April 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Did Not Err in Summarily Denying Defendant’s Petition for Postconviction Relief

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Phipps on Thursday, December 30, 2016.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel.

Police discovered child pornography on Phipps’s computer by using LimeWire, a peer-to-peer file sharing application. Phipps pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child and was sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of 17 years to life. He sought postconviction relief under Crim. P. 35(c), claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied the motion without a hearing.

On appeal, Phipps asserted that the district court was required to hold a hearing on his motion and erred in rejecting his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. A district court may deny a post-conviction motion without a hearing where allegations are bare and conclusory, directly refuted by the record, or, even if proven true, would fail to establish one of the prongs of the Strickland test to determine whether there has been ineffective assistance of counsel. To prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, a defendant must establish that (1) counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient and (2) the deficient performance resulted in prejudice to the defendant. To satisfy the prejudice prong, a defendant must show that there is a reasonable probability that “but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.”

Phipps argued that his counsel should have challenged the validity of the initial, remote search of his computer. Phipps claimed that he did not know that the files stored on his computer were publicly accessible through LimeWire. Consistent with other courts that have considered the matter, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that Phipps had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the files he made available for public viewing through LimeWire. Thus his counsel’s failure to challenge the search on Fourth Amendment grounds, even if deficient, could not have constituted Strickland prejudice.

Phipps also argued that his counsel was ineffective when he waived the preliminary hearing. This decision was a matter of strategy. In addition, the evidence of Phipps’s guilt was overwhelming. The waiver of the preliminary hearing could not have constituted ineffective assistance of counsel.

Phipps further argued that his counsel failed to investigate several aspects of his case. Even if this claim were true, it fails the prejudice test. Phipps admitted to possessing child pornography on his computer and he produced a video of him sexually assaulting his underage stepdaughter.

Phipps next contended that his counsel misadvised or failed to advise him of the consequences of his guilty plea. The court carefully examined each of Phipps’s contentions in this regard and found them all without merit.

Lastly, Phipps argued that the district court “redacted” his Crim. P. 35(c) motion and the transcript of his sentencing hearing was falsified. The court found no evidence to support these arguments.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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