January 21, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Unique Facts of Case Permit Use of Self-Defense Instruction for Robbery of Taxi Services

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. DeGreat on Monday, October 15, 2018.

Self-Defense—Aggravated Robbery—Jury Instructions—Affirmative Defenses.

This case required the supreme court to decide whether a division of the court of appeals erred in concluding that the statutory right to self-defense can apply to justify a defendant’s robbery of taxi cab services. On the unique facts presented, the court concluded that the division correctly determined that defendant was entitled to a self-defense instruction as to the aggravated robbery charge, although the court’s reasoning differed from that on which the division relied. The court concluded that defendant presented some credible evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the robbery of services that he allegedly committed was committed in self-defense. Accordingly, the court affirmed the division’s judgment, albeit based on different reasoning.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Whole Person Impairment Rating Relevant in Non-Workers’ Comp Personal Injury Case

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

Subsequent Accident Jury InstructionPersonal InjuryNegligenceEvidence RelevancyVoir Dire.

Defendant’s truck hit plaintiff’s car from behind as she slowed for traffic. A week later plaintiff was diagnosed with neck strain. The following year, plaintiff was involved in a second car accident in which she hit a car from behind. She testified that the second accident did not injure her.

A year later, plaintiff sought additional medical treatment for her neck and lower back. She sued defendant for negligence, claiming damages of $38,356.46. She was awarded $1,980.81 by a jury in economic damages and zero on her claims of physical impairment and noneconomic damages.

On appeal, plaintiff argued it was error to instruct the jury to consider whether the second accident worsened any injuries, damages, or losses caused by the first accident because defendant hadn’t presented any evidence supporting such an instruction. Here, neither party presented evidence that plaintiff suffered any injury or aggravation of an existing injury because of the second accident, so the evidence was insufficient to justify instructing the jury about the second accident and the trial court abused its discretion. Further, but for the trial court’s improper instruction, the jury might have reached a different verdict.

Plaintiff also argued that the trial court erred by excluding her expert’s testimony about her 15% permanent whole body impairment rating. Before trial, defendant requested that the court exclude testimony about plaintiff’s impairment rating. While it allowed testimony that plaintiff suffered an impairment, the court excluded testimony about the impairment rating as irrelevant under CRE 401 and prejudicial under CRE 403. The court of appeals could not discern any reason that the percentage rating of the impairment would not be relevant, and found reasons why it would be relevant. The court similarly found no support for the trial court’s belief that such testimony would be unfairly prejudicial, confusing, or misleading. The trial court abused its discretion by excluding the testimony.

Plaintiff finally contended that it was error for the trial court to prevent her counsel from asking prospective jurors during voir dire whether they had an interest in defendant’s insurance carrier. Counsel was entitled to ask the insurance question during voir dire to determine the biases and prejudices of the prospective jurors, so the trial court abused its discretion.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Error in Denying Defendant His Tendered Self-Defense Instruction Not Harmless

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

Criminal Law—Jury Instructions—Self-Defense—Transferred Intent—Affirmative Defense—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

While at a bar, defendant said something to Abram’s sister that offended Abram. Defendant tried to make amends by offering Abram a beer. Abram responded by punching defendant twice in the face. Defendant then drew his firearm, for which he had a concealed carry permit, and aimed it at Abram. After a short standoff, defendant handed the gun to his fiancée and the two left the bar. A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of felony menacing and prohibited possession of a firearm. The first count of felony menacing named the alleged victim as a security guard who had stepped between defendant and Abram after defendant drew his weapon; the second count named the alleged victim as another bar patron who had been sitting near Abram.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in rejecting his jury instructions on the affirmative defense of self-defense. Here, defendant raised credible evidence that he acted in self-defense against Abram. Defendant’s intent to defend himself against Abram would, if the jury believed his testimony, allow the intent as to Abram to transfer to the encounter with the alleged victims. Thus, the trial court erred in rejecting defendant’s jury instructions on self-defense as an affirmative defense to the menacing charges. Further, the error was not harmless because while the defense’s theory of the case instruction referred generally to self-defense, the instruction did not require the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendant also contended that prosecutorial misconduct required reversal of his conviction for possession of a firearm while intoxicated. Here, the prosecutor asked defendant 44 times whether another witness’s testimony was incorrect, wrong, or untrue, or whether the witness had lied; this went beyond asking non-prejudicial questions designed to highlight discrepancies in the evidence. The error was plain and warranted reversal.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial on all charges.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Closure of Courtroom to Reread Jury Instructions Violated Defendant’s Right to Public Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lujan on Thursday, June 12, 2018.

Right to Public Trial—Constitutional Law—Sixth Amendment—Rebuttal—Residual Hearsay Exception—Other Acts Evidence.

The victim, defendant’s live-in girlfriend, was beaten, strangled, and left on the ground outside a friend’s apartment in 1999. In 2013, the People charged defendant with first degree murder. On the first day of trial, defendant conceded that he was responsible for the victim’s death, but he argued that he was guilty only of reckless manslaughter. After jury deliberations had started, the trial judge closed the courtroom to read limiting instructions to the jury, over defendant’s objection. The jury found defendant guilty of second degree (knowing) murder.

On appeal, defendant contended that his conviction must be reversed because closing the courtroom to read limiting instructions upon the jury’s request violated his right to a public trial and his right to be present. A criminal defendant’s right to a public trial is guaranteed by both the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. Here, the trial court sua sponte excluded all but the jury, the bailiff, the reporter, and itself from the courtroom. In this case, the closure was total, intentional, and unjustified, and defendant’s Sixth Amendment right was violated.

Defendant also contended that the court committed three evidentiary errors. First, a law enforcement officer testified for the People that in all of their interactions, defendant had never seemed upset or remorseful about the victim’s death. Defendant contended that because the prosecution opened the door to his demeanor, and the testimony did not involve hearsay, he was entitled to elicit rebuttal testimony as part of his right to present a defense. Exclusion of the rebuttal testimony was an abuse of discretion because the court misapplied the law in concluding that the evidence was hearsay. On the other hand, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting statements made by the victim to two witnesses before her death under the residual hearsay exception because the court found that these statements were sufficiently trustworthy. The court also did not abuse its discretion in allowing defendant’s ex-wife and his former girlfriend to testify about defendant’s specific acts while in their individual relationships, finding that defendant had committed such acts and the evidence was related to a material fact with logical relevance independent of the prohibited inference of defendant’s bad character. Further, the court provided an appropriate limiting instruction.

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

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Committed Plain Error by Not Giving Unanimity Instruction in Forgery Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wester-Gravelle on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Forgery—Jury Instructions—Unanimity Instruction—C.R.C.P. 12(b).

Defendant worked as a certified nursing assistant for Interim Healthcare (Interim), which provides in-home care to patients. In 2015, Interim assigned defendant to care for Moseley five days a week for two hours each day. Even though defendant had failed to show for her shift for three weeks, she had submitted weekly shift charts to receive payment for the preceding three weeks. The shift charts showed Moseley’s purported signatures acknowledging that defendant had arrived for her shifts. A jury convicted defendant of forgery, and the court sentenced her to two years’ probation.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred when it failed, on its own motion, to require the prosecution to elect a single forged shift chart as the basis for the conviction or to give a modified unanimity instruction. The People argued that defendant waived this issue by failing to object to the information under Crim. P. 12(b)(2) and (3), which requires a defendant to raise defenses or objections to an information and complaint within 21 days following arraignment. Colorado law is clear that Rule 12(b) does not require a defendant to object when the error stems from circumstances that are not apparent from the charging document. Here, on its face the charge does not evidence a defect, so Crim. P. 12(b)(2) does not apply. The unanimity issue arose only after the prosecution decided to introduce three different written instruments for the period charged. Therefore, defendant did not waive her claim.

The court of appeals determined that the prosecution’s evidence presented a reasonable likelihood that the jurors may have disagreed on which shift chart constituted the forgery charged. Thus, the court should either have (1) required the prosecution to elect an act on which it relied for a conviction, or (2) instructed the jury that to convict, it had to unanimously agree on the act committed or unanimously agree that defendant committed all of the acts. This error was substantial and obvious.

The conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Promissory Note is a Security, Therefore Conviction for Securities Fraud Appropriate

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Thompson on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

Securities Fraud—Jury Instruction—Double Jeopardy—Propensity Evidence—Theft—Sentencing.

Defendant was the sole member of SGD Timber Canyon LLC (SGD), which held an interest in 63 undeveloped lots in the Timber Ridge subdivision. The lots went into foreclosure, and in February 2010 SGD filed for bankruptcy. Defendant did not disclose these facts to the Witts, who later loaned defendant $200,000 to acquire a lot in Timber Ridge and another $200,000 for construction of a home on the lot, with the understanding that the loans would be repaid with a profit share of as much as $400,000 when the home was sold to a prequalified buyer. Later, at defendant’s urging, the Witts increased the loan to $2.4 million and converted their investment into a “bridge loan” to defendant, who represented that the proceeds would be used for continued development of Timber Ridge. The parties executed a promissory note and guarantee agreement. The promissory note was secured by defendant’s primary and secondary residences with collateral to convert the 24 lots in Timer Ridge upon closing and final purchase of Timber Ridge.

Defendant used the money on items not related to Timber Ridge and never developed the property there. Defendant defaulted on the note. He eventually repaid the Witts $70,000. Ultimately, the Witts sued defendant but did not recover any further monies from him. A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of securities fraud and one count of theft, and he was sentenced to 12 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections for each of the securities counts, to be served concurrently, and 18 years for the theft conviction, to be served consecutively to the other sentences.

On appeal, defendant claimed that the evidence was insufficient to support his securities fraud convictions because the promissory note and guarantee he provided to the Witts did not constitute a security. The “family resemblance test” applies to determine when a note is a security under the Colorado Securities Act (CSA). Under the family resemblance test, a note is presumed to be a security, but that presumption may be rebutted by a showing that the note strongly resembles other financial instruments. Here, the Witts’ investment, memorialized by the promissory note, was a transaction protected by the CSA and did not strongly resemble the family of transactions that are not securities. The evidence was sufficient to support the securities fraud convictions.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by tendering an inaccurate jury instruction regarding the definition of a security. Defendant did not object to the definition of security that was given to the jury, nor did he tender an alternative instruction. The law regarding the definition of a security was not well settled at the time of defendant’s trial, and thus any error in the jury instruction would not have been obvious or plain.

Defendant also claimed that his convictions and sentences for securities fraud violated double jeopardy because they are alternative ways of committing the same offense, and therefore the two counts should be merged. Defendant failed to raise this issue before the trial court. Here, defendant was charged with and convicted of multiplicitous counts of securities fraud because the evidence showed a sale of one security to one investor based on one set of false or misleading statements. But the law was not well-settled concerning the proper unit of prosecution, so there was no plain error.

Defendant further contended that there was insufficient evidence to support his theft conviction. Although the funds were supposed to be used to develop Timber Ridge, defendant used the funds to pay his own attorney fees, to improve the house that his wife continued to occupy at the time of trial, and for other personal expenses. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that defendant knowingly obtained the Witts’ money by deception and intended to permanently deprive them of it.

Defendant also argued that the court erred by admitting propensity evidence that defendant had previously attempted to sell a lot in Timber Ridge that he did not own. However, the evidence was logically relevant to prove identity, motive, knowledge, and lack of mistake, and the probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Lastly, defendant argued that his sentence for theft must run concurrently with the concurrent sentences for securities fraud because the crimes are based on identical evidence. Here, different evidence supported each offense, so there was no sentencing error.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Heat of Passion Jury Instruction Impermissibly Lowered Prosecution’s Burden of Proof

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Tardif on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Jury InstructionsBurden of ProofHeat of Passion ProvocationAttempted Second Degree MurderFirst Degree AssaultMitigating FactorEvidenceDue ProcessSelf-DefenseDeadly Physical ForceSlow Motion VideoUnfair Prejudice—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Tardif’s friend Soto was at a skate park and got into an argument with the victim. Tardif and Soto were members of the same gang, and the victim was wearing the colors of a rival gang. Soto called Tardif, and when Tardif arrived, Tardif and Soto walked up to the victim and Tardif shot him once in the abdomen. The victim fled and survived. Other people in the skate park recorded video of part of the initial argument between Soto and the victim as well as the shooting. A jury found Tardif guilty of attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and three crime of violence counts.

On appeal, Tardif argued that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that the prosecution had the burden to prove the absence of heat of passion provocation beyond a reasonable doubt. Heat of passion provocation is a mitigating factor for attempted second degree murder and first degree assault. Here, the heat of passion provocation instructions failed to inform the jury that the prosecution had to prove the absence of heat of passion provocation beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the instructions, considered together, failed to properly instruct the jury on the prosecution’s burden of proof. Because Tardif presented sufficient evidence for a heat of passion provocation instruction, the error lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof and violated Tardif’s constitutional right to due process. Tardif also argued that the trial court’s self-defense instructions included several reversible errors. Self-defense is not an affirmative defense to conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and therefore, the court did not err in failing to instruct the jury that it was. But the trial court erred by instructing the jury on when deadly physical force may be used in self-defense because deadly physical force requires death, and here the victim did not die.

Tardif additionally argued that the trial court erred by admitting slow motion video recordings of the shooting. Although this evidence was relevant to explain the events around the shooting and to determine whether defendant acted with aggression or in self-defense, the probative value of the slow motion recordings was very low. This evidence was also cumulative of the real-time recording that was also admitted. Further, because Tardif’s state of mind at the time of the shooting was a disputed issue, the slow motion recordings’ low probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The slow motion recordings may have portrayed Tardif’s actions as more premeditated than they actually were. The trial court abused its discretion by failing to weigh the slow motion recordings’ probative value against their danger of unfair prejudice.

Tardif further argued that two statements by the prosecutor during closing argument constituted misconduct and required reversal. The court of appeals did not doubt the reliability of Tardif’s conspiracy conviction and concluded that the prosecutor’s allegedly improper statements did not constitute plain error.

The conspiracy to commit first degree assault conviction was affirmed. The remaining convictions were reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Rational Basis Existed in Evidence to Grant Lesser Included Offense Instruction Request

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Naranjo on Monday, September 11, 2017.

Criminal Law—Lesser Non-Included Offenses—Jury Instructions.

The supreme court reviewed the court of appeals’ opinion reversing defendant’s convictions for felony menacing on the ground that defendant was entitled to a jury instruction on the lesser non-included offense of disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon. Under the supreme court’s case law, a defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on a lesser non-included offense where there exists a rational basis in the evidence to simultaneously acquit the defendant of the greater charged offense and convict the defendant of the lesser offense. Here, based on the evidence presented at trial, there was no rational basis for the jury to simultaneously acquit defendant of felony menacing and convict him of disorderly conduct. The court of appeals’ judgment was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Cumulative Effect of Numerous Errors Required Reversal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Stewart on Thursday, July 27, 2017.

Felony Menacing—Obstructing a Peace Officer—Witness—CRE 611—CRE 612—CRE 404(b)—Jury Instruction—Request for Continuance—Cumulative Effect of Errors—Prejudice.

Inebriated, defendant took a cab from a friend’s house and refused to pay his $4.85 cab fare. Defendant jumped from the cab and, chased by the cab driver and a nearby police officer, ran to his apartment, which was surrounded by a six-foot privacy fence that enclosed defendant’s private patio and was secured by a locked gate. At least one officer scaled the fence and opened the gate for remaining officers to enter. After officers breached the fence, they saw defendant behind his window blinds with a plastic BB gun, which they believed to be real. Officers opened fire and defendant suffered two gunshot wounds. A jury convicted defendant of felony menacing and obstructing a peace officer.

On appeal, defendant raised evidentiary errors. The court of appeals determined that the trial court erred by allowing the prosecution to improperly lead a witness, in violation of CRE 611(c). The court’s failure to follow the appropriate procedure to refresh recollection also violated CRE 612. This error was prejudicial, but harmless in isolation. The trial court further erred by allowing the prosecution to present evidence that defendant previously hid from the police, in violation of CRE 404(b). This evidence was irrelevant to any issue at trial other than the habit and character of defendant; it prejudiced defendant and affected the fairness of the proceedings.

Defendant further argued that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury concerning exigent circumstances. The court was unable to determine the relevance of the instruction, and it appeared that the instruction was not an accurate or complete statement of the law. This error alone did not require reversal, but it contributed to the cumulative effect of the other errors.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by denying his request for a continuance to subpoena the cab driver. Refusing the continuance prejudiced defendant by denying him a key witness, affecting the fairness of the trial proceedings.

Considered in isolation, each of the errors might be viewed as harmless, but in the context of a single trial, the cumulative effect of the errors requires reversal of defendant’s conviction.

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

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Jury Instructions Sufficient to Apprise Jury of Elements of Crime

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Wright on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

Bruce Carlton Wright was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1349 and 1344, and on eleven counts of bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344. Wright was sentenced to thirty-three months imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution to the bank involved. Wright appealed, claiming the district court erred by: (1) not including intent to defraud as an element of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in the jury instruction; (2) responding to a written question from the jury by directing the jury to consider each count of the indictment separately; (3) denying Wright’s motion for new trial based on a Brady violation; (4) improperly calculating of the bank’s loss amount under USSG § 2B1.1(b)(1); and (5) improperly calculating of the restitution amount.

Because Wright did not properly object during his original trial in relation to his first, second, fourth, and fifth claims on appeal, the court reviewed them under the plain-error standard, which requires a plaintiff to establish an “error, that is plain, which affects substantial rights, and seriously effects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” The court stated that a plain error affects a defendant’s substantial rights if there is a reasonable probability that, if the error had not occurred, the result of the proceeding would have been different.

Concerning Wright’s first claim, that the court erred by not including the necessary element of intent to defraud to convict on a charge of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in the jury instruction, the court reviewed the jury instructions in light of the context of the entire trial to see if the instructions accurately stated the law and provided the jury with a correct understanding of the facts of the case. The court rejected this claim, saying that Wright could not show error because, while the court did not list intent to defraud in the instruction, the omission was cured because the instruction relating to committing bank fraud did incorporate “intent to defraud” by requiring an agreement to commit bank fraud.

During deliberations, the jury asked the judge if it they had to find Wright guilty on count 1 in order to convict him on any of the subsequent counts. Over objection of counsel, who agreed with the legal answer provided by the court but requested different phrasing, the judge responded, “No, you must consider each count separately.” On appeal, Wright contends that the answer should have been “Yes,” because, citing Pinkerton v. United States, the conviction would have been based on the acts of a co-conspirator and not his own acts (as his co-conspirator was testifying at his trial). The court stated that Wright had waived his ability to assert error under Pinkerton by failing to object on that basis at the district court level.  Instead, because Wright had generally objected to the instruction, the court reviews for plain error. However, because Wright argued under an abuse of discretion, and not plain error he waived his right to argue the claim.

In support for his motion for new trial, Wright argued that the government withheld a victim impact statement that the bank president had prepared for his coconspirator’s sentencing. Wright claimed that the information would have helped him to impeach his co-conspirator at his own trial. In their assessment of Wright’s motion, the court stated that Wright would have to show the prosecution suppressed material evidence that was favorable to Wright.  While the court determined the statement was not given to Wright prior to the trial, and that it was favorable to him, he failed in showing that the information included in the impact statement was material enough that it could have undermined confidence in the outcome of the case because Wright already attacked his co-conspirator’s credibility extensively at trial.

In calculating Wright’s sentence and amount of restitution he would be required to pay to the victims, the district court looked to the amount of Wright’s fraudulent draw requests, and determined he owed to be $1,094, 490. Wright was provided the sum in the presentencing report, which he accepted. Because the Bank recovered sums due to its sale, the sales price should be subtracted from the outstanding loan balance to calculate restitution to avoid a windfall to the victim. However, because the amount of restitution and sentence is a factual question, Wright was required to object at the district court level for it to rise to the level of a plain error reviewable on appeal. Wright accepted the amount in the pre-sentencing report, and the court held that Wright had accepted the calculation of restitution and his sentence as correct.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s rejection of Wright’s motion for new trial and rejected Wright’s other claims as to the amount and length of his sentence.

Tenth Circuit: Sexual Assault Victim’s Prior Mental Health History Not Even Marginally Relevant to Assault at Issue

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. John on February 27, 2017.

Defendant and the victim were related. At trial, the victim testified to the following facts: The victim was in the shower when Defendant showed up at her house. He started undressing in front of the shower door while the victim was still in the shower. Defendant moved towards the victim and the victim struggled to get away. Defendant pulled the towel away from the victim and pushed her head toward his “private parts.” The victim was able to get away from Defendant and grabbed a blanket before running outside. When outside, the victim called the police. Officers arrived after Defendant had left. The officers found the shower door tilted and the bathroom trashcan turned over. No forensic testing occurred. Defendant was convicted on one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country and one count of abusive sexual contact in Indian county after a jury trial.

At trial, Defendant wanted to cross-examine the victim about an incident that occurred in Phoenix. The district court did not allow the line of questioning and the Defendant challenged the courts ruling on appeal claiming it violated his Confrontation Clause rights under the Sixth Amendment and his right to present a complete defense under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

The Tenth Circuit summarized the facts of the Phoenix incident that it obtained from police reports. The victim had visited her sister in Phoenix. She alleged that her sister pressured her to drink. After the two argued, the victim tried to cut her writs. She was then taken to the hospital where she was transferred to an inpatient behavioral-health unit after telling the staff that she had been having suicidal thoughts for two years. During intake, she denied using any illicit substances, even though she told emergency staff that she used marijuana. The intake staff determined she had a mood disorder, but she was discharged without any medication needed. The victim’s sister denied to police that she gave the victim alcohol or coerced her to drink. Because the police could not determine how the victim got the alcohol, they closed the case.

On appeal, the Defendant argued that the Phoenix incident showed that the victim would falsely accuse him of sexual assault given her poorly controlled behavior and drug use revealed by the incident. It also would show her propensity to lie and accuse family members. These facts could have led the jury to draw “vital inferences” in his favor.

The Tenth Circuit held that because the Defendant only argued at trial that the Phoenix incident would show that the victim had an impaired ability to perceive events, and not the reasons given on appeal, Defendant was precluded from arguing such reasons on appeal. In fact, the Tenth Circuit points to the fact that Defendant’s counsel rejected the possibility of using the Phoenix incident for the reasons stated on appeal, which the Tenth Circuit held was an “intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right.”

The Tenth Circuit held that Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was not violated because that right is not unlimited. The Supreme Court has held that trial judges retain wide latitude to impose reasonable limits on cross-examination based on concerns about harassment, prejudice, and confusion of the issues. The Tenth Circuit held that the Phoenix incident was not even marginally relevant to the victim’s ability to remember or relate the shower incident. It would not show that the victim was on drugs at the time of the shower incident. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that no lay person could draw those inferences.

Next, the Tenth Circuit addressed the Defendant’s challenges to three jury instructs concerning the assessment of evidence.

The first challenged instruction stated: “The testimony of the complaining witness need not be corroborated if the jury believes the complaining witness beyond a reasonable doubt.” Defendant argued that the instruction did no accurately reflect the government’s burden of proving each element of the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by giving this instruction because it properly informed the jury that it could convict on the basis of the testimony of a single witness, only if they believed that witness. Further, another instruction told the jurors that they could not convict unless they found each element of each offense beyond reasonable doubt.

The second challenged instruction stated: “An attorney has the right to interview a witness for the purpose of learning what testimony the witness will give. The fact that a witness has talked to an attorney does not reflect adversely to the truth of such testimony.” Defendant argued that this instruction insulated from the jury’s scrutiny the cross-examination of the victim about being improperly influenced by the prosecutor. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by giving this instruction because it did not prevent defense counsel from making a commonsense suggestion that inappropriate coaching influenced the witness, which the counsel actually made.

The final challenged instruction stated: “You may infer, but you are certainly not required to infer, that a person intends the natural and probably consequences of acts knowingly done or knowingly omitted.” Defendant argues that this instruction was ambiguous, because it was not stated which element the instruction was meant to modify, and that it was confusing because it created uncertainty as to the requisite level of intent. The Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by issuing this instruction because the court made clear to the jury that the burden was on the government to prove the requisite intent beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court did not err in declining to instruct the jury that it could consider the lesser-included charge of simple assault, rather than just the charges of attempted aggravated sexual abuse and abusive sexual contact. The district court held that there was no evidence that the encounter was anything but sexual. The Tenth Circuit affirmed this decision holding that the jury could reasonably have found that the alleged incident did not occur, but that there was no reasonable grounds for believing that Defendant assaulted the victim but with no sexual intent.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Previously Unresolved Issues Decided Against Defendant’s Position

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jacobson on Thursday, July 13, 2017.

Statutory DUI Affirmative Defense Instruction Not Given Sua Sponte—C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(2)(a)—Jury Instruction—Jury Questions—Invited Error.

In 2014 COA 149, the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed defendant’s conviction for failure to poll the jury about exposure to extraneous, prejudicial information. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the court of appeals. Before the supreme court’s mandate was issued, defendant requested that the court of appeals decide two unresolved issues, either of which could lead to reversal of the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding her guilty of vehicular homicide, driving under the influence (DUI), and other related charges arising from a collision between her truck and a taxi. The court of appeals granted the request.

Defendant first argued that the trial court erred in failing to sua sponte instruct the jury on the DUI affirmative defense of having consumed alcohol between the time she stopped driving and when her blood alcohol testing (BAC) occurred. Defendant testified at trial that she was sober when the accident occurred at about 10:30 a.m., but 15 minutes later, she drank a Vitamin Water bottle that contained one-half 99 proof schnapps. Defendant was contacted by two police officers at 10:58 a.m. She later failed a roadside sobriety test and was taken to a hospital for blood draws. The prosecution presented expert evidence that defendant’s BAC would have been .274 at the time of the accident. Defense counsel did not request the trial court to instruct the jury on the DUI affirmative defense of having consumed alcohol between the time she stopped driving and when the testing occurred.

It was undisputed that there was sufficient evidence to warrant an instruction on the affirmative defense. The prosecution argued that by proving that defendant was intoxicated at the time of the accident, it necessarily disproved the affirmative defense that defendant did not become intoxicated until a later time. As the supreme court stated in Montoya v. People, 2017 CO 40, a defense that operates solely by negating elements of the crime is disproved by the proving of those elements. Accordingly, the court found no error in the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury sua sponte on the affirmative defense.

Defendant then argued, for the first time, that a jury instruction and the court’s response to a related jury question reduced the prosecution’s burden. The instruction in question explained that “the amount of alcohol in the Defendant’s blood at the time of the commission of the offense, or within a reasonable time thereafter, as shown by chemical analysis of the Defendant’s blood or breath, gives rise to the following [listing of statutory presumptions].” During deliberations, the jury asked whether this was at or around 10:30 a.m. (the time of the accident) or at any time thereafter (on or around the time she was stopped by the police at 10:58 a.m.). Following discussion with counsel, the court answered that it could be either or both, but that any decision must be unanimous.

Defense counsel did not object to the instruction and participated in the formulation of the answer to the jury question. The Attorney General thus argued that defendant invited any error. The court declined to address the invited error argument because defendant did not argue there was an incorrect statement of the law. Defendant’s argument that the instruction encouraged conviction based on her intoxication “a reasonable time after” the accident is directly contradicted by another instruction that required the prosecution to prove that defendant had been intoxicated when the accident occurred. In addition, defendant did not show how the jury could have found her heavily intoxicated at 10:58 a.m. but not 28 minutes earlier. Defendant also did not produce evidence to contradict the prosecution’s expert that chugging alcohol at 10:45 a.m. would not explain the results of the three later blood draws, given how the body metabolizes alcohol. Finally, prior cases hold that 30 minutes after an accident is not “more than a reasonable time” afterward. Consequently, the court declined to reconsider whether the prosecution disproved the affirmative defense.

The court interpreted defendant’s last argument as raising a temporal discrepancy between the charging document and the references to “a reasonable time after” in the jury instruction and court’s response to the question. Based on the extensive colloquy on both the instruction and the court’s answer to the jury question, in which defense counsel actively participated, the court concluded any error was invited.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.