May 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Error in Joining Trials Where CRE 404(b) Would Have Allowed Admission of Other Act Evidence

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Raehal on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Bradford Steven Raehal was living in the basement of S.F.’s family home when he was arrested for failing to register as a sex offender. Shortly after his arrest, S.F. reported that Raehal had sexually assaulted him on multiple occasions and had taken pictures of the assaults with a grey or silver digital camera. A search executed pursuant to a warrant found the digital camera, which contained previously deleted images of Raehal assaulting S.F.

J.H., another minor who lived at S.F.’s house, first denied that Raehal had assaulted him, but later reported three separate incidents of abuse. Although the incidents differed from the incidents with S.F., both boys reported that Raehal gave them video games and rubbed lotion on their backs before the assaults, which occurred in the same location for both boys.

At first, the trials for the acts on S.F. and J.H. were separate, but the district court joined the trials over defense counsel’s objection. A jury convicted Raehal of two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust (one for acts against S.F. and one for acts against J.H.), two counts of sexual assault on a child as part of a pattern of abuse (one for acts against S.F. and one for acts against J.H.), and two counts of sexual exploitation of a child for the possession and production of sexually exploitative material relating to the pictures taken of S.F. In a separate proceeding, he was adjudicated a habitual sex offender against children. The trial court designated him a sexually violent predator and sentenced him to 112.5 years to life.

On appeal, Raehal first contended that the trials were improperly joined. Although he admitted that S.F.’s testimony would have been admissible under CRE 404(b) in J.H.’s trial, he argued the photos depicting the assaults of S.F. would not have been admissible. The court of appeals found no abuse of discretion. The court disagreed that the photographs should have been separately analyzed, and found the Spoto test inapplicable because the photos were admitted to corroborate S.F.’s testimony, not to prove a common scheme or plan. The court of appeals similarly found no error in the court’s failure to give a limiting instruction as to the photos, finding that any error could not have cast serious doubt on the reliability of the convictions.

Raehal next contended that the contents of the digital camera should have been suppressed because the examination of the camera occurred outside the 14-day window in the search warrant. The court of appeals again disagreed, finding that the camera was seized within the time limit and was not altered between the seizure and examination, so there was no error.

Raehal also contended that evidence of his prior assault of two other boys should have been rejected under CRE 404(b), but the court of appeals again disagreed, finding that although the prosecutor’s statements were somewhat misleading, there was no doubt that Raehal was convicted of only one charged offense.

Finally, Raehal argued, and the prosecution conceded, that the trial court erred in finding him a sexually violent predator without making specific findings. The court of appeals remanded for further findings on the sexually violent predator designation.

The court of appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

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