April 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Because Two Charges Would Have Been Tried Together But For Defendant’s Guilty Pleas, They Cannot Be Considered Separate Under Habitual Criminal Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Williams on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Criminal Law—Photo Lineup—Sixth Amendment—Motion to Continue—Sentencing—Habitual Criminal.

Defendant robbed the victim, an Uber driver, at knifepoint in a Denver alleyway. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court held a hearing to determine whether defendant was a habitual criminal. Based on defendant’s prior convictions for first degree assault (heat of passion) and two prior convictions for distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance, the trial court adjudicated him a habitual criminal and sentenced him to 64 years in prison.

On appeal, defendant argued that the pretrial photo lineup, from which the victim identified him, was impermissibly suggestive. He contended that he was older than the other men in the photo array and there were impermissible differences in the clothing and tattoos depicted. Here, defendant’s photo matched the victim’s description and the filler photos depicted men who generally fit the witness’s description. The number of photos in the array (six) and the details of the photos did not render the lineup impermissibly suggestive.

Defendant also contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his Sixth Amendment right to his counsel of choice by denying his motion for a continuance. The trial court considered the appropriate factors in balancing defendant’s right to have counsel of his choosing against the efficient and effective administration of justice. The trial court’s findings were supported by the record, and the court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s motion for a continuance.
Defendant next contended that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a continuance to allow the People to complete fingerprint testing and that completed testing would have allowed for the production of exculpatory evidence. Here, the fingerprint results were inconclusive and the prosecution did not have possession or control of any exculpatory fingerprint comparison results. Considering the totality of the circumstances, there was no error in the trial court’s ruling on the motion.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erroneously sentenced him under the habitual criminal sentencing statute because two of his three prior felony convictions were permissively joined for trial. Defendant argued that because the two cases charging him with distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance were joined for trial under Crim. P. 13, they would have been tried together had he not entered guilty pleas, so his previous convictions for distribution should be treated as one conviction for habitual criminal purposes. Here, the offenses were joined for trial and would not have been tried separately. The prosecution failed to meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s predicate felonies were separately brought and would have been separately tried had defendant not entered guilty pleas. The guilty pleas resulted in one conviction for purposes of the habitual criminal sentencing statute and the trial court erred in sentencing defendant under that statute.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed. The case was remanded for the trial court to impose a new sentence and to correct the mittimus.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant’s Request to Look for Lawyer Did Not Implicate Sixth Amendment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Travis on Monday, March 4, 2019.

Sixth Amendment—Counsel of Choice—Motion to Continue—Abuse of Discretion.

The People challenged the decision of a division of the court of appeals that concluded that Travis’s request to “look for and pay for a lawyer” was an invocation of her Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel of her choice. The supreme court held that Travis’s request did not implicate her Sixth Amendment right to counsel of her choice and that the trial court’s decision to deny Travis’s request to continue her trial to “look for and pay for a lawyer” was not an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the court reversed the division’s decision and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Partial Closure of Courtroom Without Specific Findings was Structural Error

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Irving on Thursday, January 10, 2019.

Constitutional Law—Sixth Amendment—Public Trial—Courtroom Closure.

Defendant was charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection with a gang-related dispute. During his trial, the prosecutor requested that the court exclude defendant’s mother from the courtroom during his former girlfriend’s testimony because, according to the prosecution, defendant’s mother had urged the girlfriend not to cooperate with the police about four years earlier. The trial court granted the prosecution’s request and partially closed the courtroom during the testimony of defendant’s former girlfriend. Defendant was convicted of second degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

On appeal, defendant contended that the courtroom closure violated his constitutional right to a public trial. The proponent of a courtroom closure must demonstrate not only an overriding interest but also a substantial probability that the identified interest will be prejudiced by an open courtroom. The need to protect witnesses from intimidation constitutes an overriding interest. Here, the alleged intimidation was based on a single, ambiguous, four-year-old statement that the girlfriend later disregarded. The trial court may have identified an overriding interest, but it failed to make any finding that the interest in preventing witness intimidation would be prejudiced unless defendant’s mother was excluded from the courtroom during the girlfriend’s testimony. Therefore, the court erred in partially closing the courtroom and violated defendant’s constitutional right to a public trial. Further, the error was structural.

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

Summary provided courtesy ofColorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant May Fire Retained Counsel for Any Reason but Must Face Consequences

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ronquillo v. People on Monday, October 16, 2017.

Criminal Law—Counsel—Choice of Counsel—Continuance.

The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice includes the right to fire retained counsel without having to show good cause, even when the defendant wants appointed counsel. But defendants who fire retained counsel will not necessarily be allowed to proceed as they wish. Accordingly, trial courts must ensure that defendants understand the consequences of firing retained counsel. The court outlined the analysis that trial courts should conduct before releasing retained counsel from a case. Because the Colorado Court of Appeals erred by requiring Ronquillo to show good cause for firing retained counsel, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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.

Tenth Circuit: No Sixth Amendment Violation where Court Disallowed Questioning Regarding Victim’s Mental Health

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 after a jury trial of one count of attempted aggravated sexual abuse in Indian country and one count of abusive sexual contact in Indian county.

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 Tent 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: Defendant’s Right to Private Counsel of Choice Conflicts with State’s Appointment of Experts

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Thompson on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Child Abuse Resulting in Death—Sixth Amendment—Right to Counsel—Public Defender—Indigent—Ancillary Services—CJD 04-04—Statute of Limitations—False Reporting—Conspiracy—Out-of-Court Statements—Hearsay—Expert Witnesses—Credibility—Consecutive Sentences.

Defendant was charged with multiple crimes related to child abuse. After he was indicted, he appeared before the court with attorney Lane, who had represented defendant for about two years as “retained counsel.” Lane stated that defendant was indigent, and although Lane was willing to continue to represent defendant as “retained counsel,” defendant could not pay for ancillary services, such as investigators or experts. Lane stated that the Constitution required the court to provide ancillary services to indigent defendants at state expense. Relying on a U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Gonzalez-Lopez, Lane contended that the court should allow him to continue to represent defendant and also agree to pay state funds for ancillary services. Lane asserted that Gonzalez-Lopez is in conflict with the Colorado Supreme Court case People v. Cardenas, under which defendant was being forced to choose between two constitutional rights: the right to counsel of choice and the right to receive ancillary services at state expense. The trial court declined to overrule Cardenas and appointed public defenders to represent defendant, and Lane’s connection with the case ended. Defendant was convicted of multiple charges, including child abuse resulting in death, child abuse, assault, false reporting, concealing a child’s death, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and conspiracy. The trial court sentenced defendant to 12 years in jail to be followed by 102 years in prison.

On appeal, defendant asserted that the trial court denied his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of his choice when it did not authorize Lane to receive state-funded ancillary services for defendant’s representation. Indigent defendants do not have a constitutional right to use state funds to pay for attorneys or for ancillary services of their choosing. Defendant only had a right to state-funded ancillary services if the public defender or court-appointed alternate defense counsel represented him. Therefore, the trial court did not wrongfully deny defendant’s constitutional right to counsel of choice when it appointed public defenders to represent him. However, Chief Justice Directive 04-04 (CJD 04-04), Appointment of State-Funded Counsel in Criminal Cases and for Contempt of Court, would have allowed the trial court to pay for support services for a defendant who is represented by private counsel. The trial court did not consider the Directive when it decided to appoint the public defenders, and defendant’s private counsel did not ask the court to do so. Any error in not considering CJD 04-04 was harmless in this case.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for judgment of acquittal on the false reporting and conspiracy to commit false reporting counts because they were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The record contains sufficient evidence to support these convictions based on conduct that had occurred within 18 months of when the grand jury indicted defendant on those charges. Therefore, these convictions were not barred by the statute of limitations.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erroneously admitted the out-of-court statements of defendant’s girlfriend and children who lived with them. As to the girlfriend’s statements, some were admissible as statements against interest; others were admissible as co-conspirator statements; and though the Court of Appeals could not determine the trustworthiness of one statement, it concluded its admission was harmless error. The children’s statements were variously admissible as non-hearsay, or under the child hearsay statute, or under the residual hearsay exception.

Defendant additionally contended that two expert witnesses improperly vouched for the children’s credibility. However, the experts did not vouch for the children’s veracity, either directly or indirectly; rather, their testimony concerned the typical demeanor and traits of abused children.

Defendant also asserted that the trial court erred when it admitted certain financial evidence, contending that it was only relevant to show that defendant and his girlfriend were “sponges on society.” However, this evidence was relevant and its relevancy was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Defendant also argued that the court admitted evidence he described as cumulative. The court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Finally, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it imposed consecutive sentences on the misdemeanor child abuse counts.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Constitutional Violation Where Court Denied Counsel’s Request for Review of Classified Documents

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Lustyik on Monday, August 15, 2016.

Robert Lustyik was an FBI agent who tried to help his friend and business partner, Michael Taylor, with Taylor’s security business, American International Security Corporation (AISC). The Department of Defense offered AISC a contract in 2007 to provide training to Afghan Special Forces, and in 2010 the United States began investigating AISC for fraud and money laundering related to the 2007 DOD contract. The United States filed a civil forfeiture action against AISC’s assets in 2011, resulting in the seizure of more than $5 million from Taylor’s bank account. Lustyik attempted to impede the government’s investigation of Taylor by using his status as an FBI agent, including trying to establish Taylor as a confidential source. Taylor assured Lustyik that he would receive financial compensation for his assistance.

In 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Lustyik, Taylor, and their middle-man on charges of conspiracy, honest services wire fraud, obstruction of justice, and obstruction of agency proceedings. The United States disclosed over one million pages of unclassified discovery, plus 10,000 pages of classified information. Despite revocation of his security clearance, Lustyik was allowed to review nearly 7,000 pages of the classified material. Through his counsel, Lustyik filed a Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) motion, identifying which classified information they wished to present at trial. The court denied Lustyik’s motion after an ex parte meeting with defense counsel. During the first few days of Lustyik’s trial, Lustyik pleaded guilty to all eleven counts with no plea agreement. After pleading guilty but before sentencing, Lustyik’s lead counsel withdrew and the court appointed new counsel. Lustyik filed a motion to obtain security clearance for the new attorney, which a magistrate denied.

At sentencing, the court addressed counsel’s inability to access the classified information, noting that it would not add to counsel’s ability to argue for his client. Defense counsel presented significant mitigating evidence and obtained a downward variance from the Guidelines range of 151 to 188 months, and Lustyik was sentenced to 120 years imprisonment. He appealed, arguing his constitutional rights were violated when his counsel was denied access to the confidential materials.

The Tenth Circuit evaluated Lustyik’s claim of a Sixth Amendment violation under de novo review. The Circuit noted that the right to counsel is presumptively violated only where the circumstances are so likely to prejudice the accused that the cost of litigation is unjustified. Lustyik claimed his counsel’s limited ability to review classified materials fatally undercut his effectiveness and prevented him from adequately testing the government’s position. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding the presumption of prejudice inapplicable. Because Lustyik failed to show that the district court’s denial created a constitutional violation, the Tenth Circuit reviewed for abuse of discretion and found none. The Tenth Circuit found ample record support for the district court’s conclusions regarding the classified information.

The government conceded on appeal that Lustyik’s sentence may have been illegal, so the Tenth Circuit remanded for sentencing clarification. The Tenth Circuit otherwise affirmed the denial of security clearance.

Tenth Circuit: Speedy Trial Objections Must Be Asserted Frequently and Forcefully

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Black on Monday, July 26, 2016.

The government charged multiple defendants, including James Black, with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in late 2007. After withdrawing and reasserting indictments, Black was eventually charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, using a telephone in committing the conspiracy, and possessing with intent to distribute cocaine in the government’s Fifth Superseding Indictment. A jury convicted Black on all charges and he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Black argued that the trial court plainly erred in calculating his Guidelines range at 360 months to life. The government conceded the error, and the Tenth Circuit agreed. Black should have been sentenced with a total offense level of 34, not 37, reducing his Guidelines range to 262 to 327 months’ imprisonment. The Tenth Circuit remanded for resentencing.

Black also argued that his Sixth Amendment speedy trial rights were violated. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the delays, finding a total delay of 23 and a half months. The Tenth Circuit considered the Barker factors, and found that the length of the delay weighed strongly in Black’s favor. The Tenth Circuit then dissected each delay, attributing portions to Black for the periods of time in which he filed motions or requested continuances and to the government for periods in which they did not vehemently prosecute Black. After carefully considering each time period, the Tenth Circuit determined that the government was responsible for about 7 months of the delay and Black was responsible for about 12 months. The Tenth Circuit next assessed whether the delays were purposeful attempts by the government to strategically position itself and agreed with Black’s concession that they were not. Next, the Tenth Circuit considered whether Black forcefully and frequently asserted his speedy trial rights, and found that only one of his speedy trial assertions was forceful. The Tenth Circuit noted that Black’s counsel’s speedy trial objections were especially weak when he remarked that he was only asserting speedy trial to preserve his previous motion. Finally, the Tenth Circuit found that Black could not show he was prejudiced by the delay. After balancing all the factors, the Tenth Circuit found that the majority weighed in favor of the government.

The Tenth Circuit remanded for resentencing but found no violation of Black’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Confrontation Clause Right Exists in Restitution Hearing

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Vasseur on Thursday, July 14, 2016.

Colorado Organized Crime Control Act—Restitution—Sixth Amendment—Right of Confrontation—Hearsay—Foundation—Authentication.

Vasseur pleaded guilty to violating the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act for her participation in an Internet scam through which money was stolen from 374 victims. She was sentenced and the district court imposed $1,010,467.55 in restitution, based on a spreadsheet summarizing the criminal acts and the testimony of the primary investigator on the case.

Vasseur appealed the restitution order, contending that the district court erred when it considered the summary spreadsheet in imposing restitution because (1) it violated her Sixth Amendment right of confrontation, and (2) the spreadsheet contained inadmissible hearsay, lacked a proper foundation, and had not been properly authenticated. The right of confrontation and the Colorado Rules of Evidence do not apply to sentencing proceedings, including restitution hearings. Therefore, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it relied on the spreadsheet in determining the amount of restitution.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Note Written by Murder Victim was Testimonial Hearsay

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McFee on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

L.E. was an in-house manager of a residential facility for people with HIV and AIDS. One night, a resident found her lying in a pool of blood in the hallway. By the time police arrived, L.E. was dead. A few months later, police arrested Jonathan McFee, L.E.’s ex-boyfriend, for the murder. At trial, numerous witnesses testified about hearing McFee threaten to kill L.E., and the prosecution introduced an audio recording of a statement muttered by McFee during a break in interviewing that sounded like “I did it. That bitch.” A handwritten note from L.E. was admitted into evidence, which expressed that McFee had threatened to kill her and it was only a matter of time until he succeeded. The jury convicted McFee of first degree murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

McFee appealed, arguing that testimony of L.E.’s mother, daughter, and cousin about McFee’s intention to kill L.E. were hearsay and were improperly admitted. McFee also argued that the handwritten note was testimonial hearsay that was improperly admitted. The district court determined that the statements of the mother, daughter, and cousin were admissible under CRE 807 (residual exception), and arguably under CRE 803(3) (state of mind exception). The court of appeals agreed with the district court that the statements were properly admitted under CRE 807. The court of appeals found that L.E.’s statements were trustworthy because they were made spontaneously to close family members, they were not self-serving, and L.E. had no motive to lie about McFee’s threats. Additionally, all of the witnesses testified that L.E. seemed afraid when describing the threats. Further, the statements tended to show that L.E.’s and McFee’s relationship was volatile and he had a motive to kill. The court found that the statements were properly admitted.

Next, McFee argued that L.E.’s note was testimonial hearsay and should have been excluded because it violated his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause rights. The court of appeals agreed, but found that any error in admitting the note was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The court of appeals found that the note was created out of court to substitute for testimony in the event of L.E.’s death and therefore was “testimonial.” And because L.E. was unavailable at trial and McFee had not had prior opportunity for cross-examination, admission of the note violated McFee’s Confrontation Clause rights. However, the court found that any error in admitting the note was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Several witnesses testified as to threats McFee had made to kill L.E., McFee’s DNA was on the murder weapon, he had a key to the facility where L.E. lived on his key ring at the time of his arrest, he failed to contact L.E.’s daughter after the murder despite his close relationship with her, and he may have said “I did it” on the audio recording. Given the plentiful evidence of McFee’s guilt, the court found that admission of the note was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court of appeals affirmed McFee’s conviction.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Judge’s Ex Parte Communications Violated Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Guzman-Rincon on Thursday, November 19, 2015.

Sixth Amendment—Fourteenth Amendment—Jury—Ex Parte Communications.

The victim and her friends were standing across the street from Aurora Central High School when a vehicle drove by, made a U-turn, and drove back toward the group. A passenger from the vehicle then fired a single shot from the car. The bullet struck the victim in the spine, paralyzing her. A jury found him guilty of six counts of attempted extreme indifference murder (crime of violence).

During trial, the prosecutors requested ex parte communications with the judge to inform him that the investigating officer on the case had been contacted by a confidential informant, who warned the prosecutors that defendant or defense counsel had leaked information about witness interviews to defendant’s family and that gang members viewed the interviews. The court determined there were credible threats against the witnesses, investigating officer, prosecutor, and jurors. The court sequestered the jury based on this information; however, the court did not inform defendant’s counsel or the jury that the sequestration was based on a credible threat. During deliberations, the jury questioned the court about their safety, and the court informed the jury of the threat outside the presence of defendant.

On appeal, defendant contended that the court’s ex parte communications with the prosecutors and the jurors violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and Fourteenth Amendment right to be present at all critical stages of his trial. Because a defendant is entitled to counsel and to be present at every critical stage of the proceedings, and the court’s discussions with the prosecutors and the jurors constituted critical stages, defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Fourteenth Amendment right to be present were violated. Because the court could not conclude that these errors were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, reversal was required.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.