Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
The suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment. Regardless of whether the defense makes a request, constitutional error results from government suppression of favorable evidence. Colo. R. Crim. P. 16 prevents the prosecution from committing such a violation. Under Colo. R. Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(2), the prosecutor is required to disclose to the defense any material or information within his or her possession or control which tends to negate the guilt of the accused as to the offense charged or would tend to reduce the punishment therefor. The rule also goes further and lists many other types of material and information within the possession or control of the prosecuting attorney (or other governmental personnel) that the prosecutor must make available to the defense. Colo. R. Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1). However nothing in Colo. R. Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1)—(c) grants the trial court authority to order access to a private home that is not subject to the court's jurisdiction.
Defendant E.G. was accused of repeatedly raping his twelve-year old cousins in the basement of their mutual grandmother’s house. Defendant was charged as an aggravated juvenile offender. Prior to trial, defendant moved the court to order the victims’ grandmother to allow defense counsel to have access to the residence so that counsel could view and photograph the crime scene. Defendant alleged that such access was necessary under principles of fundamental fairness and due process of law. The trial court denied the motion, holding that it had no authority to order any private entity to open up their private residence. The trial went forward, and defendant was convicted. On appeal, defendant challenged the denial of his motion for access to the home. The court of appeals held that a trial court has authority to order defense access to a third-party residence; however, it affirmed the denial of the motion for access, concluding that defendant had failed to demonstrate that inspection of the crime scene was necessary to present his defense. The state supreme court granted the People’s petition for certiorari.
Would a trial court have the authority to grant a defendant’s discovery motion seeking access to the private residence of a third party?
The Court held that neither a criminal defendant, nor anyone else, including the prosecuting attorney, has a constitutional right to force a third party to open her private home for an investigation. While the Constitution and the Rules of Criminal Procedure entitled a defendant to receive exculpatory evidence in the possession of the prosecutor and other government entities, he may not use the power of the court to transgress the constitutional rights of private citizens in order to build his defense. In this case, neither the United States Constitution, the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, nor any statute provided the trial court with authority to grant the defendant access to his grandmother’s private home without the latter’s consent. In the absence of a due process right—or any other right—to access a third-party home, the trial court had no authority to issue such an order and defendant’s motion was properly denied. Accordingly, the judgment of the appellate court was affirmed on alternate grounds.