August 21, 2019

Archives for January 27, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree” Doctrine Did Not Apply to Statements

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Archuleta on Thursday, January 26, 2017.

On December 5, 2012, Roger Louis Archuleta and his roommate in the housing facility left Archuleta’s apartment around 7 a.m., as captured by surveillance video. The roommate returned home around noon, and Archuleta returned later, remaining home the rest of the night. That night, other residents of the housing facility reported hearing loud noises. Around 4 a.m. on December 6, the surveillance video showed Archuleta dragging his roommate’s body down the hall, then back to his room. Archuleta then informed a residential aide at the housing facility that he had a body in his apartment that needed to be removed.

When the police arrived at defendant’s apartment, they found the deceased victim lying just inside the door, covered by a blanket. The police observed the victim had blood on him and appeared to have been beaten. They also found defendant seated on a mattress in the living room, apparently highly intoxicated and with a substantial amount of dried blood on his face and hands. There was blood spattered on all four walls in the apartment bedroom, which the prosecution’s expert testified was consistent with an altercation between two people.

The police took defendant to the police station; advised him of his Miranda rights under and interviewed him. They also took pictures of him, collected his clothing, and took swabs of suspected blood. Defendant ended the interview at the police station by indicating he wanted to speak to an attorney. Without obtaining a court order or defendant’s consent, police took defendant to the hospital, where three samples of his blood were drawn at one hour intervals. The court later held that the blood draw was unconstitutional; that holding was not challenged on appeal. Defendant was charged with second degree murder and first degree assault, and the jury found him guilty as charged.

Defendant appealed, arguing his convictions must be reversed because under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, the trial court erred by failing to suppress statements he made in the course of his transport to and detention at the hospital for his blood draws, and also because there were errors in the jury instructions and the trial court improperly elicited and admitted testimony from the prosecution’s blood spatter analysis expert that his conclusions were independently verified. The court of appeals addressed the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine argument first.

The court found no error in the trial court’s admission of defendant’s statements to police officers while at the hospital and in transit. Defendant had made numerous rambling statements to the police while at the hospital, including several comments that seemed to relate to the victim’s death. At one point, the officer left but a recorder was left on in the room. Defendant was heard saying, “Shit. [Victim’s name]. You’re dead, you’re dead brother. I killed you.” The trial court held that the fruit of the poisonous tree was the result of the blood draw, not the statements. The court noted that it was entirely speculative whether defendant would have continued to make statements while at the police station, and the vast majority of his statements were spontaneous. The court of appeals agreed, noting that the exclusionary rule was properly applied to the blood draw results, and that the statements were not fruit of the poisonous tree. The court found that defendant failed to establish a causal connection between the illegality of the warrantless blood draws and the challenged statements.

Defendant also contended the jury instruction defining “cause” misstated the law because it instructed the jury that the victim’s preexisting physical condition was not a defense to the murder and assault charges. He argues that while a victim’s preexisting conditions generally do not impact the causation element, they are relevant to the culpable mental state. The court of appeals disagreed. The court held that because the trial court’s instruction that “it is no defense that the victim was suffering from preexisting physical ailments, illnesses, injuries, conditions or infirmities” was not a stand-alone instruction but rather was embedded into the definition of “cause,” there was no error. The court noted that it is no defense that a victim who had been in good physical condition would have survived an attack; a defendant cannot be excused from guilt and punishment because his victim was weak and could not survive the torture he administered. The court rejected defendant’s contention that the instruction misstated the law.

The defendant also asserted that the trial court plainly erred by giving an erroneous elemental instruction for first degree assault and admitting hearsay testimony from the prosecution’s blood spatter analysis expert. The court of appeals again disagreed, finding that the instruction tracked the statutory language and was therefore sufficient, and the blood spatter analyst’s testimony that someone else always reviews his work was a general statement that did not rise to the level of plain error.

The court of appeals affirmed defendant’s convictions.

SB 17-012: Specifying Procedures for Restoring Competency in Juvenile and Criminal Justice Systems

On January 11, 2017, Sen. Beth Humenik and Rep. Pete Lee introduced SB 17-012, “Concerning Competency Restoration Services for Defendants Deemed Incompetent to Proceed.”

Legislative Oversight Committee Concerning the Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems.

The bill addresses various issues relating to the restoration of competency for juveniles and adults in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, including:

  • Requiring the court to consider whether restoration to competency services should occur on an outpatient basis if the defendant is on bond or summons;
  • Requiring that, in addition to providing competency restoration services in the least restrictive environment, the provision of such services and a juvenile’s participation in those services occur and are reviewed by the court in a timely manner;
  • Establishing the unit within the department of human services that administers behavioral health programs and services, including those relating to mental health and substance abuse, also known as the office of behavioral health (office), as the entity responsible for the oversight of restoration education and the coordination services necessary to competency restoration; and
  • Setting forth the duties of the office related to competency restoration services and education.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It is scheduled for hearing in committee on February 6 at 1:30 p.m.

SB 17-027: Increasing Penalties for Texting and Driving

On January 11, 2017, Sen. Lois Court and Rep. Jovan Melton introduced SB 17-027, “Concerning an Increase in the Penalty for Text Messaging While Operating a Motor Vehicle.”

Currently, the penalty for text messaging while driving is a $50 fine and one point assessed against the violator’s driver’s license for a first offense and a $100 fine and one point assessed against the violator’s driver’s license for a second or subsequent offense. The bill increases the penalty to a $500 fine and 5 points for a first offense and a $750 fine and 6 points for a second or subsequent offense.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

SB 17-051: Revising Statutes Concerning Rights of Crime Victims

On January 13, 2017, Sens. Bob Gardner & Rhonda Fields and Rep. Mike Foote introduced SB 17-051, “Concerning the Rights of Crime Victims.”

The bill makes various amendments to statutes concerning the rights of crime victims, including the following:

The definition of ‘crime’ is amended to include:

  • Failure to stop at the scene of an accident that results in serious bodily injury of another person;
  • Violation of a protection order issued against a person charged with stalking; and
  • Posting a private image for harassment or for pecuniary gain.

The definition of ‘critical stages’ is amended to include any full board review hearing.

The definition of ‘modification of sentence’ is amended to include a resentencing following a probation revocation hearing or a request for early termination of probation.

The bill creates a victim’s right:

  • To be heard at any court proceeding at which the court considers a request for progression from a person accused or convicted of a crime against the victim and who is in the custody of the state mental health hospital. ‘Progression’ includes off-grounds supervised or unsupervised privileges, community placement, conditional release, unconditional discharge, or a special furlough.
  • To be informed of the results of a probation or parole revocation hearing; and
  • To be informed of the governor’s decision to commute or pardon a person convicted of a crime against the victim before such information is publicly disclosed.

The bill requires a district attorney’s office, if practicable, to inform a victim of any pending motion to sequester the victim from a critical stage in the case.

Unless a victim requests otherwise, the district attorney shall inform each victim of the right to receive information from the state mental health hospital concerning the custody and release of a person convicted of a crime against the victim and ordered by a court into the hospital’s care, including how the victim may request notification from the hospital.

Upon the written request of a victim, the Colorado mental health institute at Pueblo or the Colorado mental health institute at Fort Logan shall notify the victim of certain information regarding any person who was charged with or convicted of a crime against the victim.

The bill requires the juvenile parole board to report additional information concerning juvenile parole hearings.

The court shall inform the probation department before any hearing regarding any request by a probationer for early termination of probation or any change in the terms and conditions of probation.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Judiciary and State, Veterans, & Military Affairs committees. It is scheduled for hearing in the Judiciary Committee on February 1 at 1:30 p.m.

SB 17-087: Allowing Courts Discretion to Set Determinate Sentences for Certain Sex Offenders

On January 18, 2017, Sen. Irene Aguilar introduced SB 17-087, “Concerning Granting Judicial Discretion to Sentence a Defendant to an Indeterminate or Determinate Sentence for a Sexual Offense, and, in Connection Therewith, Requiring the Criteria and Basis for the Sentencing Decision to be Articulated on the Public Record.”

Currently, a court is required to sentence certain sex offenders to an indeterminate sentence that is a maximum of the sex offender’s life.

The bill allows the court to choose either the indeterminate sentence or a determinate sentence in those cases. The bill addresses the factors related to punishment and treatment that a court must consider when deciding between an indeterminate or a determinate sentence. The court must specify its reasons on the record for choosing either a determinate or an indeterminate sentence.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It is scheduled for hearing in committee on February 8 at 1:30 p.m.