February 20, 2010

Colorado Court of Appeals decisions 2-18-10

People v. Collins                        Scope of Consent  / Sexual Assault / DNA evidence
The issue: Did Mr. Collins’ consent to give a DNA sample authorize the prosecution in Missouri to share his DNA sample with other databases and investigations?
Holding: Yes.
Corollary issue: Did the authorities in Missouri give an express or implied representation that the DNA sample would be used only in the robbery case in which they were investigating?
Holding: No.
Facts: A jury convicted Mr. Collins of 1° degree sexual assault, 2° degree kidnapping, and attempted aggravated robbery. Simple facts: in 1999, the assailant, assaulted, raped, and robbed the complaining witness when she was walking home from work. The police developed a DNA profile from the semen left by the assailant.  The DNA profile did not match anyone currently in the DNA database. Subsequently, the crime lab did an “enhanced profile” of the same sample, but still no match.

After the ’99 rape, not content with a generous life Mulligan, Mr. Collins sought and captured more trouble in Missouri. Police arrested Mr. Collins on a robbery charge. However, the prosecution in Missouri wanted to link him to a ski mask left at the scene of the robbery. Thus, the prosecution sought Mr. Collins’s DNA. He refused at first, which prompted the prosecution to file a motion to compel. However, prior to a hearing on the motion to compel, Mr. Collins agreed to some give some swabs. Unsurprisingly, the prosecutors linked Mr. Collins’ DNA with that on the mask. However, unfortunately for Mr. Collins, his DNA was seemingly shared around the globe where it matched the DNA profiles of the ’99 Colorado rape and another rape in Missouri. Not that it really mattered, but the Court of Appeals went to some length to explain that Mr. Collins did not limit the scope of his consent when he gave the DNA sample. Thus, the Court of Appeals held, like fingerprints, anyone submitting a DNA sample should be expected to know that their sample would be shared far and wide.

People v. Chavez            Warrantless Search of a Home / Exigency
A jury convicted Mr. Chavez of possession of a dangerous weapon, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
Issue: Is a call to 911 about a domestic disturbance, with little else, a sufficient exigency that justifies a warrantless search of Mr. Chavez home?
Holding: Yes.
Facts: According to the opinion, the police entered without consent, searched the home, and questioned both Mr. Chavez and his wife separately. After the first search of the home disclosed some shotgun shells and bullets, the police asked if there were any weapons, and Mr. Chavez said no. However, the wife disclosed the presence of a sawed-off shotgun under the mattress. The police recovered the shotgun, and the prosecution charged Mr. Chavez with possession of a dangerous firearm. To justify the police conduct, the Court of Appeals focused on the daughter ‘fleeing’, the 911 call, and that 5 minutes after the 911 call, police arrived to find to a dark house where no one answered. Ummm… what the 911 call did not reveal – serious bodily injuries, weapons, or that anyone was in danger. Moreover, the son of the couple stayed in his room seemingly unconcerned about the commotion downstairs.

(People v. Chavez represents society’s hysterical response to any claim of ‘domestic violence' at the expense of one our Constitution's most sacred rights. However, would such hysteria be used to justify the search of a wealthy person's home as it was used here to justify the search a poor person’s home? I suspect not. Most folks in poor neighborhoods, accustomed to police harassment, do not answer the door when the cops come calling. For speaking to the police causes more trouble than it could ever possibly help. This decision represents the complete disconnect between those who wield and grant great power, such as the Court of Appeals here, and those who are always subject to the repeated and habitual abuse of that power -  the indigent. The Warren Court never lost sight of how each opinion affect the impoverished among us, and the Warren Court always sought to alleviate and stop the abuses suffered by the indigent at the hands of the police.)

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