March 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Probationary Status Alone Does Not Implicate Defendant’s Right to Cross-Examine

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Margerum on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Assault—Menacing—Sixth Amendment—Confrontation Clause—Cross-Examination—Probationary Status.

Defendant was alone in a friend’s apartment with the friend’s girlfriend, E.S. When E.S. rejected defendant’s sexual advances, defendant became angry and forced E.S. onto the bed, climbing on top of her and kissing and groping her. Then defendant tried to remove E.S.’s clothing. Eventually he stopped and let E.S. leave the apartment. Defendant then texted his sister, T.M., to come to the apartment. He told her he had a bag of clothes he wanted to give her. T.M. went to defendant’s apartment with her son. Without warning, defendant grabbed her around the neck and began choking her. Defendant then pinned T.M. underneath him and began groping her body. T.M. grabbed a glass candleholder and hit defendant on the back of the head, which allowed her to escape with her son. A jury convicted defendant of unlawful sexual contact without physical force as to E.S., and third-degree assault and menacing with a deadly weapon as to T.M.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause by not allowing him to cross-examine E.S. concerning her probationary status. A witness’s probationary status alone does not implicate a defendant’s constitutional right to cross-examine the witness on potential bias or motive. Rather, some logical connection between the probationary status and the witness’s motive for testifying is required. Here, at the time of defendant’s trial, E.S. was serving a one-year probation in another county for a forgery conviction. Defendant pointed to no other facts that would logically connect E.S.’s probationary status with her testimony at his trial. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s request to cross-examine E.S. regarding her probationary status because these facts do not show that E.S.’s testimony might have been influenced by a promise or expectation of leniency in exchange for favorable testimony.

Defendant next argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his menacing conviction. He contended that (1) the menacing statute requires that a defendant place the victim in fear before any actual injury, and (2) the conduct underlying his menacing conviction cannot be the same single act as the conduct underlying his assault conviction. The statute does not require that the victim be placed in fear before she in injured; it is thus irrelevant whether the victim is injured before, during, or after she is placed in fear of imminent bodily harm, if defendant’s actions place or attempt to place her in such fear. Defendant presented no basis to depart from established law that a person can commit two crimes with one act. The evidence supports defendant’s menacing conviction.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: State’s Interest in Ascertaining Truth Paramount Over Witness’s Religious Freedom Claims

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ray on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Death PenaltyPostconviction—Freedom of Religion—First Amendment—Refusal to Testify—Direct Contempt—Rational BasisStrict Scrutiny.

Ray was sentenced to death in a first degree murder case. Ray’s attorneys hired Lindecrantz as an investigator to assist them in the penalty phase of the case.

The trial court began the required postconviction review of Ray’s conviction and sentence. Ray sought postconviction relief, in part alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Part of that claim challenges Lindecrantz’s investigation. The prosecution subpoenaed Lindecrantz to testify. She moved to quash, arguing that as a devout Mennonite she is opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds and she feared that in truthfully answering the prosecutor’s questions, she would provide information from which the prosecutor could argue that Ray received effective assistance, which could lead to upholding the conviction and death sentence.

The trial court denied the motion to quash, finding that under either a rational basis or strict scrutiny analysis, Lindecrantz’s sincerely held religious beliefs did not justify her refusal to answer questions under oath in response to the subpoena. She took the stand and refused to testify. The court ultimately found her in direct contempt and remanded her to the sheriff’s custody “until she elects to answer the questions” as a remedial sanction. She has been in jail since February 26 of this year.

On appeal, Lindecrantz argued that being called as a witness for the prosecution makes her a “tool” or “weapon” of the prosecutor’s efforts to execute Ray. She would answer the trial court’s questions on direct examination and the prosecutor’s and defense counsel’s questions on cross-examination, but does not want to answer the prosecutor’s questions on direct examination. The court of appeals weighed the substantial burden on Lindecrantz’s religious beliefs against the state’s compelling interests in ascertaining the truth and rendering a just judgment in accordance with the law and concluded that Lindecrantz’s position fails under both a rational basis and strict scrutiny analysis. Lastly, holding Lindecrantz in contempt is narrowly tailored to advance the government’s compelling interests.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Witness’s Vague and Fleeting Reference to Prior Criminal Activity Did Not Undermine Fairness of Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Salas on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Sexual Assault on a Child—Due Process—Mistrial—Prior Criminality—Videotaped Interview—Inconsistent Statements—Sexually Violent Predator—Findings of Fact.

A jury found Salas guilty of sexual assault on a 9-year-old child by one in a position of trust and sexual assault on a child, pattern of abuse. The trial court’s order found him to be a sexually violent predator (SVP).

On appeal, Salas contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his rights to due process, a fair trial, and an impartial jury by denying his motion for a mistrial after victim’s grandmother testified by giving a nonresponsive answer to a question which, Salas contended, impermissibly referred to prior criminality. Because grandmother’s remark was fleeting, minimally prejudicial, and immediately followed by a curative instruction, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Salas’s motion for a mistrial.

Salas next contended that the district court abused its discretion when it denied his request to play a videotaped interview of grandmother. Here, defense counsel sufficiently confronted grandmother with her inconsistent statements and she either explained or conceded them. Thus admission of the videotape would have been cumulative, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

Salas also argued that the trial court’s determination that he qualified as an SVP failed to satisfy statutory and due process requirements because the court never made specific findings of fact in support of its determination as required by C.R.S. § 18-3-414.5(2). While the record evidence might support a conclusion that Salas either promoted or established a relationship with the victim for purposes of sexual victimization, the court did not make specific findings on this matter, and other evidence might lead to the opposite conclusion. This error was substantial and cast serious doubt on the reliability of the SVP designation.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed. The SVP designation was vacated and the case was remanded for the trial court to make specific findings of fact regarding Salas’s SVP designation.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Picture of Accused in Photo Lineup Must Match Victim’s Initial Description

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Singley on Thursday, June 18, 2015.

Due Process—Out-of-Court Identification—Photo Lineup—Jury Instructions—Witness Credibility—Subpoena—Testimony—Cumulative.

The victim, J.A.C., was commuting home from work when two men, both carrying handguns, confronted him. When J.A.C. shouted for help, one of the men opened fire, shooting him three times, fracturing his pelvic bone, and causing permanent scarring. Singling and another man were arrested later that evening after robbing another woman. J.A.C. identified Singley as the shooter in a photo lineup. A jury found Singley guilty of attempted second-degree murder, first-degree assault, attempted aggravated, robbery, and felony menacing.

On appeal, Singley contended that the trial court violated his right to due process and a fair trial when it declined to suppress the allegedly impermissibly suggestive and unreliable out-of-court identification, as well as the subsequent in-court identification. Immediately after the shooting, J.A.C. told officers that the shooter was in his 20s with a medium-length Afro. Several days later, the police presented J.A.C. with a photographic lineup built around Singley, which showed six bald men, all of whom appear to be of the same general age as Singley, who was 46. Because the picture of Singley did not match the initial description given by the witness, the trial court erred when it found that the lineup was not impermissibly suggestive. Under the totality of the circumstances, including J.A.C.’s view of the witness at the crime scene and only taking forty-five seconds to identify Singley in the photo lineup, J.A.C.’s identifications of Singley were nonetheless reliable.

Singley contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to give four proposed jury instructions on the reliability of eyewitness identification testimony. The court gave the jury a pattern witness credibility instruction, accurately informing it of the applicable law. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to give Singley’s four additional instructions.

Singley contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his right to present a complete defense when it quashed his subpoena of the Aurora police chief. Specifically, he asserted that the court improperly precluded the police chief’s testimony regarding his assistance in helping J.A.C. obtain a U-Visa, which allowed him to reside and work legally in the United States. Singley cross-examined J.A.C. regarding receipt of this U-Visa in exchange for his cooperation in the investigation to establish his motive for testifying and bias. Singley’s counsel also questioned the officer who helped J.A.C. with the U-Visa application. Therefore, the testimony of the Aurora police chief was cumulative and irrelevant, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it quashed the subpoena. The judgment was affirmed.

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