West v. PeopleAnnotate this Case
During 2002 and 2003, a Colorado state public defender with the Mesa County Regional Office represented defendant Thomas West after the victim's mother, D.S., informed police that she discovered West lying in bed next to her six-year-old daughter with his genitals exposed. D.S. and her ex-husband, D.E.S., both testified at trial for the prosecution. Colorado public defenders had represented D.S. approximately 23 times over the eight years preceding West's case. Although West's trial counsel had never himself represented D.S., the Mesa County Office represented her seven times between 1998 and 2001. D.S. was also a client of the El Paso County Regional Office, where she had an open case during West's trial at issue here. In addition, the Mesa County Office represented D.S.'s ex-husband, D.E.S., five times between 1999 and 2002. West's trial counsel had filed an entry of appearance in one of these cases, although the prosecution dismissed that case four days after that entry of appearance. West's trial counsel did not inform West or the trial court about these possible conflicts of interest. There was no record regarding the conflict at trial. The jury convicted West of sexual assault on a child. Following his trial, West filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion, alleging that his trial counsel labored under a conflict of interest. The trial court found no conflict and denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed, holding that an actual conflict of interest arose from the public defender's dual role as prior and current counsel for D.S. and as prior counsel for D.E.S. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on the analytical framework a trial court should use to resolve a criminal defendant's post-conviction claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on alleged conflicts of interest arising from concurrent or successive representation of witnesses against the defendant. The Court shared petitioners' contention that, under "Colorado v. Castro," (657 P.2d 932 (Colo. 1983)), they should not be required to demonstrate a separate "adverse effect" in addition to a conflict of interest in order to receive new trials. In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance of counsel claim predicated on trial counsel's alleged conflict of interest arising from concurrent or successive representation of trial witnesses against a defendant, the Court held that a defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence both a conflict of interest and an adverse effect resulting from that conflict.