People v. Clark, No. 07CA0157.

Docket NºNo. 07CA0157.
Citation214 P.3d 531
Case DateMarch 19, 2009
CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado
214 P.3d 531
The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Rosten Lee CLARK, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 07CA0157.
Colorado Court of Appeals, Div. II.
March 19, 2009.
Certiorari Granted August 17, 2009.

[214 P.3d 534]

John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Laurie A. Booras, First Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Cory D. Riddle, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant.

Opinion by Judge CASEBOLT.


Defendant, Rosten Lee Clark, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of one count of sexual assault. He also appeals his thirty-two-years-to-life

214 P.3d 535

indeterminate sentence to the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC). Defendant's most substantial contention is that the principal evidence against him, a DNA match of semen stains on articles of the victim's clothing she was not wearing at the time of the assault, is insufficient to sustain his conviction. We conclude that the evidence is sufficient and reject his other challenges to the conviction. However, because we agree that the sentence exceeds the maximum authorized by law, we vacate defendant's sentence and remand for resentencing.

An intruder confronted the victim in the early morning hours and sexually assaulted her in her bedroom. She was unable to provide police with more than a general description of her attacker. A medical examination found no evidence of semen in or on the victim's body or her bedclothes. Police subsequently removed over twenty items from the bedroom and sent them to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for forensic analysis.

CBI analysts found semen on both a sweatshirt and a headband recovered from the victim's bedroom. The sweatshirt had been near the bed before the assault, and the attacker used it to cover the victim's head after the assault. The headband was recovered from the bedroom floor in the vicinity of where the assault occurred. The victim had not been wearing either item at the time of the attack. Analysts constructed a DNA profile for the individual who had deposited the semen and checked it through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) (a nationwide database of DNA profiles obtained from persons convicted of various offenses). See 42 U.S.C. § 14132 (establishing index of DNA identification records); ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: DNA Evidence intro., at 17 (3d ed.2007). The CBI eventually obtained a CODIS match linking defendant to the crime scene DNA.

Defendant was incarcerated on an unrelated offense at the time the match was made. Authorities contacted him in prison, interviewed him, and obtained a blood sample. The sample matched the crime scene DNA profile, prompting the prosecution to charge defendant with one count of sexual assault under section 18-3-402(1)(a), C.R.S.2008 (a class 3 felony under section 18-3-402(4)(a), C.R.S.2008), and two counts of burglary under sections 18-4-202 & -203, C.R.S.2008.

The most significant evidence presented by the prosecution at trial to identify defendant as the perpetrator was the presence of his semen on the clothing found near the scene of the assault. Defendant testified that, before the assault, he and the victim's mother had engaged in consensual oral sex on multiple occasions, thus explaining the presence of his semen. The victim and her mother both testified that neither had ever had any form of consensual sexual contact with defendant, although he had been an invited guest in their home on several occasions. Additionally, the victim testified that she had purchased the sweatshirt on which defendant's semen was found only days before the attack, and that the price tag for that item was still attached.

The jury found defendant guilty. The trial court merged the two burglary counts with the sexual assault count, and sentenced him to thirty-two years to life in the custody of the DOC. This appeal ensued.

I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Defendant contends that the DNA match is the principal evidence linking him to the crimes, and it is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was the perpetrator. We disagree.

A. Standard of Review

When assessing the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a guilty verdict, we must determine whether any rational trier of fact might accept the evidence, taken as a whole and in the light most favorable to the prosecution, as sufficient to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Sprouse, 983 P.2d 771, 777 (Colo.1999). We give the prosecution the benefit of every reasonable inference that might be drawn from the evidence. People v. McIntier, 134 P.3d 467, 471 (Colo.App.2005). Additionally, the determination of the credibility of witnesses is solely within the province of the

214 P.3d 536

fact finder, and we will not act as a thirteenth juror and set aside a verdict because we might have reached a different conclusion. Id. at 471-72.

B. Evidentiary Standards

DNA evidence has obvious value to the criminal justice system. Countless criminals have been removed from the nation's streets and dozens of wrongfully convicted persons have been freed from its jails since the dawn of forensic DNA technology. See ABA Standards for Criminal Justice: DNA Evidence intro., at 18-19. Colorado courts have previously addressed the accuracy and admissibility of DNA evidence, see, e.g., People v. Shreck, 22 P.3d 68 (Colo.2001), but those issues are not argued here because defendant never contended that the DNA was not his.

Although DNA evidence has provided circumstantial evidence of identity for many years, its use as an exclusive means for proving the identity of the perpetrator in criminal cases is relatively rare. Several jurisdictions have held that DNA evidence alone may support a criminal conviction without further corroborative proof. In most of those cases, however, the crime scene DNA sample was taken from a location that effectively eliminated most innocent explanations for its presence. See, e.g., State v. Freeman, 269 S.W.3d 422, 425-26 (Mo.2008) (match between defendant and DNA collected from instrument of strangulation found around victim's neck sufficient to convict); People v. Rush, 165 Misc.2d 821, 630 N.Y.S.2d 631 (Sup.Ct.1995) (match between defendant and DNA collected from victim's anal and vaginal swabs sufficient to convict), aff'd, 242 A.D.2d 108, 672 N.Y.S.2d 362 (1998); State v. Toomes, 191 S.W.3d 122, 128-32 (Tenn.Crim. App.2005) (match between defendant and DNA collected from victim's anal swabs sufficient to convict).

We have found only one sexual assault case in which DNA obtained from a crime scene—rather than directly from a victim's person—was the primary identification evidence the prosecution proffered. See People v. Soto, 21 Cal.4th 512, 88 Cal.Rptr.2d 34, 981 P.2d 958, 960-62 (1999). However, in that case, the trial court also admitted evidence of "spontaneous utterances" by the victim, indicating her belief that the defendant was her assailant. Id. at 962. Additionally, it does not appear that the defendant there raised a sufficiency of the evidence argument on appeal.

We have found no Colorado authority on point; thus, whether crime scene DNA evidence, without further significant corroborative proof, is sufficient to identify the perpetrator and therefore sustain a criminal conviction is an issue of first impression in this state.

The legal standards associated with the use of fingerprint identification provide a useful analytical model. See Toomes, 191 S.W.3d at 130 (finding fingerprint identification analogous and employing its framework to determine sufficiency). Our courts have long accepted that latent fingerprints are a corporeal signature of their maker, capable of conclusively identifying the individual who impressed them. See Medina v. People, 168 Colo. 255, 258, 450 P.2d 662, 664 (1969) (fingerprint "testimony" alone sufficient to support burglary conviction); People v. Jennings, 252 Ill. 534, 96 N.E. 1077 (1911) (one of the first United States cases admitting fingerprint evidence). But establishing that a fingerprint belongs to a particular person does not, by itself, prove that the person committed a particular crime. Courts have therefore established standards to ensure that fingerprint-based proof of identity is not conflated with proof of culpability. See, e.g., People v. Ray, 626 P.2d 167, 170-71 (Colo. 1981).

In Ray, the supreme court articulated the applicable analysis for assessing the sufficiency of evidence where an accused is tied to a crime by fingerprints alone:

It has been generally recognized that where, as here, the only evidence of guilt of accused persons consists of their fingerprints found at the scene of the crime, the evidence, to be legally sufficient to sustain a conviction, must be coupled with evidence of other circumstances tending to reasonably exclude the hypothesis that the prints were impressed at a time other than

214 P.3d 537

that of the crime. (Citations omitted.) Such "other circumstances" need not be those completely independent of the fingerprint and may properly include circumstances such as the location of the print, the character of the place or premises where it was found and the accessibility of the general public to the object on which the print was impressed.

Ray, 626 P.2d at 170-71 (quoting with approval Edmonds v. State, 5 Md.App. 132, 141, 245 A.2d 618, 623 (1968)).

Thus, a defendant's fingerprints found inside a burglarized home, when coupled with testimony from the owners of the home that the defendant had never been an invited guest, were found sufficient to convict for second degree burglary and theft in People v. Angel, 701 P.2d 149, 151 (Colo.App.1985). However, a defendant's fingerprints found on the milk chute of a burglarized home, where the prosecution produced no evidence to prove when the prints...

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  • People v. Kelley, No. 1–13–2782.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • September 18, 2015
    ...blood test.4 Defendant also cites two cases from other jurisdictions, Hayes v. State, 660 So.2d 257 (Fla.1995) and People v. Clark, 214 P.3d 531 (Colo.App.2009). However, Patterson is an Illinois Supreme Court decision factually similar to the present case, and we are bound by its holding. ......
  • People v. Robles, No. 06CA0934.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • March 31, 2011
    ...party's burden and stressed that defendant was not required to put forward any evidence. See Gladney, 250 P.3d at 766;People v. Clark, 214 P.3d 531, 542 (Colo.App.2009), aff'd,232 P.3d 1287 (Colo.2010). Therefore, even if the prosecutor's comments were improper, the court's immediate instru......
  • People v. Carter, Court of Appeals No. 12CA0857.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • March 12, 2015
    ...effect of the errors in this case, even if individually harmless, deprived him of a fair trial and requires reversal. People v. Clark, 214 P.3d 531, 543 (Colo. App. 2009). "The doctrine of cumulative error requires that numerous errors be committed, not merely alleged." People v. Rivers, 72......
  • People v. Wise, Court of Appeals No. 10CA0832
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • July 3, 2014
    ...of the sentence suffices. People v. Walker, 724 P.2d 666, 669 (Colo.1986) ; Plancarte, 232 P.3d at 192–93 ; Pasillas–Sanchez, 214 P.3d at 531. ¶ 34 Defendant contends that the district court imposed consecutive sentences “without any explanation other than generally to reference ‘the circum......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • People v. Robles, No. 06CA0934.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • March 31, 2011
    ...party's burden and stressed that defendant was not required to put forward any evidence. See Gladney, 250 P.3d at 766;People v. Clark, 214 P.3d 531, 542 (Colo.App.2009), aff'd,232 P.3d 1287 (Colo.2010). Therefore, even if the prosecutor's comments were improper, the court's immediate instru......
  • People v. Kelley, No. 1–13–2782.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • September 18, 2015
    ...blood test.4 Defendant also cites two cases from other jurisdictions, Hayes v. State, 660 So.2d 257 (Fla.1995) and People v. Clark, 214 P.3d 531 (Colo.App.2009). However, Patterson is an Illinois Supreme Court decision factually similar to the present case, and we are bound by its holding. ......
  • People v. Carter, Court of Appeals No. 12CA0857.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • March 12, 2015
    ...effect of the errors in this case, even if individually harmless, deprived him of a fair trial and requires reversal. People v. Clark, 214 P.3d 531, 543 (Colo. App. 2009). "The doctrine of cumulative error requires that numerous errors be committed, not merely alleged." People v. Rivers, 72......
  • People v. Wise, Court of Appeals No. 10CA0832
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • July 3, 2014
    ...of the sentence suffices. People v. Walker, 724 P.2d 666, 669 (Colo.1986) ; Plancarte, 232 P.3d at 192–93 ; Pasillas–Sanchez, 214 P.3d at 531. ¶ 34 Defendant contends that the district court imposed consecutive sentences “without any explanation other than generally to reference ‘the circum......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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