March 29, 2012

Colorado Supreme Court 3-19-12 People v. Salazar

People v. Salazar                        Rule 403 / Rape Shield / Alternate Suspect
Facts: The prosecution charged Mr. Salazar with a slew of charges relating to the alleged sexual abuse of his wife’s eight year-old niece. The niece cannot see without glasses, likely did not wear her glasses at the time of the assaults, and she lived with her grandfather during all the alleged incidents. Mr. Salazar sought to admit into trial, as alternate suspect evidence, the sexual abuse suffered by his wife at the hands of her father, who is the niece’s grandfather. Moreover, the wife testified that she was the same age as niece when her father abused her. After a hearing where the wife testified about the abuse inflicted upon her by her father, the trial court granted the defense’s motion to admit the testimony. The trial court found it relevant, not barred by the Rape Shield Statute, and not prohibited by Rule 403. The prosecution took the issue up as a Rule 21 with the Colorado Supreme Court.
Issue: Whether the trial court abused its discretion by allowing evidence of the sexual assault upon a separate victim by an alternate suspect?
Held: Yes
Reasoning: The reasoning of the majority amounts to inane, blind rationalization. Chief Justice Bender wrote a lone dissent:
“In my view, the alternate suspect evidence has significant probative value not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. It has ‘a tendency to prove the proposition for which it is offered’—that is, that the grandfather, not the defendant, committed the assault in this case ‘If judicial self-restraint is ever desirable, it is when a Rule 403 analysis of a trial court is reviewed by an appellate tribunal.’ We do not look to see if we agree with the trial court, but, rather whether the trial court's decision fell within the range of reasonable options. I would not, as an appellate judge, insert my judgment for that of the trial court's and therefore I would affirm the trial court's ruling. Hence, I respectfully dissent.” (citations omitted).
Only when the state whines would the Court find an abuse of discretion regarding a rule of evidence. To illustrate the ridiculousness of the holding, read Masters v. People, 58 P.3d 979 (Colo. 2002). In Masters, this same Court refused to find an abuse of discretion where some psychologist opined doodles done by Mr. Masters evinced the mind of a man who killed a woman. The prosecution had no other evidence linking Mr. Masters to the unsolved crime, and the jury convicted him of 1˚ murder. Thankfully, since this dreadful decision, David Wymore and Maria Liu successfully freed Mr. Masters, and won settlements in lawsuits over the false and wrongful conviction.
>Link to People v. Salazar here<


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