August 9, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals criminal law decision 7-21-11 People v. Chavez


People v. Chavez             Challenge for Cause
Facts: A jury convicted Mr. Chavez of various sexual assault on a child counts.  During voir dire defense counsel disclosed the evidence will show that Mr. Chavez also shot someone other than the complaining witness. Defense counsel then followed up with the jurors about whether that evidence would shift the burden to the defense. The CofA recited the following colloquies:
JUROR P.: To answer quite honestly, I feel lack of judgment shown in the shooting would color my opinion. I'd have a hard time getting past it. I'd have to hear evidence, of course, but the lack of judgment is a big thing.... I feel I probably would just tie those together.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Same question to you I've been asking everyone.
JUROR P.: [Defendant] only had [a] couple points to start with, yeah, to be honest.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: [It would] give [the prosecution] a little advantage, improving the allegations in this case, in your mind?
JUROR P.: Yeah ... I'm really anti-violent, just the ability to pull a trigger to shoot someone, that shows a lot of character. To me it's a big thing.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: So more likely you would think that he is then guilty of sex assault?
JUROR P.: Hard to say without hearing the evidence. Definitely, I would be coloring in that direction.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Starting off, starting from the beginning?
JUROR P.: I feel that way. After this exchange, one more prospective juror stated he could hold the prosecution to its burden.

The [trial] court then asked, “Anyone [we] haven't spoken to ... that feel you would not be able to—?” JUROR M raised his hand, and then said:
I definitely feel ... it could come down to he said she said. And I agree with the gentleman over here, violent shooting, shooting is a violent act and therefore it would dictate a character trait or behavior or pattern that you know I would essentially be kind of somebody else [sic] a tipping point if it was at that level.

Juror R. also raised his hand and said, “I think you're telling a story here [and] you're leaving one chapter out. To me it's all—that's the book of who the person is.” Defense counsel asked him if “[the prosecution's] burden gets a little bit less because of the shooting,” and Juror R. said, “Yes.”
(Emphasis added)
Issue: Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying defense counsel’s challenges to Jurors P, R, and M.
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The CofA did not address the issues related to Juror M because the Court reversed Mr. Chavez’s convictions based upon the bias both Juror P and R evinced against Mr. Chavez.
            The Court emphasized in its ruling that the jurors stated such bias after a “strong statements” of other jurors stating they would be able to follow the Court’s instruction not to use the shooting incident as proof Mr. Chavez committed a sexual assault. Further, the Court highlighted how many times the trial court and defense counsel told the jurors of the prosecution’s burden prior to the above colloquies. Thus, the Court concluded, “These two jurors must have been aware that their views diverged significantly from those of nearly all the other jurors who spoke before they did, and yet they persisted in their pronouncements of bias, thus demonstrating ‘an unwillingness to accept and apply those principles that form the bedrock of a fair trial.’”

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