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People v. Reynolds-Wynn.

2024 COA 33. No. 21CA2080. Constitutional Law—Sixth Amendment—Confrontation Clause—Witnesses—Bias—Cross-Examination.

April 4, 2024

Wilson called 911 to report that Pennock had been shot in the head in Wilson’s apartment. Pennock was taken to a hospital, where he remained in a coma for two weeks. When Pennock awoke, he told police that Reynolds-Wynn had shot him. Reynolds-Wynn was charged with attempted second-degree murder and second-degree assault. The prosecution’s case largely rested on Pennock’s testimony. At the time of Pennock’s shooting, Pennock had a pending criminal charge in the same judicial district where Reynolds-Wynn was being prosecuted for a misdemeanor offense of violating a protection order. Pennock had an active arrest warrant in connection with that case, which was active at the time of Reynolds-Wynn’s trial. The trial court refused to allow defense counsel to cross-examine Pennock in Reynolds-Wynn’s case on Pennock’s pending charge. Reynolds-Wynn was convicted of attempted reckless manslaughter.

On appeal, Reynolds-Wynn contended that the trial court reversibly erred by not allowing his counsel to cross-examine Pennock regarding Pennock’s pending criminal case and related topics. In Margerum v. People, 454 P.3d 236, 240 (Colo. 2019), the Court held that where a witness is on probation in the same sovereign as the prosecution, the defense must be allowed to question that witness on their probationary status. Following Margerum, the court of appeals held that the defense must be permitted to question a prosecution witness about their pending criminal charge in the same judicial district in which the witness is testifying against the defendant, because the fact that a witness is being prosecuted in the same judicial district is always relevant to show that the witness’s testimony might be influenced by a promise or expectation immunity or leniency. Here, the trial court prohibited Reynolds-Wynn’s counsel from engaging in cross-examination that could have shown Pennock’s vulnerable position with the prosecution, which is a prototypical form of bias. But the trial court should have allowed Reynolds-Wynn’s counsel to cross-examine Pennock regarding his pending charge because Pennock’s testimony might have been influenced by a hope of leniency with respect to his own charge. Accordingly, the trial court violated Reynolds-Wynn’s rights, and the error was not harmless because the cross-examination could have convinced the jury that Pennock was not a credible witness and there was thus a reasonable doubt about whether Reynolds-Wynn shot Pennock.

The judgment of conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

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

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