July 23, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Aggravated Incest Statute Constitutional As Applied to Stepchildren of Common Law Marriages

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Perez-Rodriguez on Thursday, June 1, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Minor—Aggravated Incest Statute—Common Law Marriage—Stepchildren—Unconstitutionally Vague as Applied—Jury Instruction—Mens Rea—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Due Process—Admission—Involuntary.

Defendant and A.S. lived together, and though they were never formally married, they publicly referred to each other as husband and wife. J.H-S. was one of A.S.’s children from a previous marriage, and while defendant never formally adopted her, they referred to each other as father and daughter. When J.H-S. was 15 years old, defendant forced her to have sexual intercourse with him on two separate occasions and impregnated her. When defendant was taken into custody, a detective questioned him for about 40 minutes. He was advised of his Miranda rights and signed a waiver. Defendant initially denied having had sexual intercourse with J.H.-S., but after about 15 more minutes, he confessed. Defendant was convicted of two counts each of aggravated incest, sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust as a pattern of conduct, and sexual assault with the actor 10 years older than the victim.

On appeal, defendant first contended that the aggravated incest statute is unconstitutionally vague as applied to stepchildren of common law marriages. However, there is sufficient guidance through statute, case law, and the plain meaning of “stepchild” that a person in a common law marriage has sufficient notice as to the prohibited conduct of aggravated incest.

Defendant next contended that the trial court’s elemental instruction on aggravated incest failed to properly instruct the jury on the scope of the mens rea required to sustain a conviction. Specifically, defendant claimed that the way the jury instruction was written, the “knowingly” mens rea applied only to his act of subjecting J.H-S. to sexual penetration or sexual intrusion, and not to whether he knew she was his stepchild. Regardless of whether the instruction was erroneous, however, the evidence that defendant knew J.H-S. was his stepdaughter was overwhelming. Therefore, any error was not plain error.

Defendant then argued that the prosecution misstated the law on common law marriage during rebuttal closing argument, thereby committing reversible misconduct. The court’s instruction properly defined common law marriage and cohabitation. Although the prosecutor’s simple reference to “cohabitation,” viewed in isolation, may have misstated the law, when viewed in context as rebuttal to defendant’s arguments, there was no plain error.

Finally, defendant asserted that his confession was involuntary and that its admission violated his state and federal due process rights. Based on the totality of the circumstances, defendant’s admission was voluntary and the trial court did not err in admitting it into evidence.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Residual “Crime of Violence” Definition in INA is Unconstitutionally Vague

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Golicov v. Lynch on Monday, September 19, 2016.

Constantine Fedor Golicov, a lawful permanent resident, was convicted in Utah state court of failing to stop at a police officer’s command, a third-degree felony. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. While serving his sentence, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) served Golicov with a Notice to Appear, charging that he was removable under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) because his Utah conviction constituted an aggravated felony under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Golicov denied the charge and moved to terminate removal. An immigration judge agreed with Golicov, denying the charge and terminating removal proceedings. DHS appealed, and the BIA reversed the immigration judge and remanded to the IJ to “explore Golicov’s potential eligibility for relief.”

On remand, Golicov moved to terminate the proceedings on the grounds that the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), effectively rendered unconstitutional and improper for use in immigration proceedings the definition of “crime of violence” contained in 18 U.S.C. § 16(b). The IJ rejected his argument on remand, and the BIA affirmed the IJ. Golicov appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit noted that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires specificity in order to properly apprise ordinary people of the conduct that is prohibited. The government initially argued that because a removal proceeding is civil, the criminal law holding in Johnson should not apply. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that because deportation proceedings can strip non-citizens of their rights, statutes that impose the penalty of deportation are subject to Fifth Amendment vagueness challenges.

The Tenth Circuit reviewed Johnson‘s holding that the residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act was void for vagueness, and noted the similarity between the ACCA residual clause and the INA’s residual definition of “crime of violence.” The Tenth Circuit remarked that two circuits have addressed the identical issue and both determined that the INA residual definition was void for vagueness, and two other circuits addressed the issue in a criminal context and also determined the INA’s definition was unconstitutionally vague. The Tenth Circuit agreed with its sister circuits that the INA’s residual “crime of violence” definition is void for vagueness.

The Tenth Circuit vacated the order of removal and remanded to the BIA for further proceedings.