Colorado Supreme Court clears way for child abuse trial to proceed
BY MICHAEL KARLIK email@example.com
The Colorado Supreme Court last week dismissed an appeal in a child abuse case out of El Paso County, declining to address the defendant’s claim that prosecutors’ bad-faith delay required the charges to be thrown out under the state’s speedy-trial law.
The court originally took interest in Khristina Phillips’ case earlier this year and ordered the district attorney’s office to explain why it was still permitted to bring Phillips to trial after all.
Phillips stands accused of a misdemeanor child abuse offense and of operating a child care facility without a license. In Colorado, the government generally must bring criminal defendants to trial within six months of a not guilty plea as part of the constitutional right to a speedy trial.
The prosecution filed two midcase — or “interlocutory” — appeals during Phillips’ proceedings. First, it challenged the trial judge’s decision to suppress part of Phillips’ videotaped interrogation with a detective, given that Phillips had not received a Miranda warning. The decision was reversed and the 161 days it took to resolve the appeal were excluded from the speedy trial timeline, without objection from the defense.
Two days before trial, prosecutors emailed Phillips’ counsel to advise of their intent to play the entire video, amounting to nearly 90 minutes. The morning of trial, the defense objected to that plan.
County Court Judge Steven Katzman also balked, noting a “fair amount” of the footage was irrelevant and the detective would be testifying anyway about what happened. He ordered that only certain relevant clips be played, but declined to say what those were, telling the parties to figure it out.
Under the belief that Katzman was again suppressing the interrogation, the prosecution filed another interlocutory appeal in the middle of jury selection, triggering an end to the trial. Katzman insisted his decision about the video clips was not something that could be appealed mid-case.
A district court judge, hearing the appeal, ultimately dismissed it. By that time, Phillips’ speedy trial deadline had passed.
The legislature has imposed one consequence for speedy trial violations: dismissal of the charges and a prohibition on further prosecution. However, because Katzman concluded the second appeal was in “good faith,” the time it took to resolve the issue would be excluded — as it was with the first appeal — and the government would essentially receive an extension.
Phillips then turned directly to the Supreme Court, arguing the prosecution simply wanted time to prepare its video clips for trial, and that was not a sufficient reason to stop the speedy trial clock from running.
“Otherwise, the prosecution can file a baseless appeal without consequence,” wrote attorney Erin Wigglesworth, “resulting in a defendant bearing the negative consequence of an extension of the speedy trial deadline and a violation of the defendant’s speedy trial and due process rights.”
The district attorney’s office responded that even though Kaztman and the district court judge disagreed with the prosecution’s understanding of Katzman’s ruling, it did not mean the appeal was meritless. Senior Deputy District Attorney Doyle Baker blamed Katzman and the defense for effectively forcing an appeal in the first place.
“The court’s order for the (prosecution) to redact unidentified sections of Phillips’s recorded interview, which it issued minutes before jury selection was scheduled to begin, left prosecutors in an impossible position,” he wrote. “They were expected to excise portions ... without any objection from the defense and with no guidance from the court about its specific concerns.”
In an unsigned order on Nov. 30, the Supreme Court dismissed Phillips’ appeal. It did not elaborate on its reasoning.
LOCAL & STATE
The Gazette, Colorado Springs