People v. Skufca, No. 06SC34.

Docket NºNo. 06SC34.
Citation176 P.3d 83
Case DateFebruary 04, 2008
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado
176 P.3d 83
The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
v.
Stephen SKUFCA, Respondent.
No. 06SC34.
Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc.
February 4, 2008.

[176 P.3d 84]

John W. Suthers, Attorney General, Katherine A. Hansen, Assistant Attorney General, Appellate Division, Criminal Justice Section, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner.

Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Andrea R. Manning, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondent.

Justice RICE delivered the Opinion of the Court.


I. Facts and Procedural History

In September 2000, Respondent Stephen Skufca was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, including contraband, in the first degree, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine. Skufca pled not guilty and went to trial, but his first trial ended in a mistrial because of a discovery violation. Following a second jury trial, Skufca was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and of more than one but less than eight ounces of marijuana, but the jury did not find that he possessed those drugs with the intent to sell them. He was also convicted of introduction of contraband and possession of drug paraphernalia, and he was later adjudicated a habitual criminal. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed Skufca's convictions and remanded for a new trial, holding that the trial court impermissibly violated Skufca's right to testify by admitting evidence of prior related drug transactions. People v. Skufca, 141 P.3d 876, 879, 881 (Colo.App.2005).

The People appealed the court of appeals' reversal of Skufca's conviction, and we granted certiorari on the question of whether the court of appeals erred in concluding that the admission of res gestae evidence in the prosecution's case-in-chief impermissibly burdened Skufca's right to testify because the evidence related to charges pending in another case. Upon review, we disagree with the court of appeals and therefore reverse its ruling.

Officers discovered the evidence leading to Skufca's convictions after Skufca was arrested on a warrant for traffic offenses. During a search incident to arrest, officers recovered three $100 bills on his person, and in his car they found a bag with 2.86 grams of methamphetamine, two bags containing a total of 33.35 grams of marijuana, a small scale, and a shortened plastic pen tube containing drug residue. During a search at the jail, officers also found two phone numbers written on a crumpled-up paper containing trace amounts of methamphetamine.

Unbeknownst to Moffat County police at the time of the arrest, Skufca was a subject of a federal investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration ("DEA"). Earlier on the day of his arrest, Skufca had helped a man whom he believed to be a drug dealer— but who was actually an undercover DEA agent—purchase 9.6 grams of methamphetamine and one pound of marijuana from two unnamed sources. As payment, Skufca received about two grams of methamphetamine and about one half of an ounce of marijuana.

176 P.3d 85

The telephone numbers on the paper found during the jail search belonged to the DEA agent, and the drugs found in the searches were the same type as those involved in the purchases. In addition, the $100 bills bore the same serial numbers as those previously possessed by the DEA agent. The federal government filed separate charges for the two earlier drug transactions, and those charges were pending during Skufca's trial in this case.

Before the first trial in the case at hand, the People submitted a memorandum arguing for the admission of evidence of the drug transactions that had occurred earlier in the clay. The People argued that the evidence was admissible as res gestae evidence because it went to whether Skufca knowingly possessed the drugs, and it helped explain Skufca's possession of the $100 bills. The court rejected the defense's arguments that the evidence was character evidence and was thus inadmissible under CRE 403. The court ruled that "in order to understand the circumstances surrounding this arrest and the possession, the jury has a right to and should hear what had occurred that day. It is closely connected to the events surrounding the arrest, and the Court is going to go ahead and admit it."

Skufca then argued that if he chose to testify, he should be permitted to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege if the People cross-examined him about the earlier drug transactions. The court ruled that the scope of Skufca's cross-examination would depend on the scope of his direct examination.1 For instance, the court stated that if Skufca denied during direct examination that the earlier drug transactions took place, the People would be permitted to cross-examine him about that denial. The trial court applied those evidentiary rulings in the second trial as well.

In their case-in-chief, the People presented testimony about the earlier drug transactions. Afterward, the court gave Skufca a Curtis advisement and asked Skufca whether he wished to testify. See People v. Curtis, 681 P.2d 504, 514 (Colo.1984). Skufca responded, "I have no other choice but to not testify considering the fact that the federal case has been brought—that you've allowed the federal case to be brought into this case. I have no other alternative but not to testify because of that." Thus, Skufca declined to take the stand.

II. Analysis

The United States and Colorado constitutions afford a criminal defendant the right to testify on his or her own behalf. Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44, 51-53, 107 S.Ct. 2704, 97 L.Ed.2d 37 (1987) (citing U.S. Const. amends. V, VI, XIV); Curtis, 681 P.2d at 509-10 (citing Colo. Const. art. II, § 25). In addition, both constitutions afford a criminal defendant the right against incriminating him or herself at trial. Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17, 20, 121 S.Ct. 1252, 149 L.Ed.2d 158 (2001) (citing U.S. Const. amend. V); See People v. Schneider, 133 Colo. 173, 179, 292 P.2d 982, 986 (1956) (citing Colo. Const. art. II, § 18). Skufca argues that he was illegally forced to forego his right to testify on his own behalf in order to exercise his right against self-incrimination.

A defendant's right to testify on his own behalf is impermissibly burdened when the court imposes a price for its exercise. People v. Myrick, 638 P.2d 34, 38 (Colo.1981). If Skufca is correct that the trial court would not allow him to testify without giving up his right against self-incrimination, then he has a

176 P.3d 86

strong argument that the court impermissibly imposed a price for his right to testify. If, however, Skufca could have chosen to testify on his own behalf without diminishing his right against self-incrimination, then there was no impermissible burden on his right to testify on his own behalf. Consequently, our analysis of whether Skufca's right to testify on his own behalf was unconstitutionally burdened centers on the impact of the trial court's ruling on both Skufca's right against self-incrimination and his right to testify on his own behalf.

In analyzing the impact of the trial court's ruling on Skufca's rights, we look to three potential arguments that may support Skufca's position. First, we consider the application of Colorado cases which hold that a defendant's right to testify on his own behalf is sometimes infringed when a court erroneously rules that certain evidence is admissible against him. Second, we look to cases from other jurisdictions, relied upon by the court of appeals, to determine whether the rationales of those cases would compel a finding of unconstitutionality if we were to adopt them here. Last, we determine whether any other legal doctrine supports a finding that Skufca's rights were violated by the admission of the prior drug transaction evidence in the People's case-in-chief or by the ruling that the evidence could be used during Skufca's cross-examination to the extent that Skufca opened the door to it.

A. Colorado Cases Finding an Infringement of the Right to Testify Due to Improperly Admitted Evidence Do Not Apply

We first consider the application of a line of cases holding that a defendant's right to testify is sometimes infringed when inadmissible evidence against him is erroneously ruled to be admissible. See, e.g., People v. Evans, 630 P.2d 94, 96-97 (Colo.App.1981) (stating that the defendant was illegally "forced to forego his right to testify in order to prevent the prosecution from introducing otherwise inadmissible evidence against him as substantive proof of guilt"). This line of cases does not address when the admission of normally admissible evidence impermissibly burdens a defendant's right to testify on his own behalf. Therefore, in order to determine whether this precedent applies, we must first determine whether the prior drug transaction evidence was properly characterized as res gestae evidence, which is normally admissible.

Res gestae evidence includes evidence of another offense, which is related to the charge on trial, that helps to "provide the fact-finder with a full and complete understanding of the events surrounding the crime and the context in which the charged crime occurred." People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo.1994). Generally, res gestae evidence is linked in time and circumstances to the charged crime, it forms an integral and natural part of the crime, or it is necessary to complete the story of the crime for the jury. Id. When evidence is admitted as res gestae evidence, it is not subject to the general rule excluding evidence of prior criminality. Id.

In this case, the evidence of the prior drug transactions helped give the...

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28 practice notes
  • Rojas v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 22, 2022
    ...to complete the story of the crime for the jury." Zapata v. People, 2018 CO 82, ¶ 58, 428 P.3d 517, 530 (quoting People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 86 (Colo. 2008) ); People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo. 1994). In short, we have treated res gestae evidence, in various ways, as intrins......
  • People v. Cisneros, Court of Appeals No. 09CA2717
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 24, 2014
    ...and complete understanding of the events surrounding the crime and the context in which the charged crime occurred.’ ” People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 86 (Colo.2008) (quoting People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo.1994) ). Generally, res gestae evidence is linked in time and circumsta......
  • People v. Johnson, Supreme Court Case No. 20SC6
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 24, 2021
    ...of introducing Carrethers's GSR test results outweighed the admission of the otherwise excludable GSR evidence. See People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 88-89 (Colo. 2008) (noting that a "defendant may constitutionally be required to make difficult strategic choices" and deeming the decision of w......
  • Rojas v. People, 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 21, 2022
    ...to complete the story of the crime for the jury." Zapata v. People, 2018 CO 82, ¶ 58, 428 P.3d 517, 530 (quoting People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 86 (Colo. 2008)); People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo. 1994). In short, we have treated res gestae evidence, in various ways, as intrinsi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Rojas v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 22, 2022
    ...to complete the story of the crime for the jury." Zapata v. People, 2018 CO 82, ¶ 58, 428 P.3d 517, 530 (quoting People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 86 (Colo. 2008) ); People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo. 1994). In short, we have treated res gestae evidence, in various ways, as intrins......
  • People v. Cisneros, Court of Appeals No. 09CA2717
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 24, 2014
    ...and complete understanding of the events surrounding the crime and the context in which the charged crime occurred.’ ” People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 86 (Colo.2008) (quoting People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo.1994) ). Generally, res gestae evidence is linked in time and circumsta......
  • People v. Johnson, Supreme Court Case No. 20SC6
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 24, 2021
    ...of introducing Carrethers's GSR test results outweighed the admission of the otherwise excludable GSR evidence. See People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 88-89 (Colo. 2008) (noting that a "defendant may constitutionally be required to make difficult strategic choices" and deeming the decision of w......
  • Rojas v. People, 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 21, 2022
    ...to complete the story of the crime for the jury." Zapata v. People, 2018 CO 82, ¶ 58, 428 P.3d 517, 530 (quoting People v. Skufca, 176 P.3d 83, 86 (Colo. 2008)); People v. Quintana, 882 P.2d 1366, 1373 (Colo. 1994). In short, we have treated res gestae evidence, in various ways, as intrinsi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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