October 30, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals 10-13-11 Criminal Law Decision - People v. Cordova

People v. Cordova            Harmless Error vs. Abuse of Discretion review
Facts: A jury convicted Mr. Cordova of attempted murder. The assailant cut the complaining witnesses during a fight outside a bar between Mr. Cordova along with his friend and the two complaining witnesses. An arrest warrant issued, and some eleven days later, the police stop Mr. Cordova, search him, and search his SUV.  During the searches of Mr. Cordova and his SUV, the police recovered some knives. Later, at a motions hearing, the defense conceded the police did not violate the Fourth Amendment in either search. However, defense counsel then moved to exclude the knives. The defense argued because the prosecution conducted no forensic testing on the knives to discern whether any of the seized knives cut either of the complaining witnesses, admission of the knives represented irrelevant, prejudicial, inadmissible character evidence. However, according to the Court of Appeals, the motion upon which raised the issue did not specifically cite “due process”. During trial, Mr. Cordova pinned the knife cutting on his friend. He lost, and on appeal, the defense argued admission of the knives violated Mr. Cordova’s due process because the admission denied him a fair trial.
Issue: Whether harmless error or abuse of discretion is the appropriate review standard?
Held: Abuse of discretion.
Reasoning: On appeal, the defense couched the issued under due process requiring the more exacting constitutional harmless error analysis. However, the Court of Appeals reasoned that because the defense could neither point to where in the record Mr. Cordova raised the issue under due process nor did the defense motion cite due process, the Court could only analyze the issue under the more lenient abuse of discretion standard applied to all evidentiary rulings.  Of course, then, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the trial court did not abuse its discretion because a knife on Mr. Cordova's person and a boatload of knives in his truck provided all the relevance the Court of Appeals needed.

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