July 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Supreme Court’s Complicity Reasoning in Rosemund Does Not Apply to Colorado’s Complicity Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Sandoval on Thursday, November 15, 2018.

Criminal Law—Complicity—Jury Instructions—Demonstrative Evidence—Partial Reconstruction—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Brown agreed to sell her friend Goggin five pounds of marijuana, which he intended to sell to Sandoval. Brown delivered the marijuana to Goggin and his girlfriend. Sandoval arrived, accompanied by his cousin Palacios. Sandoval, Palacios, and Goggin each had guns, and after a struggle Goggin was fatally shot. Palacios grabbed the marijuana and ran to the vehicle outside where Sandoval was waiting. Sandoval was found guilty of one count of murder in the first degree, one count of aggravated robbery, two counts of accessory to crime, and one count of felony menacing.

On appeal, Sandoval contended that the trial court violated his constitutional right to due process when it declined to instruct the jury in accordance with Rosemond v. United States, 572 U.S. 65 (2014), that an alleged felony murder complicitor must know in advance of the occurrence of the predicate felony that another participant intends to commit. Sandoval alleged that, because he was unaware of his cousin’s intent to rob and kill Goggin before the crimes occurred, he was not guilty of robbery and felony murder. However, Rosemond relied on language in the federal aiding and abetting statute that is not present in Colorado’s complicity statute; thus Rosemond does not apply to Colorado’s complicity statute, and Sandoval’s due process rights were not violated.

Sandoval also asserted that the trial court violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial and impartial jury when it allowed the prosecutor to use a partial reconstruction of the crime scene as a demonstrative aid to assist witnesses in explaining their testimony. Here, (1) the partial reconstruction was authenticated by the prosecution’s criminalist; (2) the demonstrative aid was relevant because it assisted the jury in understanding Brown’s testimony; and (3) though the prosecution conceded that there were discrepancies in the partial reconstruction, those discrepancies were disclosed to the jury and Sandoval had an opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s criminalist about them. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the reconstruction was a fair and accurate representation of the crime scene. Further, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the probative value of the partial reconstruction was not substantially outweighed by its danger of unfair prejudice. Sandoval’s rights were not violated.

Sandoval further alleged that the prosecutor committed misconduct by misstating the law of complicity as well as key evidence to undermine the defense. The prosecutor’s statements were fairly based on the evidence presented and the inferences drawn were not inappropriate. There was not improper conduct that would warrant reversal.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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