[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Chaffee County District Court No. 13CR113, Honorable Charles
M. Barton, Judge
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 defendants right to
confront the witnesses against him or her and the defendants
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 Aldridges right to be
present during their testimony, by requiring that Aldridge be
excluded from the courtroom and requiring him to watch the
childrens testimony from the judges chambers, along with
the judge, outside the presence of the jury. Accordingly, we
reverse Aldridges judgment of conviction and sentence, and
remand for a new trial.
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 years old.
3] A few days after she was picked up from
Aldridges campsite, C.O. told her aunt that she had seen and
touched Aldridges "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 Aldridges 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
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 childrens
clothing found in Aldridges 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 isnt satisfied by watching
your own trial on TV, even if you are watching it in the
company of the judge."
9] During a motions hearing, the defense primarily
argued that the People had not proved that requiring the
children to testify in Aldridges 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 Peoples 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
defenders office would watch the childrens testimony from
the judges chambers while the children testified in the
courtroom. The trial court
instructed that, if Aldridge needed to communicate with
defense counsel during the childrens testimony, the
investigator would relay his comments via an instant
11] The following morning, the People requested that
the childrens 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 childrens 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 jurys
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 judges 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 ...