People v. Kent.
2020 CO 85. No. 20SA265. Motion to Disqualify District Attorney—CRS § 20-1-107(2)—“Special Circumstances.”
December 7, 2020
In this interlocutory appeal, the elected district attorney in Colorado’s Fifth Judicial District contended that the district court abused its discretion in granting the defense’s motion to disqualify his office from the case. As relevant here, defendant argued that he is unlikely to receive a fair trial based on the existence of special circumstances. The district court correctly determined that each identified circumstance, “in and of itself,” did not warrant disqualification. But it nevertheless held that those same circumstances, “viewed as a totality,” sufficed for disqualification. It therefore granted the motion to disqualify.
The Supreme Court concluded that the district court abused its discretion by misapplying the law. The district court failed to adequately explain how the circumstances in question, though individually inadequate to warrant disqualification, justified the extraordinary relief requested when considered together. Further, the record reflects that defendant plainly failed to satisfy his burden of establishing that he would be unlikely to receive a fair trial if this district attorney’s office continues prosecuting his case. Because the circumstances articulated by the district court, even considered cumulatively, are not so extreme as to justify the drastic remedy of disqualification, which is reserved for narrow circumstances, the Court reversed the disqualification order and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.