Category: Constitutional Issues

The Cumulative Error Doctrine in Colorado Appeals

Posted by Kimberly Penix - May 21, 2020 - Appeals, Civil Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Constitutional Issues, Criminal Appeals, Practice

The first step in a direct appeal is to ask the court of appeals to provide relief for specific legal errors made at the trial level. But sometimes, the trial court made only a series of smaller errors, rather than a severe error that would alone warrant reversal. In these cases, the cumulative error doctrine may be of help in finding relief.

The court of appeals considers de novo whether the cumulative effect of multiple errors at trial requires reversal, even if any one of those errors individually may not warrant relief. Kogan v. People, 756 P.2d 945, 961 (Colo. 1988), abrogated on other grounds by Erickson v. People, 951 P.2d 919 (Colo. 1998). Under a cumulative error analysis, “regardless of whether any error was preserved or unpreserved . . . reversal is warranted when numerous errors in the aggregate show the absence of a fair trial, even if individually the errors were harmless or did not affect the defendant’s substantial rights.” Howard-Walker v. People, 443 P.3d 1007, 1011-1012 (Colo. 2019).

In Colorado, the cumulative error doctrine has only been applied in criminal appeals. The court of appeals has thus far declined to extend the doctrine to civil cases. Neher v. Neher, 402 P.3d 1030 (Colo. App. 2015) (holding the court “decline[s] to extend [the cumulative error doctrine] to civil cases.”)

To speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your appeal, contact the Alderman Law Firm today for a free consultation.

Speedy Trial Rights in Colorado Criminal Appeals

Posted by Kimberly Penix - February 21, 2020 - Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Constitutional Issues, Criminal Appeals, Speedy Trial

C.R.S. § 18-1-405(1) requires that, if a defendant is not brought to trial within six months of the entry of his not guilty plea, the charges must be dismissed. The statutory language is “mandatory and leaves no room for court discretion.” Carr v. District Court, 543 P.2d 1253, 1254, 190 Colo. 125 (Colo. 1975). This statutory protection is distinct from (albeit in addition to) the guarantee of a speedy trial under the US Constitution, which is less protective of criminal defendants than Colorado’s speedy trial. The only exceptions to the Colorado speedy trial rule are those delineated in the statute. Id., see also Harrington v. District Court, 559 P.2d 225, 228, 192 Colo. 351, 354 (Colo. 1977).

Where a delay in bringing a case to trial is “caused at the insistence of the defendant,” however, the period of this delay is excluded from the six-month period. C.R.S. § 18-1-405(6)(f). “Any express consent to the delay or other affirmative conduct by the defendant is treated as a waiver of the right to a speedy trial.” People v. Brewster, 240 P.3d 291, 298 (Colo. App. 2009); citing People ex. rel. Gallagher v. Dist. Court, 933 P.2d 583, 588 (Colo. 1997).

Examples of the kind of delays attributable to the defendant include defense counsel’s scheduling conflicts, defendant’s mental hospital confinement to determine competency, substitution of counsel due to defendant’s not cooperating with his attorney, or defendant’s request for additional time. Hills v. Westminster Mun. Court, 245 P.3d 947, 951 (Colo. 2011); People v. Jones, 677 P.2d 383, 384 (Colo. App. 1983) aff’d in part and rev’d in part on other grounds, 711 P.2d 1270 (Colo. 1986); People v. Scales, 763 P.2d 1045, 1048 (Colo. 1988); People v. Spencer, 512 P.2d 260, 262, 182 Colo. 189, 194-195 (Colo. 1973).

Meanwhile, delays deemed not attributable to defendant have included those caused by congested dockets, last minute recusal, the prosecution’s failure to secure defendant’s transfer, and the prosecution’s requests for continuance without fulfilling the conditions of the statutory exception to the 6-month limit. People v. Bell, 669 P.2d 1381, 1386-1387 (Colo. 1983); People v. Arledge, 938 P.2d 160, 166 (Colo. 1997); People v. Murphy, 515 P.2d 107, 109, 183 Colo. 106, 110 (Colo. 1973); Sweet v. Myers, 612 P.2d 75, 77-78, 200 Colo. 50, 53-54 (Colo. 1980).

Where defendant did not exhibit express consent or affirmative conduct to waive his constitutionally rooted and statutorily protected right to a speedy trial, the only remedy is dismissal of the charges. Rodman v. County Court of Adams County, 694 P.2d 871, 873 (Colo. App. 1984). If the appellate court finds the defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial has been violated, the remedy is to reverse a defendant’s judgment of conviction and dismiss the charges.

To speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your appeal, contact the Alderman Law Firm today for a free consultation.