The Cumulative Error Doctrine in Colorado Appeals

Posted by Kimberly Penix - May 21, 2020 - Appeals, Civil Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Constitutional Issues, Criminal Appeals, Practice - No Comments

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.