August 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Vague and Fleeting Reference to Prior Criminal Activity Did Not Undermine Fairness of Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Salas on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Due Process—Mistrial—Prior Criminality—Videotaped Interview—Inconsistent Statements—Sexually Violent Predator—Findings of Fact.

A jury found Salas guilty of sexual assault on a 9-year-old child by one in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child, pattern of abuse. The trial court’s order found him to be a sexually violent predator (SVP).

On appeal, Salas contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his rights to due process, a fair trial, and an impartial jury by denying his motion for a mistrial after victim’s grandmother testified by giving a nonresponsive answer to a question which, Salas contended, impermissibly referred to prior criminality. Because grandmother’s remark was fleeting, minimally prejudicial, and immediately followed by a curative instruction, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Salas’s motion for a mistrial.

Salas next contended that the district court abused its discretion when it denied his request to play a videotaped interview of grandmother. Here, defense counsel sufficiently confronted grandmother with her inconsistent statements and she either explained or conceded them. Thus admission of the videotape would have been cumulative, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Salas also argued that the trial court’s determination that he qualified as an SVP failed to satisfy statutory and due process requirements because the court never made specific findings of fact in support of its determination as required by C.R.S. § 18-3-414.5(2). While the record evidence might support a conclusion that Salas either promoted or established a relationship with the victim for purposes of sexual victimization, the court did not make specific findings on this matter, and other evidence might lead to the opposite conclusion. This error was substantial and cast serious doubt on the reliability of the SVP designation.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed. The SVP designation was vacated and the case was remanded for the trial court to make specific findings of fact regarding Salas’s SVP designation.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*