Chaffee County District Court No. 13CR113 Honorable Charles
M. Barton, Judge
Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Paul Koehler, Assistant
Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee
A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Mark Evans, Deputy
State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for
1 This case presents the issue of the intersection of two
constitutional rights ― a defendant's right to
confront the witnesses against him or her and the
defendant's right to be present at all critical stages of
a trial. With adequate findings, the former right may yield
in a sexual assault case to allow child witnesses to testify
in a different room from the defendant, while the latter
requires that the defendant and the jury be located in the
same room. Here, the trial court implemented the exception to
the right to confrontation of defendant, Robert Joseph
Aldridge, by separating him from the alleged child victims.
However, we hold that it did so at the expense of
Aldridge's right to be present during their testimony, by
requiring that Aldridge be excluded from the courtroom and
requiring him to watch the children's testimony from the
judge's chambers, along with the judge, outside the
presence of the jury. Accordingly, we reverse Aldridge's
judgment of conviction and sentence, and remand for a new
2 C.O. and L.A. spent about three weeks camping alone with
Aldridge, their maternal grandfather, during the summer of
2013. At the time, C.O. was four years old and L.A. was nine
3 A few days after she was picked up from Aldridge's
campsite, C.O. told her aunt that she had seen and touched
Aldridge's "pecker." The aunt later questioned
L.A., who eventually confirmed C.O.'s allegations. During
separate forensic interviews, C.O. did not report any sexual
contact with her grandfather, but L.A. stated that both girls
had touched Aldridge's penis during the camping trip and
that it got stiff. As a result of the allegations, the People
charged Aldridge with two counts of sexual assault on a child
by one in a position of trust as part of a pattern of abuse,
two counts of sexual assault on a child as part of a pattern
of abuse, four counts of sexual assault on a child by one in
a position of trust-victim under fifteen, four counts of
sexual assault on a child, and two counts of aggravated
4 At trial, the defense argued that Aldridge was physically
incapable of obtaining an erection because he had undergone a
prostatectomy as part of his cancer treatment and that
strained family dynamics resulted in the alleged victims'
false accusations. A jury found Aldridge guilty as charged.
The trial court sentenced him to 116 years to life in the
custody of the Department of Corrections.
5 On appeal, Aldridge contends that the trial court erred by
(1) excluding him from the courtroom while C.O. and L.A.
testified; (2) permitting witnesses and the prosecutor to
improperly bolster the alleged victims' credibility; (3)
allowing a detective to give expert testimony that
children's clothing found in Aldridge's motor home
may have been an "erotic trigger"; and (4) imposing
ten consecutive sentences for four acts. We agree with his
first contention and reverse on that basis.
Exclusion From Courtroom
6 Aldridge contends that the trial court violated his right
to be present by excluding him from the courtroom when the
alleged victims testified, and that the error requires
reversal. We agree.
7 Before trial, the People moved for C.O. and L.A. to testify
by closed-circuit television (CCTV) under section 16-10-402,
C.R.S. 2017. Specifically, the People asked that the children
be permitted "to testify outside the presence of the
defendant, in a separate courtroom." The People further
represented that CCTV capability existed between the two
courtrooms in the county courthouse.
8 In a written objection, Aldridge argued that allowing the
children to testify outside of his presence violated his
"due process right to [be] present during critical
stages of the proceedings." He argued that "[t]he
right to be present isn't satisfied by watching your own
trial on TV, even if you are watching it in the company of
9 During a motions hearing, the defense primarily argued that
the People had not proved that requiring the children to
testify in Aldridge's presence would cause them serious
emotional distress. The defense also reiterated that it had
constitutional concerns that had been addressed in its
objection. The trial court granted the People's motion.
Neither the trial court nor the parties indicated at the
hearing that Aldridge, rather than the children, would be
removed from the courtroom.
10 At the close of the first day of trial and outside the
presence of the jury, the trial court explained that the
judge, Aldridge, and an investigator from the public
defender's office would watch the children's
testimony from the judge's chambers while the children
testified in the courtroom. The trial court instructed that,
if Aldridge needed to communicate with defense counsel during
the children's testimony, the investigator would relay
his comments via an instant messaging system.
11 The following morning, the People requested that the
children's mother be permitted to stay in the courtroom
during their testimony under section 16-10-402(2)(a)(V).
Instead, the trial court allowed the children's aunt to
stay. When asked for its position on permitting the aunt to
remain in the courtroom, the defense stated that it was
"objecting to the whole procedure."
12 Before the children testified, the trial court and
Aldridge tested the CCTV setup outside the jury's
presence. Aldridge confirmed that he was "seeing the
picture," but stated that it was "not like looking
at a person. It [was] bouncy or . . . . It[ was] like
something[ was] lagging." After a break off the record,
the court clerk reported, "All of our testing is
normal." However, Aldridge then said that he had had
some trouble hearing his counsel and the prosecutor.
13 When the jury re-entered the courtroom, Aldridge was in
the judge's chambers. The jury could not see or hear him.
Before the trial court judge left the courtroom, he
The Court -- the way the next two witnesses, who are going to
be the children, are going to testify is under the Provisions
of the Statute. There is separation -- it calls for
separation between the child and the Defendant.
In order to do that, the child -- or children, are going to
testify from the witness stand here. Mr. Aldridge and I will
be in my chambers. And we are going to be on a computer video
There's a camera in this, this computer. And so,
it's, it's one-way. It will show into chambers, the
witness, and we will be able to hear.
The witness will be able to hear. Everyone in the courtroom,
of course, and we will be able to hear everyone in the
The witness won't be able to see us in chambers.
We're hoping this works as well as it can. There may ...