July 22, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Confrontation Clause Rights Not Violated by Video Conference Deposition

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hebert on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Michelle Ann Hebert convinced an elderly gentleman to give her loans totaling several hundred thousand dollars and did not repay him. The elderly gentleman called the police, and Hebert was charged with theft from an at-risk adult. A public defender was appointed for Hebert, and the prosecution moved that same day to depose the victim. The prosecution requested that the victim be deposed from his own home via video conference due to his failing health. The defense argued that allowing a video conference deposition would violate Hebert’s Confrontation Clause rights, and that his assistance would be ineffective because he did not have time to prepare. The district court granted the prosecution’s motion after a hearing, but ordered that the deposition be held in five weeks in order to give the defense time to prepare. Six weeks later, the victim was deposed via video conference and the deposition was recorded. The victim died before trial, so the recorded deposition was admitted at trial.

After the deposition but before trial, Hebert retained private counsel. Shortly thereafter, the People charged Hebert with additional tax-related offenses, and her private counsel moved to withdraw. Hebert requested appointed counsel, but the public defender’s office determined she was ineligible. She represented herself at trial and was convicted on all counts. She appealed, arguing that the district court erred in failing to make its own findings after the district court found her ineligible for appointed counsel, and by admitting the recorded deposition at trial.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first addressed Hebert’s contention about appointed counsel. In her application, Hebert contended she had meager assets, was responsible for three children, and was separating from her husband. On her joint tax return, she claimed approximately $76,000 in income for that year. The district court considered the tax return and Hebert and her husband’s testimony. Her husband testified that they had never separated, and Hebert admitted she had only claimed they were separating so she could qualify for a public defender. The district court considered the evidence and determined Hebert was not qualified for a public defender. The court of appeals determined the district court’s findings were supported by evidence and therefore there was no abuse of discretion.

The court of appeals next evaluated Hebert’s claims that she was denied a fair trial when the district court admitted the video testimony before her counsel had adequate time to prepare for the deposition. The court of appeals perceived no error. The district court specifically postponed the deposition so that counsel would be able to prepare prior to the deposition.

Hebert also argued her Confrontation Clause rights were violated because she did not have the opportunity to confront her accuser face-to-face. The court of appeals noted that the right to confront an accuser face-to-face is not absolute, and when public policy concerns warrant and the reliability of testimony is otherwise assured, testimony may be obtained other than face-to-face. The court found that the victim in this case was medically unavailable due to his fragile health, crediting two letters and an affidavit from the victim’s doctor that stated that being in the same room with Hebert would cause the victim’s blood pressure to rise to a potentially fatal level. The court of appeals agreed with the district court that the victim’s fragile health necessitated a video conference deposition from the victim’s home. The court found the video reliable, because he gave testimony under oath, was contemporaneously cross-examined by Hebert’s counsel, and the jury was able to assess his demeanor in the video. The court also found no Crawford violation from the video testimony, because the victim was deceased at the time of trial and Hebert was fully able to cross-examine him during the deposition.

The court of appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jurors Appropriately Allowed Unfettered Access to Video of Defendant’s Voluntary and Admissible Confession During Deliberations

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Gingles on Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Jury—Evidence—Videotaped Admission—Deliberations—Jury Instructions—Invited Error—Vehicular Eluding—Double Jeopardy—Separate Volitional Acts.

Defendant fled from police in a stolen vehicle. After that vehicle broke down, he pushed a driver out of another vehicle and fled in that vehicle. A jury found defendant guilty, as charged, of second-degree kidnapping, one count of aggravated motor vehicle theft, and two counts of vehicular eluding. The jury also found him guilty of robbery and third-degree assault, as lesser-included offenses of his other charges.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in permitting the jury to have unfettered access to the video recording of his confession. Jurors are allowed unrestricted access during deliberations to a defendant’s voluntary and otherwise admissible confession. Therefore, the court did not err.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that he could be convicted of robbery based on the use of force, threats, or intimidation “against any person” rather than against the innocent driver specifically. Because defense counsel proposed the instruction, the invited error doctrine bars defendant’s challenge to it on appeal. The case was remanded with instructions to correct the mittimus to reflect that defendant was convicted of robbery, not aggravated robbery.

Defendant further contented that his two convictions for vehicular eluding were imposed in violation of constitutional double jeopardy guarantees. Defendant committed two different volitional acts directed at two different officers at different times. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient to support two separate convictions of vehicular eluding. The judgments were affirmed and the case was remanded with directions.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Error to Allow Jury Unfettered Access to Videotaped Interview of Child Sexual Assault Victim

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jefferson on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Sexual Assault on a Child by one in a Position of Trust—Videotape—Evidence—Jury Deliberations.

Defendant was a friend of L.T., a mother of two small children. In 2008 and 2009, he watched the children four times, including two overnights, without their mother being present. On one of the overnights, he allegedly sexually assaulted J.B., L.T.’s 5-year-old daughter. A jury found defendant guilty of sexual assault on a child and sexual assault on a child by one in position of trust.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it gave the jury during deliberations unrestricted and unsupervised access to the videotaped forensic interview of J.B. The trial court admitted the videotaped interview as child hearsay under CRS § 13-25-129. However, the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the jury unfettered access to the statements during deliberations. During her live testimony during trial, almost two years after the alleged assaults, J.B. was unable to remember many details about what had happened between her and defendant. Thus, J.B.’s credibility was the main issue at trial, and the video, which was taken a day after J.B. first reported the assaults to her mother, filled in the gaps of her testimony. Furthermore, the court gave no limiting instruction regarding the jury’s use of the video. These errors created grave doubt as to the error’s effect on the verdict or the fairness of the trial proceedings. Therefore, defendant’s convictions were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary and full case available here.