January 31, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals decision 1-6-11

People v. Smith            6th Amendment Right to Present a Defense vs. the 5th Amendment Privilege of Co-Defendant

Synopsis: Essentially, Mr. Smith wanted his co-defendant / coconspirator to testify in his trial where the prosecution alleged theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, and various other offenses relating to four purses stolen from a daycare center in Jeffco. Mr. Smith’s co-defendant previously pled, but had not been sentenced by the time Mr. Smith’s trial rolled around. At trial, the co-defendant asserted her 5th Amendment Privilege Against Self-incrimination. Mr. Smith moved to continue the trial until after the co-defendant’s sentencing. The trial court, Judge Munch in Jeffco, denied the motion.

Issue: Whether the trial court violated Mr. Smith’s Right to Present a Defense under the 6th Amendment when it allowed the co-defendant to assert her 5th Amendment Privilege?
Held: No.
Reasoning:  The CofA held that despite her plea, the co-defendant still had a right not to incriminate herself. Mitchell v. United States, 526 U.S. 314 (1999). Further, the CofA stated, “A court may deny a witness’s claim of privilege only if it is absolutely clear that the witness is mistaken and the testimony cannot possibly incriminate him.” quoting, People v. Villa, 671 P.2d 971, 973 (Colo.App. 1983). Here, the CofA reasoned because sentencing can take in a whole host of factors to aggravate or mitigate a sentence, virtually anything upon which the co-defendant testified could potentially be used against her at sentencing. In any event, the CofA reasoned it was not “absolutely clear” the co-defendant would not incriminate herself.  Further, the CofA held when the 5th Amendment Privilege clashes with another’s 6th Amendment Right to Present a Defense, the Right to Present a Defense loses.
Nevertheless, here is some helpful language prevent our clients from hanging themselves by submitting to a PSI or offense specific evaluation (such as sexual assaults or other case where it would be more harmful to submit to the evaluation): “There is no basis for the assertion of the privilege when a witness has been charged with a crime, but ‘the sentence has been fixed and the judgment of conviction has become final.’” quoting, Mitchell 119 S.Ct. at 326.

Issue: Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Mr. Smith’s motion to continue until after the co-defendant’s sentencing?
Held: No
Reasoning: The CofA reasoned, 1) the co-defendant could decide to appeal her sentence, and thus, her conviction would not be final until she exhausted her appellate rights; and 2) the prosecution in Mr. Smith’s trial stipulated to some statements and a letter written by the co-defendant which exculpated Mr. Smith.

Colorado Court of Appeals decision 12-23-10

People v. Rabes            SAC / Warrants – Probable Cause / Rule 410 – Right to Allocution / Challenges for Cause

Synopsis:  While living in Nebraska, AOL.Com reported to the police that Mr. Rabes downloaded images of child porn. The police got a warrant, searched Mr. Rabes’ computer, and found images of him and a four-year old girl, M.V.. The police went to the ex-wife, and she identified the little girl, and Mr. Rabes, and the location of the incident (former home theirs in Colorado Springs). Subsequently, the prosecution charged Mr. Rabes with SAC, SAC-Position of Trust, two counts of felony sexual exploitation of a child, and a misdemeanor count of sexual exploitation of a minor. The trial court sentenced him to: 10 years on the sexual assaults concurrent with each other; 12 years on the felony exploitation charges, consecutive to each other and consecutive to the sex assault sentences; and, 24 months on the misdemeanor exploitation, concurrent. Federal authorities charged Mr. Rabes also charged Mr. Rabes with offenses relating to the images. Colorado Springs charged him with the conduct in the pictures and the pictures. Prior to trial in the Springs, Mr. Rabes pled in Federal Court to the counts involving the pictures. During the plea colloquy, Mr. Rabes made two confessions that the prosecution in the Springs case admitted in its case-in-chief: one, that he enticed M.V. to engage in sexually explicit conduct, and two, he admitted the existence of 32 photos of him and M.V. engaged in sexual conduct.

Issue:  Whether describing just the premises to be searched and the language, “depict[ing] children in a sexually explicit manner, which would include visual representation or image of a person or portion of the nude human body,” amounts to probable cause?
Held:             Yes, the Court wrote that a better practice would be an affidavit that specifically described the images. However, the Court continued, because the cop saw the pictures prior to the search, it gave the general language more weight, and thus the affidavit established probable cause.
Issue:             Whether the trial court erred in admitting the statements Mr. Rabes made during the plea colloquy in Federal Court?
Held: No. Despite defense counsel at trial making numerous objections at trial, because counsel did not specifically state Rule 410 (statements made pursuant to a plea bargain) in his objection, the Court of Appeals deemed the issue as not preserved for appellate purposes, and thus, the Court determined the standard of review to be plain error – dooming any real chance of a meaningful review for Mr. Rabes. Nevertheless, Rule 410 specifically excludes statements to the court. Thus, Mr. Rabes loses either way. Further, the CofA held that Mr. Rabes made the statements during the plea colloquy, and not in allocution for sentencing.
Issue: Whether two jurors who expressed skepticism at their ability to decide on proof and not just on the inflammatory pictures amounted to bias against Mr. Rabes?
Held: The CofA held the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defense’s challenge of the two jurors. One juror stated, “If you're not going to tell me it's a fake picture to defend your client, I'm going to assume it's a real picture and I'm going to feel the same way… If the Prosecution is going to present evidence, I'm assuming it's actual evidence. If you're not going to try and prove that it's not real, I'm still going to assume that it's actual evidence. I have to take that into consideration. I figure if in all actuality, if it's not real, you're going to do whatever you can to debunk their evidence. If you don't, I'm assuming that's actual evidence. I will take that into consideration in my decision.”

            The other juror’s statements which did not amount to challenge for cause:
[Defense Counsel]: Let's say, let's pretend during this trial
you see a picture of what looks like child pornography, but
you don't know if it's real or if it's fake, but you feel so much
disgust by looking at the image. Do you think there's a danger
that you might overlook the judge's rule about whose job it is
to do the proving in this case and you might say it's close, but
I'm going to find him guilty because I don't like the picture?
[Juror H]: I think it would be hard for me to separate those
things, but I would like to think that I'd be able to do that.
[Defense Counsel]: Is there a danger with you that based upon
what's in the photograph you might find somebody guilty
even if there's not proof that it's a real photograph.
*6 [Juror H]: Yes.

(I would just note, I have left challenges here, and lost – too many times to count. Per Ann Roan, follow-up with a question that the juror has a substantial doubt she/he could be fair in this case, pat that bunny, then close the cave).

January 11, 2011

Colorado Supreme Court decision 1-10-11

Hills v. Westminster Municipal Court            Speedy Trial / Waiver
Facts: City Attorney, tired of getting his ass kicked, attempts to kick Mr. Hills defense lawyer off of Mr. Hills case. Two day prior to trial, Mr. Hills lawyer withdraws, and new counsel enters. New counsel cannot re-set case within the speedy trial period. The trial court offered dates inside speedy, but new counsel could not accept those dates due to conflicts.  New counsel did not offer any dates within speedy in response, but only offered dates outside speedy.
Issue: Whether defense counsel’s scheduling conflicts can waive a client’s rights under the speedy trial statute?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: All you need to know is the following paragraph:
“In this case, after offering several potential trial dates, the municipal court continued the trial for its own convenience but still offered a final trial date that satisfied the applicable speedy trial provision. Due to a scheduling conflict, however, defense counsel declined that date and offered alternate dates both
outside the speedy trial period. The municipal court then scheduled the trial for its next available trial date, only one week after the second of defense counsel's suggested dates, and which, like defense counsel's proffered dates, fell after
the expiration of the speedy trial period. In this case, the court made a reasonable effort to reschedule within the speedy trial period and the delay that pushed the trial date past the speedy trial deadline-defense counsel's scheduling conflict was
‘occasioned by the action or request of the defendant.’”

Lastly, the Court distinguished Yeager v. Tasset, because in Tasset, defense counsel objected to the trial setting outside speedy trial. Here in Mr. Hills’ case, the Court reasoned that defense counsel implicitly waived Mr. Hills’ right to speedy trial because defense counsel, did not object, rejected the dates offered by the trial court which fell within speedy, and offered no dates within the speedy trial period.

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