April 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Due Process Violated When Jury Could Not See Defendant During Children’s Testimony

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Aldridge on Thursday, September 20, 2018.

Criminal Law—Right to Confrontation—Right to be Present During Trial—Child Testimony—Closed Circuit Television.

C.O. and L.A. spent about three weeks camping alone with Aldridge, their maternal grandfather. At the time, C.O. was 4 years old and L.A. was 9 years old. Both girls alleged that they had touched Aldridge’s penis during the camping trip and that it got stiff. A jury found Aldridge guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust as part of a pattern of abuse, two counts of sexual assault on a child as part of a pattern of abuse, four counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust—victim under 15, four counts of sexual assault on a child, and two counts of aggravated incest. The trial court sentenced him to 116 years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

On appeal, Aldridge contended that the trial court erred by excluding him from the courtroom while C.O. and L.A. testified. Before trial, the People moved for C.O. and L.A. to testify by closed-circuit television under C.R.S. § 16-10-402. Over Aldridge’s objection, the trial court granted the motion. Neither the trial court nor the parties indicated that Aldridge, rather than the children, would be removed from the courtroom. At trial, rather than having the witnesses testify from another room, the trial court permitted the children to testify in the courtroom while the judge and defendant watched from the judge’s chambers. The jury could not see or hear defendant during the children’s testimony. Aldridge’s exclusion from the courtroom during the children’s testimony, in the absence of a stipulation, violated C.R.S. § 16-10-402, and this procedure violated defendant’s due process right to be present because he was denied an opportunity to exert a psychological influence on the jury. This error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judgment and sentence were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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