People ex rel. E.G., Supreme Court Case No. 15SC298

Docket NºSupreme Court Case No. 15SC298
Citation368 P.3d 946
Case DateApril 18, 2016
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

368 P.3d 946

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner,

IN the INTEREST OF E.G., Respondent.

Supreme Court Case No. 15SC298

Supreme Court of Colorado.

April 18, 2016


Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Jacob R. Lofgren, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

Attorneys for Respondent: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Ryann S. Hardman, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado.

En Banc

CHIEF JUSTICE RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶ 1 In this case we must decide whether a trial court has the authority to grant a defendant's discovery motion seeking access to the private residence of a third party. The defendant, E.G., was convicted of two counts of sexual assault on a child as part of a pattern of sexual abuse. Before trial, he filed a motion requesting court-ordered access to his grandmother's basement—the scene of the crime. The trial court concluded that it had no authority to order such access and denied the motion.

¶ 2 The court of appeals disagreed with the trial court's reasoning, though not its result. People in the Interest of E.G., 2015 COA 18, ¶ 6, –––P.3d ––––. It held that a trial court does indeed have authority to order defense access to a third-party residence. Id. It nevertheless affirmed the denial of the motion for access because it concluded that E.G. had "failed to demonstrate" that inspection of the crime scene was "necessary to present his defense." Id. at ¶ 17. We granted the People's petition for certiorari to determine under what circumstances—if any—a trial court has authority to grant a defendant access to a private residence.1 We conclude

368 P.3d 948

that the trial court lacked authority to order such access and therefore affirm on alternate grounds.

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶ 3 E.G. was charged as an aggravated juvenile offender, and a jury found him guilty of two counts of sex assault on a child as part of a pattern of abuse. See §§ 18–3–405(1), (2)(d); 19–2–601, C.R.S. (2015). The victims were twelve-year-old twin brothers who disclosed to their father that their older cousin, E.G., had repeatedly raped them several years earlier in the basement of their mutual grandmother's house.

¶ 4 Prior to trial, E.G. moved the court to order the victims' grandmother "to allow Defense Counsel and [her investigator] to have access to the residence" so that counsel could "view and photograph the crime scene."2 As grounds for his motion, E.G. cited authority from other jurisdictions suggesting that such access was necessary under principles of fundamental fairness and due process of law. The court denied the motion, reasoning that it could not "order a private entity to open up their private residence." The court explained that it had not seen "any Colorado law, statutory or case law that indicate[d]" that the court had any authority to order the requested access. The trial went forward, and E.G. was convicted.

¶ 5 On appeal, E.G. challenged the denial of his motion for access to the home, and the court of appeals held that the trial court erred when it held that it did not have the authority to order defense access to the private property of a non-party. E.G., ¶ 15. According to the court of appeals, the trial court's authority stemmed from the defendant's "constitutional right to present evidence on his behalf and to confront adverse witnesses" and the right to "compel material evidence from private third parties." Id. at ¶ 8. To obtain such access, the court explained, a defendant "must demonstrate that the evidence is relevant, material, and necessary to his defense, and the court must balance the defendant's proffered justification with the rights and legitimate interests of the non-party." Id. at ¶ 15. After creating this test, the court of appeals subsequently concluded that E.G. failed to satisfy it. Id. at ¶ 17. Thus, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion for access on alternate grounds. Id. at ¶¶ 23–24. We granted the People's petition for certiorari.

II. Standard of Review

¶ 6 Generally speaking, appellate courts will review a trial court's discovery order in a criminal case for abuse of discretion. See Crim. P. 16(I)(d)(1) ; People ex rel. Shinn v. Dist. Ct., 172 Colo. 23, 469 P.2d 732, 733–34 (1970). However, a trial court abuses its discretion if it exceeds the bounds of its legal authority. See Spahmer v. Gullette, 113 P.3d 158, 164 (Colo.2005). Thus, the precise question we are faced with today—whether a trial court has the authority to order a third party to open her home to the defendant—presents a legal question that we will review de novo. See Stackhouse v. People, 2015 CO 48, ¶ 4, ––– P.3d ––––.

III. Analysis

¶ 7 Defendant argues that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for investigatory access to a non-party's private home. The threshold question we must answer—and a question we address in conjunction with a related case, also issued today, In re People v. Chavez, 2016 CO 20, 368 P.3d 943 —is whether a trial court has any authority to issue such an order in the first place. We analyze the potential sources of authority and conclude that nothing authorized the trial court to grant the defendant's request for access to a private home. Because we hold

368 P.3d 949

that the trial court's original ruling was correct—it did not have authority to order the access—we now affirm the court of appeals on alternate grounds.

A. The Right to be Free From Unreasonable Intrusion Into One's Home

¶ 8 The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." The Colorado Constitution contains a nearly identical provision. See Colo. Const. art. II, § 7 ("The people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes and effects, from unreasonable searches and seizures...."). "The clearest right is to be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion into one's home." People v. O'Hearn, 931 P.2d 1168, 1172–73 (Colo.1997). A court order forcing an individual to open her private home to strangers is certainly government intrusion.

¶ 9 Under these circumstances, (1) the deprivation would be "caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State" (namely, a court order) and (2) E.G., the "party charged with the deprivation," would qualify as a state actor "because he [would have] acted together with or ... obtained significant aid from state officials"—in this case, the district court judge. Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 937, 102 S.Ct. 2744, 73 L.Ed.2d 482 (1982) ; cf. Walter v. United States, 447 U.S. 649, 662, 100 S.Ct. 2395, 65 L.Ed.2d 410 (1980) (Blackmun, J., dissenting) ("[T]he Fourth Amendment proscribes only governmental action, and does not apply to a search or seizure, even an unreasonable one, effected by a private individual not acting as an agent of the Government or with the participation or knowledge of any government official."); Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465, 475, 41 S.Ct. 574, 65 L.Ed. 1048 (1921) (holding that there was no Fourth Amendment violation where "no official of the ... government had anything to do with the wrongful seizure"). Accordingly, E.G.'s grandmother had a constitutional right to be free from an unreasonable search of her home conducted by the defense.

¶ 10 Against this backdrop, we must analyze whether E.G.'s own constitutional rights granted him the ability to obtain access to the home. Thus, this case directly confronts the tension between the constitutional rights of an innocent third party who had the misfortune of seeing her home become the scene of a crime and the constitutional rights of the criminal defendant charged with that crime.

B. Development of Criminal Discovery

¶ 11 "The right of discovery in criminal cases is not recognized at common law." Walker v. People, 126 Colo. 135, 248 P.2d 287, 302 (1952) ; see also Michael Moore, Criminal Discovery, 19 Hastings L.J. 865, 865 (1968) ("It is an often-cited proposition that at common law the defendant in a criminal trial had no right to discover any of the prosecution's case against him."). Early American courts, with some exceptions, adopted the common-law doctrine that they lacked the power, absent authorizing legislation, to order the prosecutor to provide discovery to a defendant. Moore, supra, at 866. In the ensuing years, however, many courts left the common-law doctrine behind. See id. at 867–69 (explaining that in almost all states, criminal discovery is in the discretion of the trial judge). The twentieth century saw many changes to the law of criminal pretrial disclosure. In 1963, the seminal case of Brady v. Maryland established a constitutional right to the disclosure of exculpatory information in the prosecutor's possession. 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). Around the same time, states and legislatures began to expand criminal discovery rights through statute and through the rules of criminal procedure. See, e.g., Crim. P. 16 ; Utah R. Crim. P. 16.

¶ 12 Despite, or...

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21 practice notes
  • State v. Tetu, SCWC–13–0003062
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • December 5, 2016
    ...to the Colorado Supreme Court, the court rejected the Court of Appeals' holding that there was a due process right of access. SeeE.G., 368 P.3d 946, 954 (2016). Thus, it held that "neither a criminal defendant, nor anyone else, including the prosecuting attorney, has a constitutional right ......
  • State ex rel. Thomas v. McGinty, No. 2019-1803
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • December 1, 2020
    ...151, 293 S.E.2d 569 (1982); People v. Nicholas, 157 Misc.2d 947, 599 N.Y.S.2d 779 (1993). 2. See People in Interest of E.G., 2016-CO-19, 368 P.3d 946; State ex rel. Beach v. Norblad, 308 Or. 429, 781 P.2d 349 (1989); State v. Lee, 929 N.W.2d 432 (Minn.2019). 3. Judge McGinty does not disput......
  • Howard v. State, No. 747, Sept. Term, 2015
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 28, 2017
    ...to inspect a crime location that is a private residence not in the possession or control of the State. In People in the Interest of E.G. , 368 P.3d 946 (Colo. 2016), a juvenile was charged with offenses arising out of the sexual abuse of his younger twin cousins. The abuse was alleged to ha......
  • State ex rel. Thomas v. McGinty, 2019-1803
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • December 1, 2020
    ...151, 293 S.E.2d 569 (1982) ; People v. Nicholas , 157 Misc.2d 947, 599 N.Y.S.2d 779 (1993).2 See People in Interest of E.G. , 2016-CO-19, 368 P.3d 946 ; State ex rel. Beach v. Norblad , 308 Or. 429, 781 P.2d 349 (1989) ; State v. Lee , 929 N.W.2d 432 (Minn.2019).3 Judge McGinty does not dis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
21 cases
  • State v. Tetu, SCWC–13–0003062
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Hawai'i
    • December 5, 2016
    ...to the Colorado Supreme Court, the court rejected the Court of Appeals' holding that there was a due process right of access. SeeE.G., 368 P.3d 946, 954 (2016). Thus, it held that "neither a criminal defendant, nor anyone else, including the prosecuting attorney, has a constitutional right ......
  • State ex rel. Thomas v. McGinty, No. 2019-1803
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • December 1, 2020
    ...151, 293 S.E.2d 569 (1982); People v. Nicholas, 157 Misc.2d 947, 599 N.Y.S.2d 779 (1993). 2. See People in Interest of E.G., 2016-CO-19, 368 P.3d 946; State ex rel. Beach v. Norblad, 308 Or. 429, 781 P.2d 349 (1989); State v. Lee, 929 N.W.2d 432 (Minn.2019). 3. Judge McGinty does not disput......
  • Howard v. State, No. 747, Sept. Term, 2015
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 28, 2017
    ...to inspect a crime location that is a private residence not in the possession or control of the State. In People in the Interest of E.G. , 368 P.3d 946 (Colo. 2016), a juvenile was charged with offenses arising out of the sexual abuse of his younger twin cousins. The abuse was alleged to ha......
  • State ex rel. Thomas v. McGinty, 2019-1803
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Ohio
    • December 1, 2020
    ...151, 293 S.E.2d 569 (1982) ; People v. Nicholas , 157 Misc.2d 947, 599 N.Y.S.2d 779 (1993).2 See People in Interest of E.G. , 2016-CO-19, 368 P.3d 946 ; State ex rel. Beach v. Norblad , 308 Or. 429, 781 P.2d 349 (1989) ; State v. Lee , 929 N.W.2d 432 (Minn.2019).3 Judge McGinty does not dis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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