist Dean P. Montgomery issued a report to Mr. Ryder’s trial counsel expressing his belief that Mr. Ryder suffered from a longstanding schizoid personality disorder and was incompetent to stand in his own defense. Mr. Ryder’s trial counsel did not inform the court of Dr. Montgomery’s conclusions, however, because based on his own interactions with Mr. Ryder counsel did not have a “good faith doubt” as to Mr. Ryder’s competency to stand trial.

Mr. Ryder was convicted on both counts. Before the penalty phase of the trial, Mr. Ryder’s counsel filed an application for determination of competency supported by Dr. Montgomery’s report. The trial court held a hearing outside the presence of the jury, and denied the request for a separate competency hearing, instead questioning Mr. Ryder. Mr. Ryder assured the court that he understood that he had been convicted of two counts of first degree murder and the state was pursuing the death penalty. He testified that he understood the purpose of mitigation evidence and did not want to present any, and informed the court that he had never been treated for mental illness. During this hearing, the court questioned Mr. Ryder’s counsel about the mitigation witnesses he wished to call. Mr. Ryder became upset and exclaimed that he did not want anyone to testify and did not want a second stage. He left the courtroom. After Mr. Ryder returned, the court ruled he was competent to stand trial and to waive his right to present mitigation evidence. Mr. Ryder’s counsel requested leave to present mitigation evidence anyway, arguing that Mr. Ryder had a Sixth Amendment right to effective representation. The court granted counsel’s request. Mr. Ryder was eventually given a sentence of life without parole for Sam’s death and the death penalty for Daisy’s.

On direct appeal to the OCCA, Mr. Ryder was represented by different counsel. Appellate counsel argued that the trial court erred in failing to make a proper competency determination prior to the sentencing phase and the trial counsel was ineffective for failing to apprise the court of Mr. Ryder’s competency issues before trial. The OCCA remanded to the trial court to determine whether a retrospective competency evaluation was feasible and, if so, to conduct the evaluation. The trial court determined it was feasible and held a retrospective competency evaluation. During voir dire, defense counsel told the jury that Mr. Ryder was on death row, and prospective juror asked the prosecutor about it. The court instructed the jurors that their only task was to determine whether Mr. Ryder was competent. During trial, defense counsel called one witness—Dr. Montgomery. Dr. Montgomery testified that he believed Mr. Ryder suffered from a serious delusional disorder under the schizophrenic group of disorders. The State called three witnesses, who all testified as to their interactions with Mr. Ryder and their perceptions of those interactions. The jury found Mr. Ryder had been competent at the time of his first trial. Mr. Ryder appealed to the OCCA, which affirmed. He then filed a motion for postconviction relief with the OCCA, which was denied, and petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for certiorari, which was also denied.

Mr. Ryder then filed a habeas petition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. He raised eleven grounds for relief and asked that the petition be held in abeyance based on his incompetency. The district court ordered an evidentiary hearing and referred the matter to a magistrate judge for a determination of competency. After a court-ordered competency evaluation and its follow up, the state and defense counsel entered into a stipulation that each of their experts would testify that Mr. Ryder was not competent. The magistrate judge entered an order that Mr. Ryder was not competent, and the district court thereafter ordered an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Mr. Ryder was competent when the statute of limitations ran on his habeas proceedings. After a hearing, the court concluded that Mr. Ryder had failed to show he was incompetent when the statute of limitations ran. The district court subsequently entered an order denying habeas relief. The Tenth Circuit later granted a COA on three grounds, which are the subject of this appeal.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the district court’s denial of a competency-based stay to the habeas proceedings. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court recently determined that there is no right to competency during habeas proceedings, but district courts retain discretion to issue stays where proper. The Tenth Circuit noted that the merits of Mr. Ryder’s claims were adjudicated in the OCCA, and therefore were subject to the limits imposed in § 2254. The Tenth Circuit concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a competency based stay.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the merits of Mr. Ryder’s habeas claims, noting that its review was constricted by AEDPA. In reviewing his ineffective assistance of counsel claim during the retrospective competency evaluation, the Tenth Circuit found that Mr. Ryder could not prove deficient performance, because his counsel’s strategic decisions were reasonable and well within the broad spectrum of competent representation. The Tenth Circuit thoroughly evaluated each of Mr. Ryder’s claims and denied relief as to each one. The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected Mr. Ryder’s ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims, thoroughly examining each one and denying relief.

The Tenth Circuit remarked that the tragic reality in this case is that Mr. Ryder’s untreated mental illness likely influenced his decision to withhold mitigating evidence from the jury, and the condition responsible for Mr. Ryder’s unwillingness to present mitigating evidence may have been the very evidence that could have persuaded the jury to have leniency. However, the Tenth Circuit could only presume that Mr. Ryder’s mental condition had not yet deteriorated to the point of incompetency by the time he made the decision to withhold mitigating evidence from the jury.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 6/7/2016

On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and four unpublished opinions.

United States v. Villa

Estate of Cummings v. United States

United States v. Lindsey

United States v. Rodriguez-Dimas

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