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People v. Lancaster.

2022 COA 82. No. 18CA2319. Bribery—Official Proceedings—Sexual Assault—Prior Act Evidence.

July 28, 2022

Defendant and J.C. lived in the same apartment complex. They met when defendant asked then 13-year-old J.C. to shovel snow from around his car. Thereafter, J.C. helped defendant with household chores every week or so in exchange for money. J.C. began using drugs and alcohol at age 14. He frequented defendant’s home more often to make money to support these habits, and he attended parties there. J.C. began drinking alcohol with defendant, and the frequency of their drinking together and the amount of alcohol they drank increased. Defendant also began initiating sexual encounters with J.C. that involved masturbation and oral sex. On more than one occasion, defendant gave J.C. money after the sexual encounter and told him not to tell anyone about it. During one encounter, J.C. agreed to have anal sex with defendant, but he went home when the pain became too great. After he went into alcohol and drug treatment, J.C. stopped seeing defendant. Six months into his sobriety, J.C. told his counselor about the sexual abuse, and he subsequently reported the abuse to the police. A jury convicted defendant of sexual assault on a child under 15, unlawful sexual contact of a child, sexual assault (victim incapable of appraising the nature of his conduct), contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and two counts of bribery.

On appeal, defendant argued that there was insufficient evidence to show that J.C. was incapable of appraising the nature of his conduct when he agreed to engage in anal sex with defendant, so his conviction of sexual assault (victim incapable of appraising the nature of his conduct) was unsupported. However, the prosecution presented sufficient evidence that J.C. was incapable of appraising the nature of his conduct because, among other things, J.C. was 15 at the time of the sexual assault, he weighed approximately 95 to 100 pounds, he drank 10 to 12 mixed drinks throughout the day, and he testified that he could not stand up, walk a straight line, or see straight.

Defendant also argued that there was insufficient evidence to support his bribery convictions because he gave J.C. money in exchange for his silence before any official proceedings were initiated. Whether a defendant may be convicted of bribery does not depend on whether an “official proceeding” has been initiated; it depends on whether the defendant believes the witness or victim is or will be participating in pending or future official proceedings. Here, defendant gave J.C. money after sexually assaulting him and asked him not to tell anyone or defendant would go to jail. A reasonable jury could conclude that defendant believed that J.C. would be called to testify in a future criminal proceeding and that he gave J.C. the money to influence his future testimony. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient to support the bribery convictions.

Lastly, defendant contended that the trial court erroneously admitted prior act evidence under CRE 404(b) and CRS § 16-10- 301, because that evidence was too dissimilar and remote in time to be logically relevant to this case, its prejudicial effect substantially outweighed its minimal probative value, and it was insufficient to establish a pattern as alleged by the prosecution. In sexual assault prosecutions, other act evidence is admissible for any purpose other than propensity. Before admitting evidence under CRE 404(b) and CRS § 16-10-301, the trial court must perform an analysis to determine whether (1) the evidence relates to a material fact, (2) the evidence is logically relevant, (3) the logical relevance is independent of the intermediate inference that the defendant was acting in conformity with his or her bad character, and (4) the evidence has probative value that is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The court must also determine, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the other act occurred and that the defendant committed the act. Here, the trial court analyzed these factors in admitting evidence that defendant befriended M.O. before inviting him to his home, gave M.O. alcohol before initiating sexual contact, and followed a similar progression of sexual contact with M.O. Further, the trial court read a limiting instruction before J.C.’s testimony, and it provided the jury with a written limiting instruction before deliberations. Accordingly, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the prior act evidence.

The judgment was affirmed.

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

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