August 22, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Unfettered Access to Crime Scene Video Allowed Because it Does Not Present Great Risk of Undue Influence

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Rael v. People on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Electronic Exhibits—Crime Scene Videos—Statements by the Defendant—Jury Deliberations.

This case required the supreme court to decide whether it was reversible error for a trial court in a criminal case to provide the deliberating jury with “unfettered and unsupervised access” to a crime scene video and a video of a police interview of the defendant. A division of the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in either regard. In reaching this conclusion, the division relied on DeBella v. People, 233 P.3d 664, 665–66 (Colo. 2010), in which the court considered the propriety of a trial court’s order allowing the jury unfettered access to the videotapes of a child sexual assault victim’s out-of-court interviews. Although the supreme court agreed that the trial court retains discretion regarding juror access to the videos at issue, the court disagreed with the division that DeBella provides the appropriate framework for resolving this case.

The court nevertheless concluded that the division reached the correct result, namely, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury unfettered access to those videos during deliberations. In arriving at this conclusion, the court observed that the non-testimonial crime scene video did not present the same risk of undue emphasis as do videos documenting witnesses’ out-of-court, testimonial statements (like the videotapes at issue in DeBella). The court likewise observed, consistent with well-established precedent, that a defendant’s confession is not subject to the same limitations during deliberations as the out-of-court statements of other witnesses. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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