A truck driver accused of crashing into and killing a state trooper in 2016 is still waiting to hear when his third trial will begin. Attorneys met on Jan. 6 with hopes of setting trial dates but …
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A truck driver accused of crashing into and killing a state trooper in 2016 is still waiting to hear when his third trial will begin.
Attorneys met on Jan. 6 with hopes of setting trial dates but couldn't because the court hadn't received official notice from the Colorado Court of Appeals about a ruling it made in the case. Although the state court issued an opinion in November, it had not provided the district court with a written notice of its mandate, a needed formality.
Noe Gamez-Ruiz was charged in the death of Colorado State Trooper Cody Donahue, who died Nov. 25, 2016. Donahue was working an unrelated car accident on the shoulder of Interstate 25 south of Castle Rock when Gamez-Ruiz passed in the far-right lane, striking the trooper and killing him.
He initially faced a Class 5 felony that was lowered to a Class 6 felony charge of criminally negligent homicide. The felony was eventually dismissed. He still faces charges of careless passing of an emergency vehicle and careless driving resulting in death.
The case has twice ended in a mistrial after District Court Judge Shay Whitaker determined prosecutors had committed discovery violations.
As a sanction for the first mistrial, Whitaker lessened the sentence Gamez-Ruiz would face if found guilty. She dismissed his felony charge as a sanction for the second mistrial.
Prosecutors appealed her dismissal of the felony to the Colorado Court of Appeals. The appellate court in November upheld the sanction.
“We conclude that the trial court's dismissal of the criminally negligent homicide count was proper and affirm the dismissal of that count with prejudice,” the court's opinion reads.
In the first trial, prosecutors did not disclose that an eyewitness whom they called to testify was pursuing their commercial driver's license, the same license held by Gamez-Ruiz. Prosecutors also did not provide defense attorneys with part of a forensic pathologist's opinion about what precisely caused the trooper's death.
In the second trial, the judge granted the defense's request for a mistrial after an expert witness offered a stronger opinion than what they'd written in reports filed during discovery, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler said at the time.
The state court wrote that discovery sanctions serve two purposes: to protect the integrity of the “truth-finding process” and to deter discovery misconduct. Sanctions are appropriate when discovery violations are willfully committed, or when there's a pattern of neglect in how discovery was handled.
Whitaker did not find the two violations in the first mistrial to be a pattern, although the court characterized prosecutors' preparation of its witnesses as “haphazard and frenzied.”
The prosecution did not dispute it committed two discovery violations in the first trial but did not believe there was any violation in the second trial.
The appellate court disagreed, determining there was a violation and the judge made an appropriate call to dismiss the felony “based on the prosecution's pattern of discovery violations resulting in not one, but two mistrials.”
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