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People v. Gonzales

Court of Appeals of Colorado, First Division

March 7, 2019

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Daniel J. Gonzales, Defendant-Appellant.

          City and County of Denver District Court No. 15CR20002 Honorable Sheila A. Rappaport, Judge

          Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Melissa D. Allen, Assistant Attorney General, Colleen R. Wort, Assistant Attorney General Fellow, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

          Megan A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Karen N. Taylor, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

          OPINION

          BERGER JUDGE.

          ¶ 1 This case addresses the standards for authenticating an audio recording under CRE 901. Defendant, Daniel J. Gonzales, appeals his convictions for first degree murder with intent and after deliberation, first degree felony murder, abuse of a corpse, stalking, arson, burglary, and aggravated robbery. He claims that the trial court did not comply with the authentication rules prescribed by a division of this court in People v. Baca, 2015 COA 153, when it admitted a voicemail purportedly left by Gonzales for his murder victim.

         ¶ 2 We reject Gonzales's claim because, to the extent Baca purports to establish an exclusive rule for the authentication of a voice recording, we decline to follow it. We also conclude that when the flexible principles of authentication set forth in CRE 901 are applied, the voicemail was properly authenticated. Finally, we conclude that the trial court properly admitted a photograph depicting him shirtless, which exhibited two tattoos on his arms. Having rejected all of Gonzales's claims on appeal, we affirm.

         I. Relevant Facts and Procedural History

         ¶ 3 The evidence admitted at trial, particularly the full confession Gonzales made to the police, established the following facts. Gonzales grew up down the street from the victim and from a young age was sexually attracted to the victim. When he was about eighteen, Gonzales and a friend broke into the victim's house. The friend stole a TV and a VCR while Gonzales hunted for clues in the house that the victim was gay. Gonzales also stole some of the victim's clothing.

         ¶ 4 Gonzales eventually moved away from the victim's neighborhood, but his interest in the victim did not disappear. Years later, Gonzales returned to the victim's house, breaking in through the back door. After gaining entry, Gonzales grabbed a large knife from the kitchen and waited a substantial period of time for the victim to return. When he did, Gonzales repeatedly stabbed him in the neck, killing him. Gonzales then sexually assaulted the victim's dead body and attempted, unsuccessfully, to set the house on fire to destroy the evidence. Gonzales fled the scene with a credit card, debit card, and cash that he had taken from the victim's wallet. He was arrested a short time later in Florida.

         ¶ 5 At trial, the prosecution presented a video recording of Gonzales's confession, as well as other evidence. The jury convicted Gonzales of all charges, the court sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus forty-eight years, and he now appeals.

         II. The Trial Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion When It Admitted the Voicemail

         ¶ 6 Gonzales first argues that the trial court erred in admitting a voicemail allegedly left by Gonzales for the victim because the prosecution did not properly authenticate the recording of the voicemail under the test set out in Baca, ¶ 30.

         ¶ 7 We review a trial court's evidentiary rulings for an abuse of discretion. Davis v. People, 2013 CO 57, ¶ 13. A trial court abuses its discretion if its ruling is manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair, or if its ruling is based on an erroneous view of the law. People v. Hard, 2014 COA 132, ¶ 22.

         A. Additional Factual Background

         ¶ 8 After the police completed their crime scene analysis, the victim's sister went to the house to put the victim's affairs in order. She found a microcassette audiotape along with documents related to an earlier burglary of the victim's house. On the tape, a man says that he has the victim's pajamas and jeans. He also says that he is going to return those items to the victim, but not the other items that were stolen. The sister listened to the tape and, recognizing its value, gave it to the police.

         ¶ 9 At trial, one of the detectives who had interviewed Gonzales after his arrest testified that he had also watched the video of that interview and had compared Gonzales's voice in the interview to the voice on the tape. The detective testified that the voice on the tape sounded like Gonzales's voice. On that basis, the prosecutor argued that the tape recording had been properly authenticated. Gonzales objected to the admission of the tape recording of the voicemail on authentication grounds, but the trial court overruled the objection.

         B. Analysis

         ¶ 10 In Baca, a division of this court held that

[i]f no witness with independent knowledge of the content of the [recording] can verify the accuracy of the recorded conversation, the proponent must instead present a witness who can verify the reliability of the recording process, by establishing the factors laid out in Alonzi: the competency of the recorder, the reliability of the recording system, the absence of any tampering with the recording, and the identification of the speakers.

Baca, ¶ 30 (citing Alonzi v. People, 198 Colo. 160, 163, 597 P.2d 560, 562 (1979)). In so doing, the division appears to have established an exclusive rule, regardless of the factual circumstances presented, ...


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