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People v. Corson

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

May 16, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
David Will Corson, Respondent

Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 11CA241

Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General Christine Brady, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

Attorneys for Respondent: Law Office of Ingrid J. Defranco Ingrid J. Defranco Brighton, Colorado.



¶1 In 2001, when he was twenty-eight, the respondent David Corson had a sexual relationship with the victim, K.B., a seventeen-year-old client of the residential treatment facility where Corson worked. In 2003, Corson pled guilty to a charge of sexual assault on a child, position of trust, and the prosecution agreed to recommend a probationary sentence and dismiss a separate charge. Approximately three years before Corson's guilty plea, the prosecutor in his case had obtained a juvenile adjudication against K.B. for falsely reporting a sexual assault. That case had no connection to Corson except that it would have provided him a way to impeach K.B.'s credibility had he gone to trial. The prosecutor did not disclose K.B.'s false-reporting adjudication to Corson. As a result, Corson sought to overturn his conviction through a Crim. P. 35(c) proceeding. The post-conviction court denied relief, and the court of appeals reversed. We granted the Attorney General's request to review the court of appeals' decision.

¶2 Corson argues that the People's non-disclosure rendered his plea involuntary and his plea counsel ineffective. For several reasons, we disagree. Concerning voluntariness, Corson did not suffer a due process violation because the People were under no constitutional duty to disclose the impeachment evidence here. Concerning ineffectiveness, Corson has not demonstrated prejudice: there is no reasonable probability that he would have chosen to proceed to trial had the false-reporting adjudication been disclosed because, first, the post-conviction court found, with record support, that Corson knew of K.B.'s adjudication before he pled guilty; second, there was evidence against Corson apart from K.B.'s testimony; and third, the plea bargain provided him with significant sentencing concessions, including avoiding a potential sentence of life in prison. Thus, unlike the court of appeals, we conclude Corson's constitutional claims fail.

¶3 Aside from grappling with the constitutionality of Corson's guilty plea, we also address whether juvenile adjudications are subject to discovery under our rules of criminal procedure. We hold that juvenile adjudications are not part of a witness's criminal history and are therefore not subject to automatic disclosure under Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1)(V).

¶4 Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals.

I. Facts and Procedural History

A. Pre-Guilty-Plea Proceedings

¶5 In 2001, when Corson was twenty-eight, he worked at a residential treatment facility in Fort Collins called Turning Point. The People alleged that between April and September he had an illegal sexual relationship with seventeen-year-old K.B., a Turning Point resident. K.B. was released from Turning Point after she turned eighteen in the fall of 2001.

¶6 In 2002, the People filed a two-count information. In Count I, the prosecution charged Corson with committing sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, a class-four felony. See § 18-3-405.3(1), C.R.S. (2001). In Count II, the prosecution alleged the same crime as part of a pattern of sexual abuse, a class-three felony. See § 18-3-405.3(1), (2)(b), C.R.S. (2001).

¶7 In preparation for trial, Corson's lawyer filed a number of discovery motions. One requested impeachment information for all potential prosecution witnesses, including "[a]ny and all records, police reports and information regarding criminal convictions, guilty verdicts, juvenile adjudications, or pending criminal or juvenile cases." Corson's lawyer filed a separate motion concerning K.B. that specifically requested records of juvenile adjudications.

¶8 The prosecutor, who had previously obtained a juvenile adjudication against K.B. for falsely reporting a sexual assault, filed responses opposing Corson's discovery motions. One response stated that some of Corson's requested information was automatically subject to disclosure, and another response read, "The People have provided all information pertaining to the victim, which is in the possession of the Office of the District Attorney." She did not disclose K.B.'s adjudication. Before Corson's plea, she left the district attorney's office for reasons unrelated to this case. A new prosecutor stepped in, but the second prosecutor (if he ever knew about it at all) did not disclose K.B.'s false-reporting adjudication either.

¶9 The trial court never ruled on Corson's motions.

¶10 In 2003, just before trial, Corson pled guilty to Count I. In exchange, the People moved to dismiss Count II, the pattern count. The parties stipulated to a sentence of Sex Offender Intensive Supervision Probation (SOISP) for ten years to life. The court accepted Corson's plea as to Count I, dismissed Count II, and imposed the SOISP sentence. Corson did not appeal.

B. Post-Conviction Proceedings

¶11 Assisted by new counsel, Corson filed a petition for post-conviction relief in 2006. See § 18-1-410(1)(a), (e), C.R.S. (2015); Crim. P. 35(c). The impetus for the new proceedings came from a June 2006 recorded interview that K.B. gave to a defense investigator in which she recanted her allegations and claimed that her probation officer had coerced her into accusing Corson. She claimed that she had a sexual relationship with Corson but that it began the day after she left Turning Point-and therefore after she turned eighteen (the relevant age of consent). After K.B. granted the defense team access to her Turning Point records, Corson's post-conviction counsel uncovered K.B.'s false-reporting adjudication and the link to the first prosecutor in Corson's case. Corson supplemented his post-conviction petition based on this information.

¶12 Corson made two claims before the post-conviction court that are relevant here. First, Corson alleged a due-process violation that the People had wrongly withheld K.B.'s adjudication, rendering his guilty plea involuntary. Second, he asserted that the prosecution's non-disclosure rendered his plea counsel ineffective.

ΒΆ13 The People acknowledged to the post-conviction court that the prosecution had "inadvertently failed to discover K.B.'s false-reporting adjudication to the defendant" having earlier conceded that it was "information that we should have turned over, and we agree to that." Nevertheless, the People insisted that Corson already knew about K.B.'s ...

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