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People v. Eason.

2022 COA 54. No. 21CA0962. Crim.P.24(c)(4)—Mistrial Due to Public Health Crisis—Fair Jury Pool—Separation of Powers—Discovery Violations—Sanctions.

May 19, 2022

Defendant was charged with second degree assault, third degree assault, and two counts of misdemeanor menacing. Before trial, defendant moved to dismiss based on the prosecution’s failure to properly preserve the police officer’s bodycam recording on the day of the incident. The district court denied the motion. The trial was scheduled for March 1, 2021, but on that day the court sua sponte declared a mistrial under Crim. P. 24(c)(4) due to COVID-19 restrictions and reset the trial for June 7, 2021. Defendant objected and moved to dismiss, arguing that (1) Rule 24(c)(4) violated separation of powers, (2) Rule 24(c)(4) didn’t apply anyway because a fair jury pool could be assembled, and (3) the court couldn’t declare a mistrial because limiting the number of courtrooms was within the court’s control. The court denied the objection and motion.

After the June trial began, defense counsel learned that the victims had given written statements to the police that the prosecution had not provided to the defense. Counsel renewed the motion to dismiss, and the prosecutor agreed there had been a rule violation. As a sanction, the court dismissed the menacing charge as to one victim but declined to dismiss the menacing charge as to the second victim or the assault charges. The jury found defendant guilty of menacing.

On appeal, defendant argued that the district court erred by declaring a mistrial and refusing to dismiss the case on speedy trial grounds, because Rule 24(c)(4) violated the separation of powers doctrine and is therefore unconstitutional. The Colorado Supreme Court has the power to make rules governing practice and procedure in civil and criminal cases, and procedural rules do not violate the separation of powers. The Court adopted Crim. P. 24(c)(4) in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow a trial court to declare a mistrial if a fair jury pool cannot be safely assembled due to a public health crisis or limitations arising therefrom. Rule 24(c)(4) governs practice and procedure, so it is a procedural rule and does not violate separation of powers. Alternatively, even if some aspect of public policy underlies the rule, it doesn’t conflict with any legislative or executive expression of public policy. Accordingly, the district court did not err.

Defendant also argued that the district court erred by declaring a mistrial because it didn’t make specific findings as required by Rule 24(c)(4) and its reasons for the mistrial were matters within its control. However, the court made specific findings in declaring the mistrial, including that it could only select one jury at a time and another case had priority on the docket, and it cited circumstances outside of the court’s control related to the pandemic and related public health orders. Therefore, the court did not err.

Defendant further contended that the district court erred by denying his motions to dismiss based on the prosecution’s discovery violations. Here, though the State inadvertently destroyed the bodycam recording, the recording had no exculpatory value, and there was other evidence available to effectively cross-examine key witnesses. As to defendant’s contention that dismissal of the entire case was the only appropriate remedy for the prosecution’s late disclosure of the victims’ written statements, the Court of Appeals presumed the district court’s choice of sanction was appropriate because defendant failed to provide the Court with transcripts of any of the trial testimony.

The judgment was affirmed.

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

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