May 14, 2012

Colorado Supreme Court - 5-14-12 - People v. Angel


People v. Angel         Work Product
Facts: In El Paso County, Colorado, three police officers went to a motel to arrest someone on an arrest warrant. They claimed they saw the suspect sitting the backseat of a car with three other people. The cops surrounded the car which prompted the driver to put the car in gear. One of the cops claimed the car ran over his foot. So, of course, the cop shot the driver (the opinion did not disclose any details of any injury to the cop). However, the driver managed to then drive away, and drive long enough to get away. The driver ended up still in the car at a hospital some 3 hours later. The DAs supposedly investigated the case, and white washed the cop shooting the driver. However, they charged Ms. Angel with vehicular eluding and other charges (theory: she drove the car after the driver died). As part of the DAs white wash of the cop shooting, they compiled witness interview notes and created a power point presentation. Ms. Angel sought the notes and power point in the cop shooting. The trial court ordered disclosure of the notes and power point. The trial court reasoned that work product only includes the case in which the prosecution charged Ms. Angel, and work product does not encompass notes, impressions, etc. from other cases such as the cop shooting the unarmed driver.
Issue: Whether the trial court abused its discretion by ordering disclosure of work product in another criminal investigation/case?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Colorado Supreme Court held work product covers any case or investigation.  The rule, Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 16(I)(e)(1), reads, “Disclosure shall not be required of legal research or of records, correspondence, reports, or memoranda to the extent that they contain the opinions, theories, or conclusions of the prosecuting attorney or members of his legal staff.”
            The Colorado Supreme Court repudiated the reasoning of the trial court, “The purpose of the work product doctrine is to protect the mental impressions and legal analysis of the attorney, so that she may properly analyze the merits of and prepare for the disposition of her client’s case.” Thus, “[T]he purpose of Crim. P. 16(I)(e)(1)… is to provide prosecutors with a degree of privacy in which they  may  candidly and thoroughly evaluate legal claims and strategies.  If we were to hold that Crim. P. 16(I)(e)(1), applies only to protect opinion work product created in anticipation of the case before the court, then a prosecutor, when investigating a criminal episode in the future, would have a substantial incentive to refrain from candidly and thoroughly evaluating a case for fear that her mental impressions, legal analysis, and trial strategies would be discoverable by defendants in future cases.” (citations omitted)

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