April 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Cell Phone Records Created in Regular Course of Business are Nontestimonial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ortega on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

Two men, one masked and one not masked, held up a fast-food restaurant at gunpoint. The unmasked man was identified in surveillance video as David Maestas. Police found a car nearby that was registered to Maestas’ wife, and in the car was a cell phone and pair of jeans consistent with those used in the robbery. DNA on the waistband of the jeans was traced to defendant, and several cell phone calls were made to a number listed in the phone as “Ray’s mom.” Defendant was tried separately from Maestas, and a jury convicted him of aggravated robbery. He was adjudicated a habitual offender.

Defendant appealed, arguing three points of error: (1) his Confrontation Clause rights under the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions were violated by admission of the cell phone records; (2) he was denied a fair trial because the prosecutor misstated the evidence; and (3) during the habitual offender trial, his Confrontation Clause rights were violated by admission of sentencing and prison records.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first addressed Defendant’s contention that admission of the cell phone records violated his Confrontation Clause rights. The court examined Crawford v. Washington and found that in order to be considered testimonial, the records must have been made in anticipation of litigation. The court also found a Tenth Circuit opinion dispositive, United States v. Yeley-Davis, 632 F.3d 673 (10th Cir. 2011). In Yeley-Davis, the Tenth Circuit determined that cell phone records kept in the course of regular business by the cell phone company were nontestimonial. The Colorado Court of Appeals found this reasoning persuasive. Although the printout of the records was ultimately included in evidence, the cell phone company created the records in the ordinary course of business and not for litigation purposes. Defendant also contended that his Colorado constitutional rights were violated because there was no showing that the custodian of the records was unavailable. The court of appeals disagreed, citing People v. Dement, 661 P.2d 675 (Colo. 1983). The supreme court’s Dement test provides that the unavailability requirement is subject to an exception when the utility of trial testimony is very remote. Because there would be little practical effect of having the cell phone company’s custodian of records testify, the court found no error.

Defendant also contended the prosecutor impermissibly informed the jury that it was impossible that someone other than Defendant had contact with the jeans. The court of appeals disagreed with Defendant’s characterization of the prosecutor’s statements. The court found that, although the prosecutor’s statements could have been worded more artfully, he did not tell the jury with certainty that the jeans came from Defendant. The court found no error. The court also found no cumulative error, since it found no error at all.

Defendant argued that, during the habitual offender phase of his trial, the court erroneously allowed evidence of sentencing and prison records without requiring the presence of the record custodian. The court of appeals found this contention analogous to Defendant’s argument about the cell phone records and found no error for the same reason.

The court of appeals affirmed the judgment.

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