23 March 2021

Colorado Supreme Court Directly Evaluates Tape Recorded Interrogation

Normally, an appellate court defers to the trial court's findings of fact regarding evidence presented at trial, even when there is a transcript available. 

But, in a case where the central fact is what happened in a tape recorded police interrogation, the Colorado Supreme Court has held that it may review the taped recorded evidence de novo since it is in the same position as the trial court with respect to this evidence.
[W]e may independently review audio-recorded interrogations:
“[W]here the statements sought to be suppressed are audio- and video-recorded, and there are no disputed facts outside the recording controlling the issue of suppression, we are in a similar position as the trial court to determine whether the statements should be suppressed.” Thus, we may undertake an independent review of the audio or video recording to determine whether the statements were properly suppressed in light of the controlling law. 
Clark, ¶ 23 (quoting People v. Kutlak, 2016 CO 1, ¶ 13, 364 P.3d 199, 203).

From People v. Padilla, 2021 CO 18, ¶ 14 (March 22, 2021).

The rule articulated in Padilla is on its face limited to suppression hearings prior to criminal trials, but it would be easy to imagine this doctrine being expanded.

Given the amount of evidence that is presented in the form of video or audio recordings these days in trial courts, and the fact that trial court proceedings are often video or audio recorded, this could signal a trend shifting the balance of power between trial courts and appellate courts on issues previously considered to be questions of fact to be resolved once and for all in the trial court.

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