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People v. Tresco

Colorado Court of Appeals, Division A

May 2, 2019

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Gabriel A. TRESCO, Defendant-Appellant.

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          City and County of Denver District Court No. 14CR6552, Honorable Morris B. Hoffman, Judge

         Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, John T. Lee, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

         Katayoun A. Donnelly, Alternate Defense Counsel, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant


         FOX, JUDGE

         [¶1] Defendant, Gabriel A. Tresco, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of second degree assault. Tresco argues that the trial court erred by (1) denying his request that his counsel be removed; [1] (2) admitting expert testimony that was not properly disclosed to defense counsel; and (3) considering, at sentencing, a video recording from five years before the events of this case in which Tresco discussed his gang affiliation. We reject Tresco’s contentions and affirm. The last argument raises a novel question in Colorado.

          I. Background

         [¶2] The prosecution charged Tresco with second degree assault for punching a man in the face — ultimately causing nerve damage — in in the parking lot of a bar, allegedly because the man groped Tresco’s fiancée. On the first day of trial, Tresco notified the trial court that he had filed a grievance against his defense counsel, a public defender. The trial court asked Tresco if he was requesting that the public defender be removed, and Tresco said that he was. The trial

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court declined to address Tresco’s request at that time, stating that it would do so after jury selection. However, the trial court never addressed Tresco’s request, and the public defender represented Tresco at trial.

         [¶3] The jury found Tresco guilty of second degree assault, and the trial court sentenced him to eight years in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC) and three years of mandatory parole.

         [¶4] Because we were unable to determine on the record before us whether the trial court erred by denying Tresco’s request that his counsel be removed, we remanded the case to the trial court with directions to address whether Tresco was entitled to different appointed counsel on the first morning of trial.[2] With the benefit of the remand findings and record, we can now address Tresco’s contentions.

          II. Right to Counsel

         [¶5] Tresco’s appellate counsel argues that the trial court violated Tresco’s Sixth Amendment rights by denying him counsel of choice. We disagree.

          A. Applicable Law

         [¶6] The Sixth Amendment provides that a criminal defendant has the right to the assistance of counsel. U.S. Const. amend. VI. Although this right applies equally to indigent and non-indigent defendants, it manifests itself in different ways.

         [¶7] Under the Sixth Amendment, non-indigent defendants have the right to counsel of their choice. See People v. Ronquillo, 2017 CO 99, ¶ 16, 404 P.3d 264. In contrast, an indigent defendant who requests court-appointed counsel does not get to choose which court-appointed lawyer will represent him. Id. at ¶ 18. The Sixth Amendment instead guarantees that indigent defendants receive constitutionally effective representation from conflict-free counsel. Id. at ¶ 19; see also People v. Shreck, 107 P.3d 1048, 1055 (Colo.App. 2004).

         [¶8] "When an indigent defendant objects to his court-appointed counsel, the trial court must investigate the reasons for the dissatisfaction." People v. Johnson, 2016 COA 15, ¶ 30, 381 P.3d 348. This is a fact-intensive investigation into the details of the disagreement or conflict between the defendant and appointed counsel. See People v. Bergerud, 223 P.3d 686, 694 (Colo. 2010). "Unless the complaint underlying a request for substitution of counsel is sufficiently detailed, the court may not rule on the motion without conducting a proper hearing at which both attorney and client testify as to the nature of their conflict." Id. (citation omitted). The decision on whether to grant a defendant’s request for substitute appointed counsel is within the trial court’s discretion, and we will not disturb such a ruling absent an abuse of that discretion. See Johnson, ¶ 29.

         [¶9] Tresco was represented by appointed counsel at trial. On the first morning of trial, he did not ask to replace his appointed counsel with nonappointed counsel of his choice. Nor did he ask to represent himself. Tresco’s appellate counsel’s argument that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice was violated is therefore inapposite to Tresco; because Tresco had appointed counsel, not private counsel, he did not have the right to counsel of his choice under the Sixth Amendment.

         [¶10] However, the Sixth Amendment did guarantee Tresco conflict-free appointed counsel who would represent him effectively. Tresco asked for replacement of his public defender due to an asserted conflict.

          B. Trial Record

         [¶11] On the first morning of trial, Tresco informed the trial court that he had filed a grievance against his attorney and the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: [I]s he intending to now file a motion on the morning of trial to require

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disqualification of counsel? Is that the intention here?
[TRESCO]: I would like for you to review that first to see which way I should go, because I don’t really know —
THE COURT: Well, I’m not here to give you legal advice, sir. I’m sorry. That’s not appropriate for me to do. And this document is essentially completely irrelevant to me and these proceedings.
[TRESCO]: Actually, there’s some relevance because, Your Honor, these are the things that led me to believe —
THE COURT: It would only be relevant if you’re filing or requesting that your counsel be withdrawn on the ...

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