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National Crime Victim Law Institute

New and Noteworthy

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  • Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle, — S. Ct. —, No. 15-108, 2016 WL 3189527 (June 9, 2016).

    NCVLI is sharing this opinion because of the potential implications for those who are victimized in Puerto Rico and who wish to exercise their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3771 (CVRA), in federal court.


    Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle, — S. Ct. —, No. 15-108, 2016 WL 3189527 (June 9, 2016).


    Two individuals were charged separately in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for selling a gun without a permit in violation of the Puerto Rico Arms Act of 2000.  While those charges were pending, federal grand juries indicted both individuals, based on the same conduct, for violations of analogous U.S. gun trafficking statutes.  Both defendants pleaded guilty to the federal charges and then moved to dismiss the pending Commonwealth charges on double jeopardy grounds.  The government opposed the motions in each case, arguing that Puerto Rico and the United States are different sovereigns and therefore the dual-sovereignty exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause applies.  The dual-sovereignty exception allows for the subsequent prosecution of individuals for the same criminal conduct through equivalent criminal laws if the entities prosecuting the cases are different sovereigns.  In reviewing the case, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico held that the Commonwealth’s gun sale prosecutions violated the Double Jeopardy Clause.  The court reasoned that what determines whether there are separate sovereigns for purposes of double jeopardy considerations is whether the ultimate source of power to prosecute originates from different sources.  The court then concluded that because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth that derives its power from the United States Congress, which is the same source of power for federal prosecutions, the dual-sovereignty exception did not apply.  The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the Double Jeopardy Clause bars the Federal Government and Puerto Rico from successively prosecuting a defendant on like charges for the same conduct.  Applying the same analysis as the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, the Court held that double jeopardy does bar subsequent prosecutions and affirmed the dismissals. 

  • People in the Interest of E.G., — P.3d —, No. 15SC298, 2016 WL 1567237 (Colo. Apr. 18, 2016), and People v. Chavez, — P.3d —, No. 15SA165, 2016 WL 1567235 (Colo. Apr. 18, 2016).

    In the Chavez case, the National Crime Victim Law Institute joined The Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center, who represented the victim in the case, in filing an amicus brief in the Colorado Supreme Court.  Co-amici argued that forcing sexual assault victims to open their homes to criminal defendants whenever a defendant merely asserts the “need” for pretrial access without requiring the defendant to make a particularized showing that denial of access would prevent preparation of an adequate defense, violates victims’ constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, and further chills sexual assault victims from reporting crimes.

    People in the Interest of E.G., — P.3d —, No. 15SC298, 2016 WL 1567237 (Colo. Apr. 18, 2016).

    Defendant was convicted of sexual assault of a child and appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his pretrial motion requesting access to his grandmother’s basement where the crime occurred for investigation purposes.  The trial court denied the motion on the basis that it did not have authority to order the access.  The court of appeals disagreed that the trial court did not have authority, but upheld the denial based on the fact that defendant failed to demonstrate that inspection of the crime scene was necessary to his defense.  On the government’s petition for certiorari, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that a trial court does not have authority to provide defendant access to a third party’s home for pretrial discovery.  The court reasoned that Colorado courts lack power to grant criminal discovery outside of what is authorized in statute or rule.  Therefore the court examined Colorado’s Criminal Procedure Rule 16 and concluded that it only ensures that a defendant has access to material and information in the government’s possession or control; which does not include access to private third party’s home.  Similarly, the court noted that Criminal Procedure Rule 17, the compulsory process rule, covers the production, in court, of certain items and also failed to provide authority to order investigation of a non-party’s home.  The court then analyzed whether defendant had a right under Due Process or the Confrontation Clause that would authorize a court to order access to the home and found none.  Citing to the propositions that there is no general constitutional right to pretrial discovery in criminal cases, and that the United States Supreme Court’s decisions only entitle defendant to access evidence and witnesses that are in the government’s possession or control, the court held that due process does not provide the right to use court-provided investigative tools.  Finally, the court held that the Confrontation Clause does not apply in this situation because it is an unrelated trial right.  The court concluded 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.”  As such, the court affirmed the appellate court’s judgment on alternate grounds.

    People v. Chavez, — P.3d —, No. 15SA165, 2016 WL 1567235 (Colo. Apr. 18, 2016).

    Defendant was charged with sexual assault and requested a court order allowing him access to the victim’s home where the assault occurred for investigation purposes.  The trial court granted the motion, and the court of appeals upheld the trial court’s finding that defendant had shown that access to the home was “relevant, material, and necessary” to his defense.  Relying on the reasoning put forth in People in the Interest of E.G., a casedecided the same day, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision, holding that the trial court lacked statutory or constitutional authority to grant defendant access to the victim’s home for investigative purposes.  The court made the rule absolute and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.