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Colorado Supreme Court Opinions
March 19, 2012

2012 CO 19. No. 09SC1050. Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper.
Defamation—Statutory Immunity—Actual Malice.

The Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment and held that a trial court must decide before trial if a party is immune from suit pursuant to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), 49 U.S.C. § 44941. The Court held that (1) Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation was not immune from suit for defamation under the ATSA; (2) the record showed clear and convincing evidence to support a finding of actual malice; (3) Air Wisconsin’s statements were not protected as opinion; and (4) the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s determination that the statements were false.

2012 CO 20. No. 11SA305. In re People v. Salazar.
Criminal Defense—Relevant Evidence—Propensity Evidence—Rape Shield Statute—C.R.E. 403.

In this case involving sexual assault on a child, defendant sought to introduce evidence of an alternative suspect, the child’s grandfather. Defendant asserted that the alternative suspect had sexually assaulted his own daughter when she was a child and was present in the home when the incidents for which the defendant was charged allegedly occurred. Thus, defendant argued that the alternative suspect had motive and opportunity to commit the charged offenses and, therefore, evidence of the alternative suspect’s previous sexual conduct was relevant to the identity of the perpetrator in his case. The trial court ruled that the evidence was relevant and its probative value was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion of the issues.

The Supreme Court determined that, under Court precedent, evidence of an alternative suspect’s past sexual conduct with someone other than the victim was of questionable relevance to the identity of the perpetrator of the charged offense. The Court concluded that, even assuming the relevance of the alternative suspect’s past sexual conduct, the evidence should be excluded under C.R.E. 403, because its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of confusing the issues and misleading the jury. Noting that the grandfather never was charged criminally for the alleged abuse of his daughter, and that testimony addressing the grandfather’s alleged abuse of his daughter would shift the focus of the trial from the abuse of the victim to the past abuse of the daughter, the Court held that the trial court abused its discretion in finding the evidence admissible in this case.

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions