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People v. Melendez.

2024 COA 21. No. 22CA0058. Sixth Amendment—Confrontation Clause—Postconviction Remedies—Conviction Obtained or Sentence Imposed in Violation of the Constitution—Margerum Rule—Retroactive Application.

February 29, 2024

In 2008, Melendez was convicted of felony murder, second-degree murder, aggravated robbery with intent to kill or maim, aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated robbery with intent to kill or maim with a confederate, and two counts of menacing. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the felony murder conviction, with the sentences on the other convictions to run concurrently. The second-degree murder conviction was later merged with the felony murder conviction. In 2021, Melendez filed a Crim. P. 35(c) petition for postconviction relief, challenging all his convictions and raising one constitutional claim, four ineffective assistance of counsel claims, and one fair and impartial jury claim. The post-conviction court ruled that the petition was timely only as to Melendez’s claims regarding his felony murder conviction and denied all his claims without a hearing.

On appeal, Melendez contended that he is entitled to a hearing on all his claims based on the Margerum rule, which he maintained applies retroactively. He argued that this rule entitled him to establish through cross-examination that the prosecution’s lead witness had been charged with several crimes within weeks following Melendez’s alleged crime, and this evidence would have cast doubt on the witness’s credibility. Pursuant to Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 310 (1989), decisions announcing a new constitutional rule of criminal procedure generally do not apply retroactively. As relevant here, Teague provides an exception to this rule for decisions announcing a “watershed rule of criminal procedure,” which is a rule that, if infringed, would “seriously diminish the likelihood of obtaining an accurate conviction” and that “alter[s] our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding.” The watershed rule exception is construed narrowly, and the US Supreme Court has only once held that a new procedural rule applies retroactively, in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) (recognizing a defendant’s right to counsel in cases where the defendant faces a possible prison sentence). In Margerum v. People, 454 P.3d 236, 240 (Colo. 2019), the Colorado Supreme Court held, for the first time, that “the defense must be permitted to question a prosecution’s witness about her probationary status when the witness is on probation in the same sovereign as the prosecution.” Here, while the Margerum rule is significant, it does not significantly alter fundamental due process rights at the level of Gideon. Accordingly, the Margerum rule is not a watershed rule of criminal procedure, so it does not apply retroactively.

Melendez also contended that he is entitled to a hearing on his ineffective assistance of counsel claims because his counsel (1) mishandled testimony regarding previously undisclosed facts, (2) failed to properly advise him about his right to testify, and (3) did not adequately interview or examine a necessary witness. Melendez also asserted the cumulative effect of these errors resulted in ineffective counsel. Here, counsel’s performance regarding the admission of previously undisclosed evidence was within the wide range of professionally competent assistance. Second, as the postconviction court concluded, Melendez was not prejudiced by his counsel’s advice about testifying. And Melendez failed to make specific allegations as to his third contention. Therefore, because there was no error, Melendez is not entitled to relief based on cumulative error, and the postconviction court properly denied all of Melendez’s ineffective assistance claims without a hearing.

Lastly, Melendez claimed that he was denied the right to a fair and impartial jury because a juror and the mother of a key witness had an undisclosed relationship. However, this argument is successive, so the court of appeals did not consider it.

The order was affirmed.

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

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