Vigil v. People

Decision Date16 December 2019
Docket NumberSupreme Court Case No. 15SC770
Citation455 P.3d 332
Parties Nathan Richard VIGIL, Petitioner, v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Attorneys for Petitioner: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender, Brian Cox, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado

Attorneys for Respondent: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Carmen Moraleda, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado

En Banc

CHIEF JUSTICE COATS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Vigil sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his convictions of second degree burglary and second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft. As pertinent to the issues on review in the supreme court, the trial court denied Vigil’s for-cause challenge to Juror C.A. but granted the prosecution’s challenge to Juror D.K. At trial, and over defense counsel’s objection, an officer was permitted to opine without qualification as an expert that Vigil’s shoes visually matched shoeprints he photographed at the crime scene. With regard to Vigil’s assignments of error concerning these rulings, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion by denying Vigil’s challenge to Juror C.A.; that any error committed in granting the prosecution’s challenge to prospective Juror D.K. would in any event have been harmless; and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the officer to offer a lay opinion concerning the shoeprint comparison in question.

¶2 Because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Vigil’s challenge to Juror C.A.; because granting the prosecution’s challenge to prospective Juror D.K., even if it amounted to an abuse of discretion, did not result in any violation of Vigil’s rights; and because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the officer’s testimony as lay opinion, the judgment of the court of appeals is affirmed.

I.

¶3 Nathan Richard Vigil was charged with first degree aggravated motor vehicle theft, second degree burglary, theft, and attempt to commit second degree burglary in connection with the disappearance of a truck, motorcycle, and various other items of personal property from a farm in Conejos County. Although the attempted burglary count was dismissed and the defendant was acquitted of theft, he was convicted of second degree burglary and a lesser included offense of second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of six years and eighteen months in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

¶4 Evidence was presented at trial from which the jury could find that in November 2010, the victim discovered that his truck, motorcycle, and other personal property were missing from his farm. An officer of the Conejos County Sheriff’s Department responded to the farm and photographed shoeprints near the area where the truck had been parked. Witnesses informed the officer that the defendant had asked them to tow a truck to a trading post in the area but that they had not realized at the time that the truck belonged to the victim. While the defendant was being held for a different crime at the Alamosa County Sheriff’s Office, the officer examined his shoes and determined that they "visually matched" shoeprints on the victim’s farm.

¶5 During voir dire, Juror C.A. indicated that he knew the victim’s family and that he might work on the father’s farm equipment sometime in the future, and he appeared equivocal as to whether he could render an impartial verdict for these reasons. The court denied defense counsel’s challenge for cause after directly asking C.A. if he could evaluate the victim’s testimony "just like all the other witnesses who will testify," and after receiving C.A.’s answer, "I think I could." The court subsequently granted a prosecution challenge to prospective Juror D.K. on the ground that he was biased against the police and prosecution. Ultimately, both the prosecution and defense exhausted their allotted number of peremptory challenges, and neither used a peremptory challenge to strike Juror C.A. nor requested any additional challenge.

¶6 Without qualification as an expert and over defense objection at trial, the investigating officer in question was permitted to opine, on the basis of his observation of what he considered to be identical "Skechers" emblems and similar size, that the soles of the shoes he examined at the Sheriff’s Office "visually matched the prints that were out on the scene."

¶7 On appeal, the intermediate appellate court affirmed the defendant’s convictions. With regard to the defendant’s assignments of error concerning these three rulings of the trial court, the appellate court found that the ruling concerning Juror C.A. fell within the broad discretion permitted trial courts when ruling on challenges of juror bias; that any error, had one occurred, in granting the prosecution’s challenge to prospective Juror D.K. was necessarily harmless; and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting lay opinion of shoeprint comparison.

¶8 The defendant petitioned this court for a writ of certiorari.

II.
A.

¶9 Criminal defendants in this jurisdiction are entitled to trial by an impartial jury of the county or district in which the offense was alleged to have been committed. Colo. Const. art. II, § 16. Within constitutional limitations, the legislature determines the qualifications for jury service. People v. White , 242 P.3d 1121, 1124 (Colo. 2010).

¶10 Section 105 of the Uniform Jury Selection and Service Act, §§ 13-71-101 to - 145, C.R.S. (2019), initially defines qualification for jury service in terms of citizenship and either residency or habitation in a particular county, but it then provides a number of specific conditions that will nevertheless disqualify an otherwise qualified prospective juror. § 13-71-105(1), (2), C.R.S. (2019). Although a prospective juror may therefore be qualified in terms of citizenship and vicinage, he nevertheless "shall be disqualified" for failing to meet any of a number of other conditions related to such things as his age, facility with the English language, physical or mental capabilities, familial obligations, and prior jury service. Id.

¶11 The absence of any qualification prescribed by statute to render a person competent as a juror is itself designated cause for removal, on the basis of which a challenge by one of the parties must be sustained. § 16-10-103(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Beyond the actual absence of some statutory qualification, however, the legislature has enumerated a number of other grounds that will also support a challenge for cause in criminal cases, broadly involving circumstances implicating a prospective juror’s ability to remain impartial. These circumstances include such things as the prospective juror’s relationship with the defendant or counsel, any prior adverse relationship with the defendant in a civil or criminal matter, prior juror service or service as a witness in a related matter, the existence of a fiduciary relationship with the defendant or a victim, and employment by either a law enforcement agency or the public defender’s office. § 16-10-103(1)(a)(k). The detection of actual enmity or bias toward the defendant or the state is, of course, also expressly designated cause for removal. § 16-10-103(1)(j).

¶12 In addition to permitting each party to challenge prospective jurors for cause, the legislature has provided a specific number of challenges to each side, varying with the nature of the charge and circumstances of the particular prosecution, to be exercised peremptorily. § 16-10-104(1), C.R.S. (2019). As the term implies, these challenges may, within constitutional limitations, be exercised without regard for or specification of any reason whatsoever. The statute directs that such peremptory challenges are to be exercised "as provided by applicable rule of criminal procedure." § 16-10-104(2). Rule 24(d) of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure not only provides the mechanics and timing for exercising peremptory challenges but also permits the trial court to add peremptory challenges to either side, or to both sides, for good cause shown.

¶13 Because challenges for cause, unlike peremptory challenges, are limited only by statutory grounds for removal and not in number, a trial court may entertain numerous challenges for cause from either or both sides during the selection of a single jury. As the Supreme Court has noted, often such challenges are "fast paced, made on the spot and under pressure," and the court "must be prepared to decide [them], often between shades of gray, ‘by the minute.’ " United States v. Martinez-Salazar , 528 U.S. 304, 316, 120 S.Ct. 774, 145 L.Ed.2d 792 (2000) (citation omitted). And while some of the qualifications for jury service and other statutory grounds justifying a challenge for cause are matters of law determinable with relative certainty, others are not.

¶14 The question whether there exists a state of mind in any particular prospective juror evincing enmity or bias toward the defendant or the state such that he cannot judge the matter fairly and impartially is necessarily a matter involving an exercise of discretion on the part of the trial court and therefore a range of permissible judgments about the ability and willingness of that prospective juror. See Carrillo v. People , 974 P.2d 478, 485–86 (Colo. 1999). We have previously recognized "the trial court’s unique role and perspective," and the "preferred position" in which it finds itself, in evaluating a prospective juror’s credibility, demeanor, and sincerity in explaining his state of mind. Id. at 486 (quoting in part People v. Macrander , 828 P.2d 234, 239 (Colo. 1992), overruled in part by People v. Novotny , 2014 CO 18, ¶ 27, 320 P.3d 1194, 1203 ). For these reasons, among others, such assessments by a trial court are subject to a "very high standard of review," id. at 485–86, meriting a finding that the...

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  • People v. Carter
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 11 March 2021
    ...se reversible," meaning that it is always reversible. See Rail , ¶ 50 ; People v. Vigil , 2015 COA 88M, ¶ 30, 459 P.3d 553, aff'd , 2019 CO 105, 455 P.3d 332 ; People v. Gallegos , 260 P.3d 15, 26 (Colo. App. 2010) ; People v. Pahl , 169 P.3d 169, 177 (Colo. App. 2006) ; People v. Huynh , 9......
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    ...statements from prospective jurors that they will set aside each and every bias to conclude that they can sit impartially. Vigil v. People , 2019 CO 105, ¶ 24, 455 P.3d 332 ("[I]t was unnecessary for the trial court to query the prospective juror in precise terms of bias and impartiality an......
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    ...for an offense that was not originally charged.’ " People v. Vigil , 2015 COA 88M, ¶ 30, 459 P.3d 553 (citations omitted), aff'd , 2019 CO 105, 455 P.3d 332. Divisions of this court have held that constructive amendments are per se reversible. See Rail , ¶ 50 ; People v. Riley , 2015 COA 15......
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