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Coyle v. State.

2021 COA 54. No. 19CA1465. Criminal Law—Conviction—Reversed on Appeal—Colorado’s Exoneration Act—Actual Innocence—Legal Error.

April 22, 2021

Coyle was charged with sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust and attempted sexual assault on a child. The alleged victim testified that Coyle touched her inappropriately on two occasions. The jury acquitted Coyle of the completed sexual assault charge but convicted him of the attempted sexual assault charge. Coyle’s conviction was reversed on appeal due to the trial court’s failure to either require the prosecution to elect which incident supported the charge of attempted sexual assault on a child or to give the jury a modified unanimity instruction. On remand, the parties agreed that another trial would violate Coyle’s double jeopardy rights. The trial court thus granted Coyle’s motion to dismiss the attempt charge. Coyle then filed a petition for compensation under Colorado’s Exoneration Act (Act). The State moved to dismiss the petition for failure to state a claim because the conviction was reversed for reasons unrelated to Coyle’s actual innocence, and the district court granted the motion. Coyle moved for reconsideration, which was denied.

On appeal, Coyle argued that the court erred in denying his petition for compensation under the Act because (1) the Act precludes motions to dismiss petitions, and (2) his conviction reversal was based on his actual innocence. The Act permits certain people wrongfully convicted of or incarcerated for felonies to seek compensation from the State. As relevant here, the Act does not permit a person to file a petition for compensation if the person’s conviction was reversed based on a legal error unrelated to the person’s actual innocence. An error involving the failure to ensure juror unanimity is a legal error unrelated to the person’s actual innocence. By the Act’s terms, Colorado’s Rules of Civil Procedure apply to petitions under the Act.

As to defendant’s procedural challenge, a district court may resolve a person’s eligibility to file a petition via a motion to dismiss, so there was no procedural error in the district court granting the State’s motion to dismiss under CRCP 12(b)(5). On the merits, Coyle did not meet the threshold eligibility requirements for filing a petition because his conviction was reversed due to legal error unrelated to his actual innocence. Therefore, the court properly dismissed the petition.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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