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The People of the State of Colorado v. David Bueno
David Bueno murder conviction vacated: Carol Chambers's office hid evidence, says David Lane
Case Number: 13SC1017
Judge: Brian D. Boatright
Court: Supreme Court of the State of Colorado
Plaintiff's Attorney: George H. Brauchler, District Attorney, Eighteenth Judicial District
David C. Jones, Senior Deputy District Attorney
Jennifer Gilbert, Deputy District Attorney
Defendant's Attorney: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender
Karen N. Taylor, Deputy Public Defender
Description: Michael Snyder, a white inmate at the Limon Correctional Facility (“LCF”), told
his wife in a recorded phone conversation that he had been ordered to stab another
inmate. The next day, Jeffrey Heird, another white inmate at LCF, was found stabbed
to death in his cell. Snyder would later tell investigators that Heird was the man he had
been ordered to kill.
¶5 Immediately after the discovery of Heird’s body, an inmate found a piece of
paper in the showers that read, “Killers Beuno [sic] and Alehanro [sic]! 1st and 2nd teirs
[sic].” That same evening, Linda Deatrich, a nurse at LCF, discovered a second note
commingled with inmate requests for medical appointments. The parties call that note
“the ABN Letter.” The ABN Letter detailed threats by a white supremacist group to kill
“men of the white race who refuse to accept their proud race,” identified two inmates to
carry out the executions, and named three white inmates at LCF as targets. Neither
Bueno nor Snyder was named in the ABN Letter as one of the putative executioners,
and Heird’s name was not among the potential victims.
¶6 Within approximately twenty minutes of her discovery, Deatrich wrote a report,
attached a copy of the ABN Letter to it, and filed the two documents together as an
incident report with LCF; the parties call this “the Deatrich Report.” About an hour
after Deatrich discovered the ABN Letter, a prosecutor named Robert Watson from the
district attorney’s office arrived at LCF to provide legal counsel for the investigation.
By the time Watson left the next morning, he had collected a copy of the Deatrich
Report. It is undisputed that Watson’s working file contained the Deatrich Report and
that the prosecutors possessed it from the day after the murder. Both this report and a
copy of the note found in the shower were included in a packet that investigators at
LCF received at a briefing the morning after Heird’s murder.
¶7 Two days after Heird’s murder, David Hollenbeck, one of the inmates listed as a
target in the ABN Letter, suffered cardiac distress and later died. Lieutenant Tim
Smelser, one of the LCF investigators working on Hollenbeck’s case, explained in his
incident report that the injury that killed Hollenbeck was “predominantly caused by
blunt trauma to the chest,” indicating that Hollenbeck had likely been murdered.
Smelser was concerned at the time that Heird’s murder and Hollenbeck’s suspicious
death were connected because of the ABN Letter. Smelser conveyed his concerns in a
report he prepared three days after Hollenbeck’s death, which the parties call “the
Smelser Report.”1 Smelser gave his report to the officers assigned to investigate Heird’s
¶8 The investigation of Heird’s murder focused on the men named in the note
found in the shower: Bueno and Alejandro Perez. Almost one year into the
investigation and prior to charging Bueno, Watson left the district attorney’s office. The
trial court found that Watson left his working file regarding the homicide—which
contained, among other documents, the Deatrich Report—at the prosecutor’s office.
Ultimately, the People charged Bueno, Perez, and Perez’s cellmate, Michael Ramirez,2
for Heird’s death.
¶9 Bueno’s and Perez’s cases proceeded through motions and trial separately.3
Bueno’s defense team settled on an alternate-suspect theory of defense. During the
three-plus years Bueno’s case was litigated, Bueno’s defense team repeatedly sought
discovery from the prosecutors of any evidence related to four white inmates at LCF
whom the defense had identified as alternative suspects, including Snyder, who, as
previously noted, told his wife he had been ordered to stab a white inmate the day
before Heird’s murder. In response to each discovery request, the prosecution
represented that it had disclosed all evidence favorable to the defense, including all
evidence related to the alternative suspects. Well in advance of trial, the prosecution 1 The parties do not relate and the record does not clarify what, if any, further action investigators took regarding Hollenbeck’s death. 2 After Bueno was found guilty, Ramirez pleaded guilty to tampering with physical evidence, a class-six felony, and being an accessory to crime (murder), a class-four felony. He was sentenced to serve two years in prison and four years of probation. 3 Perez’s case was transferred to a different venue.
had informed the defense of the note found in the shower and of Snyder’s statement
that he had been ordered to kill a white inmate. Despite its representation of full
disclosure, however, the prosecution did not turn over the Deatrich or Smelser Reports
prior to trial.
¶10 In its search for evidence related to the alternative suspects, the defense team
sought access to five years’ worth of incident report files at LCF, which encompassed
time periods both before and after the murder, involving the use or possession of
shanks in the prison. In response to Bueno’s motion requesting discovery of those
incident report files, the prosecution contended that the reports were irrelevant to the
case. Eventually, the defense obtained access to the files at LCF, and there it searched
9,600 incident reports for all incidents involving the use or possession of shanks at LCF
for the five-year period. Although the Deatrich and Smelser Reports were among the
9,600 incident reports, the defense did not find them in that search.
¶11 The case went to trial nearly four years after Heird’s murder, and the prosecution
sought the death penalty. The identity of Heird’s killer was the core issue at trial, with
Bueno arguing that white supremacists had committed the murder. The trial lasted
more than two months. After four days of deliberation and having received a special
instruction from the court on how to overcome a deadlock, the jury returned guilty
verdicts on the conspiracy and first-degree murder charges. The jury declined to
impose the death sentence. For reasons not documented in the record provided to us,
the trial court did not impose a sentence, and Bueno remains unsentenced at this time.
¶12 Two months after Bueno’s conviction, the Perez defense team gave Bueno’s
defense team the Deatrich and Smelser Reports. Bueno did not have these documents
prior to this time. Bueno’s team did not file a Rule 33(c) motion or otherwise use the
evidence in the months immediately following his conviction.4
¶13 One year after the Perez defense team gave the reports to Bueno’s defense team,
the judge conducting Perez’s trial ordered the prosecution to produce former
prosecutor Watson’s working file to the trial court for in camera review.5 After
producing that file, which included copies of the Deatrich and Smelser Reports, to the
judge in the Perez case, prosecutors disclosed, for the first time, copies of those two
reports from Watson’s working file to Bueno. The People do not dispute that the
prosecution possessed both of these reports within days of Heird’s murder but did not
provide copies of them to Bueno until five years later.
¶14 A week after prosecutors provided Bueno with copies of this evidence, Bueno
moved for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence under Rule 33(c).
4 The two defense teams entered into an evidence-sharing agreement that prohibited the use or disclosure of evidence shared under the agreement until it became public through use by the disclosing party or the prosecution. Bueno justifies his delayed Rule 33(c) motion for new trial on this agreement. The People counter that such agreements cannot contravene the Rules of Criminal Procedure, and that Bueno’s thirteen-month delay from the date Perez’s defense team shared the Deatrich and Smelser Reports violated the charge in Rule 33(c) to file motions based on newly discovered evidence “as soon after entry of judgment as the facts supporting it become known to the defendant.” Because we conclude that Bueno filed his motion before he was sentenced—and thus, before entry of judgment—we need not address this dispute. 5 The parties do not explain and the trial court here did not make a record as to why the judge in Perez’s case was aware of Watson’s working file or why it needed to examine it in camera.
Specifically, Bueno alleged that the prosecution’s failure to disclose the Deatrich and
Smelser Reports violated Brady’s disclosure requirements. The prosecution countered
that Bueno’s motion was time-barred under the plain language of Rule 33(c) because he
had filed it more than fifteen months after the jury found him guilty. And even if the
motion was timely, the prosecution argued, the evidence was made available to the
defense because the defense team had access to the reports prior to trial. Hence, those
reports could not constitute newly discovered evidence. Finally, the prosecution
argued that the reports were not material for Brady purposes.
¶15 After conducting an evidentiary hearing on the alleged Brady violation, the trial
court found that the prosecution had possessed this evidence from the inception of the
investigation, that “a conscious decision was made at some point early in this case to
keep the information from the Defendant by separating these documents from the
balance of Watson’s working file,” and that this suppression “could have significantly
impacted the outcome” of Bueno’s trial. Based on these findings, the trial court
concluded that the prosecution had violated the disclosure requirements under Brady
and Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(2). Accordingly, the trial court granted Bueno’s motion and
ordered that he receive a new trial.
¶16 The People appealed, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed in a split
opinion. People v. Bueno, 2013 COA 151, ¶ 30, __ P.3d __. As pertinent here, the
majority affirmed the trial court’s determination that the prosecution had committed a
Brady violation, id. at ¶¶ 26–29, while the dissent concluded that the evidence was not
material for Brady purposes and thus that there was no Brady violation, id. at ¶¶ 31–33.
The entirety of the panel agreed that Bueno’s Rule 33(c) motion was timely. Id. at
¶¶ 23, 31. The People then petitioned this court for review, and we granted certiorari.6
¶17 Our task now is to resolve whether Bueno’s motion for a new trial was time
barred and, if not, whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting that motion.
To do so, we must discuss two related areas of law: Rule 33(c) motions for new trial and
Brady disclosure standards.
II. Standard of Review
¶18 “This court has plenary authority to promulgate and interpret the rules of
criminal procedure.” People v. Steen, 2014 CO 9, ¶ 10, 318 P.3d 487, 490 (citing Colo.
Const. art. VI, § 21). As such, we review constructions of the rules of criminal
procedure de novo, employing the “same interpretive rules applicable to statutory
6 We granted certiorari to review the following issues: 1. Whether, as Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(2) requires prosecutors to “disclose” material that tends to negate the accused’s guilt, that requirement is satisfied where the prosecution possesses a copy, and the defense team reviews the material at the investigating police agency but does not seek to obtain a copy. 2. Whether, as Crim. P. 33(c) requires a motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence to be filed as soon after “entry of judgment” as to facts supporting it become known, “entry of judgment” occurs when the court accepts the jury’s guilty verdict, or whether it does not occur until sentencing—such that the defense can delay filing the motion—if the defendant has yet to be sentenced. 3. Whether, in Colorado, where a court may grant a motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence only if the evidence, if presented at a new trial, would “probably” produce an acquittal, a court can grant such a motion without reciting that standard and without making findings that would satisfy that standard.
construction.” People v. Corson, 2016 CO 33, ¶ 44, 379 P.3d 288, 297 (quoting Kazadi v.
People, 2012 CO 73, ¶ 11, 291 P.3d 16, 20).
¶19 Our review of a trial court’s ruling on a motion for new trial, however, is more
constrained. A trial court’s decision to grant or deny a new trial is a matter entrusted to
the court’s discretion. People v. Wadle, 97 P.3d 932, 936 (Colo. 2004). A trial court
abuses its discretion if its decision is manifestly unreasonable, arbitrary, or unfair, see
People v. Lee, 18 P.3d 192, 196 (Colo. 2001), or “if it based its ruling on an erroneous
view of the law or on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence,” Wadle, 97 P.3d at
¶20 “In ruling on a motion for new trial . . . trial courts are regularly called upon to
resolve questions of fact and apply standards of law.” Id. A Brady claim presents such
a mixed question of law and fact. Smith v. Sec’y of N.M. Dep’t of Corr., 50 F.3d 801, 827
(10th Cir. 1995); see also Salazar v. People, 870 P.2d 1215, 1224 (Colo. 1994) (resolving a
Rule 16 claim against the backdrop of Brady). When reviewing a mixed question of law
and fact, this court reviews the trial court’s findings of fact for clear error and its
conclusions of law de novo. People v. Arapu, 2012 CO 42, ¶ 17, 283 P.3d 680, 684. A
trial court clearly errs if its finding is without support in the record. See id. at ¶ 46, 283
P.3d at 689.
III. Crim. P. 33(c) Motions for New Trial
¶21 We must first resolve whether Bueno timely filed his motion under Rule 33(c).
This issue presents a specific question: Whether the phrase “entry of judgment” in Rule
33(c) encompasses a verdict or finding of guilt alone, or whether judgment does not
enter until imposition of a sentence.
¶22 Rule 33(c) affords criminal defendants the opportunity to move for a new trial
“in the interest of justice” if (1) the defendant produces newly discovered evidence, or
(2) for some other reason the defendant believes a new trial is warranted. Crim. P.
33(c). The rule sets forth separate timelines for each type of motion:
Motions predicated on newly discovered evidence “shall be filed as soon after
entry of judgment as the facts supporting it become known to the defendant.”
Alternatively, “[a] motion for a new trial other than on the ground of newly
discovered evidence shall be filed within 14 days after verdict or finding of guilt
or within such additional time as the court may fix during the 14-day period.”
Id. (emphases added).
¶23 Thus, by Rule 33(c)’s plain language, “entry of judgment,” which triggers the
timing for a motion based on newly discovered evidence, is different from a “verdict or
finding of guilt,” which triggers the timing for a motion based on another ground.
Recognizing this textual distinction, the division below persuasively reasoned that the
two different phrases must have different meanings. Bueno, ¶ 21 (citing Carlson v.
Ferris, 85 P.3d 504, 509 (Colo. 2003) (articulating this interpretive canon)). We agree.
Because Rule 33(c) creates two distinct timing mechanisms—one that begins running
after “entry of judgment” and the other that begins running after “verdict or finding of
guilt”—the phrase “entry of judgment” must refer to more than a verdict or finding of
¶24 In other words, “entry of judgment” must be more than a “verdict or finding of
guilt” alone. Otherwise, the rule would have used a “verdict or finding of guilt” to
trigger the timing for both types of motions. We therefore decline to adopt the People’s
argument that entry of judgment occurs when the court accepts the jury’s verdict,
because to do so would render the difference between the terms meaningless. See
Pineda-Liberato v. People, 2017 CO 95, ¶ 39, 403 P.3d 160, 166 (noting that we do not
“interpret statutory provisions so as to render any of their words or phrases
meaningless”).7 Thus, we hold that “entry of judgment” for purposes of Rule 33(c) does
not occur until both a verdict or finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence.
¶25 Applying this holding here, we conclude that Bueno’s motion for a new trial was
not time-barred. Bueno has not yet been sentenced; therefore, he filed his motion based
on newly discovered evidence before entry of judgment. As such, Bueno filed his
motion ahead of the deadline Rule 33(c) prescribes.
¶26 Accordingly, we conclude that Bueno’s motion was timely filed. Having
determined that Bueno timely filed his Rule 33(c) motion, we turn to the merits of his
7 Adopting the People’s argument would also contradict our previous explanation that “judgment” means more than just a verdict or finding of guilt: “The judgment in a criminal case includes imposition of the sentence.” People v. Campbell, 738 P.2d 1179, 1181 (Colo. 1987) (relying on the definition of “judgment” in Crim. P. 32(b)(3) to construe Crim. P. 35), superseded by statute on other grounds, § 16-12-102, C.R.S. (2017), as recognized in People v. Blagg, 2015 CO 2, ¶ 14, 340 P.3d 1137, 1141.
IV. The Brady Claim
¶27 The U.S. and Colorado Constitutions guarantee a defendant due process of law.
U.S. Const. amends. V, XIV; Colo. Const. art. 2, § 25. When, in a criminal trial, the
prosecution suppresses “evidence favorable to an accused . . . where the evidence is
material either to guilt or to punishment,” that suppression violates the constitutional
guarantees of due process. Brady, 373 U.S. at 87.
¶28 Rule 16(I)(a)(2) codifies Brady’s constitutional disclosure requirement. See
People v. Dist. Court, 790 P.2d 332, 337 (Colo. 1990) (“[Rule 16(I)(a)(2)] is grounded in
the due process requirements identified by the United States Supreme Court in
[Brady].”). Specifically, Rule 16(I)(a)(2) requires prosecutors 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.” We have consistently interpreted this disclosure requirement
against the backdrop of Brady jurisprudence. See, e.g., In re Attorney C, 47 P.3d 1167,
1170–71 (Colo. 2002) (“Hence, the materiality standard of Brady . . . applies to Rule 16
disclosures in Colorado.”). Thus, we evaluate the People’s appeal through the lens of
¶29 A Brady claim requires a defendant to show that (1) the prosecution suppressed
evidence (2) that is exculpatory or favorable to the defendant and (3) that is material to
the case. People v. Pope, 724 P.2d 1323, 1325 (Colo. 1986).
¶30 First, suppression for Brady purposes occurs where prosecutors fail to disclose
material and exculpatory evidence to the defense.8 Smith, 50 F.3d at 824. The U.S.
Supreme Court has held that the prosecution’s disclosure requirement exists
independent of a request for such evidence from the defense. United States v. Agurs,
427 U.S. 97, 110–11 (1976), abrogated on other grounds by United States v. Bagley, 473
U.S. 667, 682 (1985); People v. Sheppard, 701 P.2d 49, 51 n.5 (Colo. 1985). The Court has
further clarified that whether the prosecution acts in good or bad faith in failing to
disclose evidence at issue is irrelevant to the Brady inquiry. Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S.
419, 432 (1995).
¶31 Second, evidence is exculpatory for Brady purposes if it tends to mitigate the
likelihood of guilt or the severity of the sentence.9 Brady, 373 U.S. at 87–88; see also
Bagley, 473 U.S. at 676 (explaining that the Brady disclosure requirement applies to
evidence useful to a defendant for impeachment purposes).
¶32 And third, evidence is material under the Brady analysis “if there is a reasonable
probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the
proceeding would have been different. A ‘reasonable probability’ is a probability
sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.” Bagley, 473 U.S. at 682. The
8 “Suppression” is a legal term that encompasses any failure to disclose evidence, whether intentional or not, see People v. Sheppard, 701 P.2d 49, 52 (Colo. 1985), and “irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution,” Brady, 373 U.S. at 87. 9 As we stated above, suppressed evidence must be exculpatory or favorable to the defendant. Pope, 724 P.2d at 1325. Because the evidence at issue here is exculpatory in nature, we focus only on that type of evidence.
standard under Brady is not whether each piece of evidence at issue is individually
material, but whether it is material collectively. Kyles, 514 U.S. at 436.
¶33 Having articulated the three elements of a Brady claim, we now examine them in
detail to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion.
B. Analysis and Application
1. Suppression: Failure to Disclose or Make Available
¶34 Rule 16(I) imposes two disclosure requirements on prosecutors. The first is that
they “shall make available” enumerated “material and information which is within
[their] possession or control.” Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1). The second is that they “shall
disclose to the defense any material or information within [their] possession or control
which tends to negate” the defendant’s guilt or reduce his punishment. Crim. P.
¶35 The People argue that the government made the evidence at issue here available
to Bueno’s attorneys before the trial; specifically, the People point to the time when the
defense team gained access to the LCF incident report files. Bueno’s team was given
access to files at LCF almost a year ahead of Bueno’s trial, and these files contained the
evidence at issue. Thus, the People argue that had Bueno’s attorneys exercised
reasonable diligence, they would have found the Deatrich and Smelser Reports,
meaning that the People satisfied Rule 16 and did not violate Brady.
¶36 In making this argument, the People assert that the court of appeals erred in
concluding that the phrase “shall disclose” in Rule 16(I)(a)(2) must mean “something
more than making information ‘available’ under Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1),” Bueno, ¶ 16, or,
stated differently, that the court erred in holding that Rule 16(I)(a)(2) requires the
prosecution to affirmatively disclose material, exculpatory evidence. Rather, the People
argue, Rule 16’s commands to disclose evidence and to make it available are
coextensive. We need not resolve the difference between the meaning of these terms
because we conclude on the facts here that the prosecution neither disclosed nor made
the evidence at issue available, and thus, the record supports the trial court’s finding
that the prosecution suppressed the Deatrich and Smelser Reports for Brady purposes.
¶37 As to the issue of disclosure, the trial court’s findings support, and the People do
not dispute, that the prosecution failed to provide copies of the Deatrich and Smelser
Reports to Bueno. Indeed, the trial court found that the prosecution possessed the two
reports “near the very beginning of the investigation” and did not give it to Bueno until
“some fifteen (15) months after the guilty verdicts.” The trial court also found that the
prosecution had “made the conscious decision this information was not to be included
in discovery” and had “segregated [the evidence] from the balance of the
[prosecution’s] working file.” The record supports these findings. The investigators
looking into Heird’s murder received a packet with the Deatrich Report shortly after
their arrival at LCF, and Watson had received a copy of the report by the time he left the
next day. Smelser gave his report to those same investigators within days of Heird’s
murder. And the prosecution, despite its immediate recognition that these reports were
relevant to the investigation, segregated them from the prosecution’s working file and
did not provide them to Bueno’s defense team. Based on these record-supported
findings, we conclude that the prosecution failed to disclose this evidence.
¶38 We next turn to the People’s contention that they made the evidence available for
Rule 16’s purposes by allowing the defense access to the LCF files. The People urge us
to follow several federal circuit decisions holding that where evidence is otherwise
available through reasonable diligence by the defendant, that evidence is not
suppressed under Brady. See Dennis v. Sec’y, Pa. Dep’t of Corr., 777 F.3d 642, 653–55
(3d Cir. 2015), rev’d en banc, 834 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2016); United States v. Pelullo, 399
F.3d 197, 212, 213 n.16 (3d Cir. 2005); United States v. Gonzales, 319 F.3d 291, 297 (7th
Cir. 2003); United States v. Mulderig, 120 F.3d 534, 541 (5th Cir. 1997); United States v.
Wilson, 901 F.2d 378, 381 (4th Cir. 1990). Here, the People contend, the government’s
permission to let Bueno conduct a search through the LCF incident report files satisfies
Brady’s disclosure requirements because the evidence was available to Bueno eight
months before his trial began, and he should have located the relevant reports through
¶39 The Supreme Court has at least twice rejected arguments similar to the People’s
assertion that the defense must make reasonable efforts to locate Brady materials. In
Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 283–85 (1999), the Court rejected the State’s contention
that the defendant should have been alerted to a witness’s undisclosed police
interviews by her trial testimony and a letter she had published in a newspaper. The
Court concluded that because the prosecution suppressed documentary evidence of the
interviews despite its supposed open-file policy, the defense reasonably relied on “not
just the presumption that the prosecutor would fully perform” his disclosure duty, “but
also the implicit representation that such materials would be included in the open files
tendered to defense counsel.” Id. at 284. The Court further noted that the State’s
representation that it had fully disclosed all Brady materials meant the defendant
reasonably believed that the State had complied with Brady. Id. at 287.
¶40 The Court affirmed the notion that the defense need not search for a needle in a
haystack in Banks v. Dretke, 540 U.S. 668 (2004). There, it rejected the State’s argument
that the defendant would have discovered evidence to impeach a key witness had he
sought to interview the witness or the investigating officers. Id. at 695–96. That
argument, the Court reasoned, was inconsistent with its Brady precedent, which
“lend[s] no support to the notion that defendants must scavenge for hints of
undisclosed Brady material when the prosecution represents that all such material has
been disclosed.” Id. at 695. “A rule thus declaring ‘prosecutor may hide, defendant
must seek,’” the Court further reasoned, “is not tenable in a system constitutionally
bound to accord defendants due process.” Id. at 696.
¶41 Besides, even if we were to apply a reasonable diligence requirement, it would
not avail the People here. As reflected in the record, for several reasons, the defense
team’s reasonable diligence would not have led to its discovery of the reports. First, by
the time Bueno’s team searched the LCF incident report files, the prosecution had
repeatedly affirmed that it had already disclosed all Brady evidence. See Strickler, 527
U.S. at 287 (justifying the defendant’s reliance on the State’s Brady-compliance with the
State’s assertion that it had fully disclosed everything known to it). Second, the
prosecution asserted that the LCF reports were irrelevant to the case. See Pelullo, 399
F.3d at 213 (“[D]efense counsel’s knowledge of, and access to, evidence may be
effectively nullified when a prosecutor misleads the defense into believing the evidence
will not be favorable to the defendant.”). Third, the LCF files that Bueno’s defense team
reviewed were voluminous, containing 9,600 incident reports.10 Finally, Bueno’s team
was not looking for these reports—or even these types of reports—when it searched the
LCF files. Rather, it was collecting all incident reports involving the use or possession
of shanks in the prison. Yet neither report at issue contained any references to shanks
or stabbings. The reports, one of which detailed a threat on inmates’ lives and the other
a death caused by chest trauma, would therefore not fall within the scope of the Bueno
defense team’s search. Hence, under these facts, and consistent with the trial court’s
finding that the prosecution failed to comply with Rule 16, we conclude that the
evidence was not made available to the defense.
¶42 Thus, because the trial court correctly concluded that the prosecution neither
disclosed this evidence nor made it available to Bueno, we conclude that the
prosecution did not satisfy its Rule 16 obligations and that it instead suppressed this
evidence for Brady purposes.
2. Exculpatory Nature
¶43 The parties do not dispute that this evidence was exculpatory for Brady
purposes. The trial court found that Bueno immediately raised the alternate-suspect
theory of defense, and the evidence at issue here—a note detailing plans by a white
10 Bueno asserted during oral arguments that an average incident report was a few pages long, meaning that Bueno’s defense team was likely examining approximately 30,000 pages of documents.
supremacist group to murder other white inmates, when Bueno was charged with
killing a white inmate, and a report from an LCF investigator expressing concern that
Heird’s murder was related to another white inmate’s suspicious and temporally
proximate death—plainly supports that theory of defense. As such, we conclude that
this evidence was indeed exculpatory. The final dispositive issue, then, is whether this
information meets the requirement of materiality under Brady.
¶44 The People’s arguments as to materiality distill into two related points: (1) that
the trial court applied the wrong standard for when evidence is material for Brady
purposes; and (2) that, under the correct standard, the evidence here was not material.
Specifically, the People note that evidence is material only if there is a “reasonable
probability” that the verdict would have been different, but that the trial court
concluded only that the results of Bueno’s trial “could” have been different. The People
11 As a preliminary matter, we address the People’s failure to designate the trial court transcript in the record. Incomplete records make it difficult to complete our appellate review. This is especially the case with Brady’s materiality inquiry, which requires that we look de novo at the suppressed evidence and make a judgment about the import of that evidence relative to the other evidence at trial. Where the other evidence at trial is overwhelming, even the suppression of highly relevant evidence may not undermine our confidence in the outcome. Conversely, confidence in a verdict obtained on underwhelming evidence is more easily shaken. Because the People asked us to resolve the issue of materiality on appeal to this court, they bore the burden to designate a record adequate for us to make this comparison, as the then-applicable C.A.R. 10(b) made clear: “If the appellant intends to urge on appeal that a finding or conclusion is unsupported by the evidence or is contrary to the evidence, the appellant shall include in the record a transcript of all evidence relevant to such finding or conclusion.” We proceed on the limited record before us, but where adequate comparison is impossible, we must presume that the trial court’s materiality ruling is correct. See LePage v. People, 2014 CO 13, ¶ 15, 320 P.3d 348, 351.
also fault the trial court for failing to make express findings on how the evidence would
impact Bueno’s alternate-suspect theory and the jury’s verdict.12
¶45 We reject the People’s contention that the trial court employed the wrong
materiality standard. The standard it employed was that the evidence “could have
significantly impacted the outcome of the trial.” The standard we employ, as outlined
above, is that “there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to
the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different. A ‘reasonable
probability’ is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome.”
Bagley, 473 U.S. at 682. Although the trial court did not use that exact language, we
conclude that the standard it employed is functionally equivalent. Cf. People v. Dist.
Court, 808 P.2d 831, 834 (Colo. 1991) (affirming a trial court’s materiality finding despite
that court’s failure to expressly state and apply the materiality standard). Indeed, the
phrase “could have significantly impacted the outcome of the trial” casts the same
degree of doubt as the phrase “a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the
outcome.” The trial court therefore applied an appropriate materiality standard.
¶46 Nor do we agree that the trial court erroneously concluded that this evidence
was material. In support of its conclusion, the trial court explained that the jury
deliberated for four days and reached a verdict only after receiving special instructions
12 The People also argue that the trial court erred when it did not address the evidence’s admissibility in its Brady analysis. But undisclosed evidence need not be admissible to satisfy Brady; it need merely lead to the possible discovery of other evidence. Cf. Wood v. Bartholomew, 516 U.S. 1, 6 (1995) (analyzing whether the undisclosed evidence “might have led [defendant’s] counsel to conduct additional discovery that might have led to some additional evidence that could have been utilized”).
on how to overcome a deadlock. This fact permits a reasonable inference that the jury
debated Bueno’s guilt at length. Considering that the jury indicated that it was
deadlocked at some point, the suppressed evidence could have impacted its
determination of Bueno’s guilt. This is especially so given the theory of the case that
Bueno’s defense presented. Specifically, he asserted an alternate-suspect theory of
defense, and the undisclosed evidence pointed to alternate suspects. While the
evidence in question did not specifically reference the victim, at the very least, it was
relevant to the manner in which the investigation was conducted. Undoubtedly, the
defense would have questioned the investigators in this case on the use (or non-use) of
the reports during the investigation. The scope of the investigation is highly relevant,
as both the Deatrich and Smelser Reports bear directly on the issue of the murderer’s
identity. The prosecution knew this, as it immediately obtained these reports at the
outset of its investigation. The reports’ potential value to Bueno, therefore, was
significantly greater given their early availability to the prosecution. Importantly, the
trial court judge, who was intimately familiar with all aspects of this case and presided
over it from the beginning, concluded that this evidence could have impacted the
outcome of Bueno’s trial, at the very least, by precluding Bueno from “fully
develop[ing] [his] theory of defense.” That is the very essence of materiality.
¶47 The question of Bueno’s guilt was debated at length by the jury, and there is a
reasonable probability that failing to disclose or make available this evidence—which
was relevant to the central issue in the case—may have affected the verdict. Thus, we
perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s conclusion.
4. Conclusion Regarding the Brady Claim
¶48 In sum, we conclude that the prosecution here suppressed exculpatory and
material evidence, and therefore, that the prosecution violated Brady’s disclosure
requirements. We therefore conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in
granting Bueno’s motion for a new trial, a decision that is supported by the record and
appropriate given the nature of the discovery violation. See Lee, 18 P.3d at 196 (“The
imposition of discovery sanctions generally serves the dual purposes of protecting the
integrity of the truth-finding process and deterring discovery-related misconduct.”).
Outcome: We hold that “entry of judgment” for purposes of Rule 33 includes both a verdict or finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence. Thus, because Bueno filed his Rule 33(c) motion before the trial court imposed a sentence, we conclude that he filed the motion before entry of judgment and it was therefore not time-barred. On the merits, we conclude that the trial court applied the proper standards in ruling on Bueno’s Brady claim, and we perceive no clear error in the trial court’s findings. And like the trial court, we conclude on the record before us that the prosecution violated Brady’s disclosure requirements. Ultimately, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering a new trial. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court of