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Rael v. People

Court of Appeals of Colorado

June 5, 2017

Ignacio Ray Rael, Petitioner
The People of the State of Colorado. Respondent

         Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 10CA634

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender Michael C. Mattis, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General John T. Lee, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

         En Banc



         ¶1 This case requires us to decide whether it was reversible error for a trial court in a criminal case to provide the deliberating jury with "unfettered and unsupervised access" to a crime scene video and a video of a police interview of the defendant, Ignacio Ray "Mike" Rael.[1] In People v. Rael, No. 10CA634 (Colo.App. Oct. 3, 2013), a unanimous division of the court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not err in either regard. In reaching this conclusion, the division relied on our decision in DeBella v. People, 233 P.3d 664, 665-66 (Colo. 2010), in which we considered the propriety of a trial court's order allowing the jury unfettered access to the videotapes of a child sexual assault victim's out-of-court interviews.

         ¶2 Although we disagree that DeBella provides the appropriate framework for resolving this case, we agree with the result reached by the division, namely, that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the jury unfettered access to the two videos during deliberations. In our view, the jury was entitled to access the non-testimonial crime scene video because that video did not present the same risk of undue emphasis as do videos documenting witnesses' out-of-court, testimonial statements (like the videotapes at issue in DeBella). We likewise conclude, based on the longstanding rule that a defendant's confession is not subject to the same limitations during deliberations as the out-of-court statements of other witnesses, that the jury was entitled to access the interview video.

          ¶3 Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals and remand this case to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4 In October 2008, a man found his mother dead in the bedroom of her apartment.

         She had been beaten to death. No one had seen or heard the attack, but witness statements and physical evidence gathered in the ensuing investigation implicated Rael, who had been the victim's boyfriend. The People eventually charged him with first-degree murder after deliberation. Rael pleaded not guilty to the charge, and the case proceeded to trial.

         ¶5 As part of its case-in-chief, the prosecution introduced into evidence two videos: one showing the crime scene and the other a police interview of Rael. Over Rael's objections, the court admitted both.

         ¶6 The prosecutor played the crime scene video for the jury on the first day of the presentation of evidence, during the direct examination of the detective who had filmed that video. From a first-person perspective, the video depicted a soundless trip through the victim's apartment, from outside the building to inside the bedroom where the victim's body lay. After the video ended, the prosecutor resumed the detective's direct examination, asking him to describe what he saw as he had walked through each room and the condition of the victim's body as he had found it. The prosecutor also offered, and the court admitted, several photographs of the crime scene.

          ¶7 The detective then recounted an interview that he and a colleague had conducted with Rael on the same day that the victim's body was discovered. This interview had been recorded, and the prosecution played a redacted version of the video at trial. ¶8 In the interview, Rael denied killing the victim, stating that he had not seen her since the previous afternoon. He maintained that later that evening, he and the victim's upstairs neighbor had gone to a party, where he drank a twelve-pack of beer. He said that he returned to the neighbor's apartment after the party and that he and the neighbor then drank some more. He conceded that at some point, he and the neighbor got into an altercation in which he may have hit the neighbor multiple times. He also recalled that while he was in the neighbor's apartment, the victim yelled up to him, "Hey, Mike, there's someone down here, " referring to a visiting male friend. He denied that this made him angry, although he said that he later went downstairs to the victim's apartment, where he heard voices inside, one of which he believed to be a man's voice. He claimed that he banged on the door to be allowed in, but the victim would not let him in. He admitted that this made him angry, but he said that he simply left and "crashed" in a van near the apartment.

         ¶9 The case went to the jury, and during their deliberations, the jurors asked to view the two videos. Rael objected to this request. Regarding the crime scene video, he argued that he did not think the jury "should be given unlimited access to highlight and repeat various portions." In so arguing, he cited People v. Montoya, 773 P.2d 623 (Colo.App. 1989), and People v. Carter, 919 P.2d 862 (Colo.App. 1996), which he said might "shed some light" on the jury's right to have access to the crime scene video. With respect to the interview video, Rael argued that granting the jury "complete control" over that video could cause the jurors to "focus on it unnecessarily [and] repeat it in an inappropriate manner."

         ¶10 The court overruled Rael's objections, finding that the cases that Rael had cited were "not [sic] longer good law" and that under People v. McKinney, 80 P.3d 823, 829 (Colo.App. 2003), rev'd on other grounds, 99 P.3d 1038 (Colo. 2004), the jurors could "do whatever they want with it, just like any other exhibit." The court therefore provided the jury with a computer and DVDs of the two videos. Notably, with respect to the interview video, the court instructed the clerk to act as a "projectionist" for the jurors because the DVD that was given to them contained a portion of the interview that had not been shown during the trial. The court asked the clerk to ...

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