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Colorado Supreme Court: ‘Entry of Judgment’ for New Trial Motion Means Both Conviction and Imposition of Sentence

by Dale Chappell

“Entry of judgment” for purposes of a motion for new trial under Criminal Procedure Rule 33(c) means the finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence, the Colorado Supreme Court held on January 22, 2018, finding a defendant’s motion for new trial was timely filed.

Fifteen months after David Bueno was found guilty by a jury for the murder of a fellow prisoner, but before he was sentenced, the State disclosed evidence it had in its possession since the first days of the investigation that could have changed the outcome of his trial.

Bueno filed a motion for a new trial under Rule 33(c), arguing the State had purposely withheld the exculpatory evidence. The State opposed his motion on the basis that it was filed more than one year after the date of his conviction and was thus time-barred. The trial court disagreed and granted a new trial, and the court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The State appealed to the Supreme Court of Colorado.

The questions before the Supreme Court were (1) whether Bueno’s motion for a new trial was timely filed and (2) whether the State had improperly withheld exculpatory evidence. The Court found in Bueno’s favor on both issues.

Colorado Criminal Procedure Rule 33(c) provides for a new trial if (1) the defendant produces newly discovered evidence or (2) “for some other reason” he believes a new trial is necessary. The Rule sets forth two separate timelines for each type of motion. Motions based on the former must be filed “as soon after entry of judgment as the facts supporting it become known to the defendant.” The latter category of motions must be filed “within 14 days after verdict or finding of guilt ….”

Bueno’s motion was based on the discovery of new evidence, so “entry of judgment” triggered the running of the period in which he had to file his motion for a new trial. As such, the Court had to decide what constitutes “entry of judgment,” i.e., conviction alone or conviction coupled with imposition of the sentence.

The State argued that the jury’s finding of guilt convicting Bueno constituted entry of judgment under Rule 33(c). The Court disagreed.

Rule 33(c) contains the phrases “entry of judgment” and “verdict or finding of guilt” as the triggering events for commencing the respective period in which a defendant must file a motion for a new trial. Since two separate and distinct phrases are used, they must have different meanings, reasoned the Court. So “entry of judgment” must mean more than simply a “verdict or finding of guilt.” Otherwise, a “verdict or finding of guilt” would trigger the running of both filing periods and render the use of “entry of judgment” meaningless. Consequently, the Court held that for purposes of Rule 33(c) “entry of judgment” means “both a verdict or finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence.”

In applying the newly announced rule to the present case, the Court ruled that Bueno’s motion for a new trial was not time-barred. Since he had not yet been sentenced, he filed his motion prior to the “entry of judgment.” Therefore, he filed before the deadline prescribed in Rule 33(c).

The Court then turned its attention to Bueno’s Brady claim in which he alleged the State improperly “suppressed” favorable evidence from him. In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the prosecution must disclose all favorable evidence to a defendant. Colorado Criminal Procedure Rule 16(I)(a)(2) codified Brady and requires the State 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.”

To make a successful Brady claim, a defendant must show (1) the prosecution suppressed evidence, (2) the evidence is exculpatory, and (3) the evidence is material to the case. The Court found that Bueno had met all three criteria.

Bueno’s defense was that someone else had committed the murder. Indeed, the State had in its possession a staff report with a note attached that named the gang members who were ordered to carry out the murders and the targets who would be killed. Bueno was not mentioned in that note. Another staff report on a separate gang-related murder also did not implicate Bueno. None of this evidence was given to Bueno’s defense team. Instead, the prosecutor purposely removed the evidence from the prosecution file and buried it in more than 30,000 pages of seemingly unrelated papers given to the defense.

After Bueno had already been convicted, his defense lawyers received the exculpatory evidence from lawyers for Bueno’s codefendants. He then moved for a new trial. Upholding the right to a new trial, the court of appeals said the State had “made the conscious decision this information was not to be included in discovery.” A rule that a “prosecutor may hide, defendant must seek [evidence],” violates a defendant’s due process rights, the Court admonished. “The defense need not search for a needle in a haystack.”

Finding that Bueno’s Rule 33(c) motion for a new trial was timely filed and that the State purposely suppressed favorable evidence, the Supreme Court affirmed the granting of a new trial for Bueno. See People v. Bueno, 409 P.3d 320 (Colo. 2018). 

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