People v. Eason

CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado
Citation516 P.3d 546,2022 COA 54
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals No. 21CA0962
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. William Robert EASON, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date19 May 2022

516 P.3d 546
2022 COA 54

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
William Robert EASON, Defendant-Appellant.

Court of Appeals No. 21CA0962

Colorado Court of Appeals, Division III.

Announced May 19, 2022

Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Brian M. Lanni, Assistant Attorney General II, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Gard Law Firm, L.L.C., Jeffrey S. Gard, Austin Q. Hiatt, Boulder, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant

Opinion by JUDGE J. JONES

516 P.3d 550

¶ 1 Defendant, William Robert Eason, appeals the district court's judgment of conviction entered on a jury's verdict finding him guilty of menacing. He challenges the constitutionality of Crim. P. 24(c)(4), which allows a court, on a party's motion or on its own, to declare a mistrial at any time before trial if a fair jury pool can't safely be assembled due to a public health crisis or limitations resulting therefrom. He argues that by adopting this rule, the Colorado Supreme Court violated the separation of powers doctrine by intruding on the other government branches’ authority to adopt or enact emergency laws relating to public health.

¶ 2 But we hold that the supreme court's adoption of Rule 24(c)(4) was a lawful exercise of its authority under Colorado Constitution article VI, section 21, to promulgate procedural rules governing criminal cases and that, in any event, the rule doesn't conflict with any executive branch order or legislative enactment and therefore doesn't violate the separation of powers doctrine. We also reject Eason's other challenges to his conviction and therefore affirm.

I. Background

¶ 3 This case stems from an altercation between Eason and two teenage siblings, B.G. and P.G. (the victims) in Boulder. Eason confronted B.G. and P.G. because he believed their trailer home was on an easement on his property. Eason became irate and started hitting the trailer with a three-foot wooden dowel. Several times he said he was going to get a gun and kill the victims’ stepfather. B.G. tried to stop Eason from hitting the trailer and stepped in front of him, but Eason grabbed him by the neck with one hand and held him up against the side of the trailer while raising the dowel above his head. P.G. then intervened. When he pushed the two apart, Eason fell to the ground. After the altercation, the victims’ mother called the police to report what had happened. Deputy Kugel spoke with the victims and their mother that day but wasn't able to speak with Eason.

¶ 4 Two days later, Deputy Williams contacted Eason and asked him what had happened. Eason admitted to hitting the trailer with the wooden dowel, but he said that he had to defend himself after B.G. had confronted him. He denied ever touching B.G. Eason also said he told the victims he was going to get his gun to protect himself. Deputy Williams arrested Eason.

¶ 5 The People charged Eason with second degree assault, third degree assault, and two counts of misdemeanor menacing. On October 2, 2020, Eason pleaded not guilty and the district court scheduled Eason's jury trial for March 1, 2021.

¶ 6 Before trial, on December 4, 2020, Eason's counsel filed a motion to dismiss the case based on the prosecution's failure to properly preserve Deputy Kugel's bodycam recording of his discussions with the victims and their mother on the day of the incident. The district court denied the motion and Eason's subsequent motion to reconsider.

¶ 7 The day Eason's trial was set to begin, the district court, sua sponte, declared a mistrial under Rule 24(c)(4) due to COVID-19 restrictions and reset the trial for June 7, 2021. Eason's counsel filed an objection to the court's mistrial order and moved to dismiss the case because Eason had been ready for trial on March 1. Counsel argued that, by implementing Rule 24(c)(4), the Colorado Supreme Court "usurped the power of the legislature and the executive branches of government," that Rule 24(c)(4) didn't apply in any event because a fair jury pool could have been assembled, and that the court could not declare a mistrial because limiting the number of courtrooms for trials was something within the court's control. The district court denied Eason's objection and motion.1

516 P.3d 551

¶ 8 On April 5, 2021, Eason's counsel renewed his motion to dismiss, arguing that the speedy trial deadline had passed on April 2. The district court denied that motion as well and later rescheduled the trial for June 9, 2021.

¶ 9 On the second day of trial, after learning on the first day of trial that the victims had given written statements to the police, which the prosecution hadn't provided to the defense, Eason's counsel renewed his motion to dismiss, claiming a Crim. P. 16 violation. The prosecutor agreed that there had been a Rule 16 violation. As a sanction, the district court dismissed the menacing charge relating to P.G. But the court declined to dismiss the menacing charge relating to B.G. or the assault charges as a discovery sanction.

¶ 10 A jury found Eason guilty of menacing but not guilty of assault.

II. Discussion

¶ 11 Eason contends that the district court erred by (1) declaring a mistrial and refusing to dismiss the case on speedy trial grounds because (a) Rule 24(c)(4) violates the separation of powers doctrine and is therefore unconstitutional and (b) the court didn't make sufficient findings justifying a mistrial and a mistrial wasn't justified under Rule 24(c)(4) because the trial could have been conducted safely on March 1, 2021; and (2) denying his motions to dismiss despite the prosecution's multiple discovery violations.2 We address and reject each of these contentions in turn.

A. Constitutionality of Rule 24(c)(4)

¶ 12 On April 7, 2020, the Colorado Supreme Court amended Rule 24 by adding subsection (c)(4). Rule Change 2020(07), Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure (Amended and Adopted by the Court En Banc, Apr. 7, 2020), With amendments the court adopted on July 22, 2020, Rule 24(c)(4) provides as follows:

At any time before trial, upon motion by a party or on its own motion, the court may declare a mistrial in a case on the ground that a fair jury pool cannot be safely assembled in that particular case due to a public health crisis or limitations brought about by such crisis. A declaration of a mistrial under this paragraph must be supported by specific findings.

Rule Change 2020(24), Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure (Amended and Adopted by the Court En Banc, July 22, 2020),

¶ 13 Before turning to the merits of Eason's contention that this rule is unconstitutional, we must address the People's argument that we can't opine on the constitutionality of Rule 24(c)(4) because only the supreme court "can overrule [its] precedents concerning matters of state law." We reject the People's argument because its premise is incorrect: the rule isn't a "precedent" as contemplated by the cases on which the People rely. Those cases all deal with supreme court case law. See People v. Novotny , 2014 CO 18, ¶ 26, 320 P.3d 1194 ("we alone can overrule our prior precedents concerning matters of state law"; discussing a line of Colorado Supreme Court case law); People v. Denhartog , 2019 COA 23, ¶ 78, 452 P.3d 148 ("[I]f a precedent of the supreme court ‘has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions,’ the court of appeals should follow the case which directly controls ...." (quoting Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/Am. Express, Inc. , 490 U.S. 477, 484, 109 S.Ct. 1917, 104 L.Ed.2d 526 (1989) )) (emphasis added).

¶ 14 Other divisions of this court have held that, based largely on the expansive statutory grant of jurisdiction in section 13-4-102, C.R.S. 2021, the court of appeals may determine the constitutionality of a procedural rule adopted by the supreme court. See People v. Montoya , 251 P.3d 35, 46 (Colo. App. 2010), overruled on other grounds by

516 P.3d 552

People v. Walker , 2014 CO 6, 318 P.3d 479 ; People in Interest of T.D. , 140 P.3d 205, 210–12 (Colo. App. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by People in Interest of A.J.L. , 243 P.3d 244 (Colo. 2010) ; see also Duff v. Lee , 246 Ariz. 418, 439 P.3d 1199, 1205 (2019) (noting that the Arizona Supreme Court's adoption of a rule doesn't constitute a determination that it is valid and constitutional against any challenge and affirming the Arizona Court of Appeals’ power to determine the constitutionality of such a rule), aff'd in part, vacated in part on other grounds , 250 Ariz. 135, 476 P.3d 315 (2020). We agree with those divisions.

¶ 15 Turning to the merits of Eason's constitutional challenge to Rule 24(c)(4), we conclude that the rule doesn't violate the separation of powers doctrine.

1. Standard of Review

¶ 16 Whether a rule adopted by the supreme court is constitutional is a question of law that we review de novo. See People v. Pennington , 2021 COA 9, ¶ 25, 481 P.3d 1186 (we review a separation of powers challenge de novo); People v. Reyes , 2016 COA 98, ¶ 23, 409 P.3d 501 (same).

2. Applicable Law and Analysis

¶ 17 Article III of the Colorado Constitution says that

[t]he powers of the

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