Criminal Law

Perez v. State of Colorado

In this case, the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether, and to what extent, a criminal defendant’s constitutional right to discover potentially exculpatory evidence should trump state statutory privileges that otherwise would shield that evidence.

Case Summary

In 2014, Colorado prosecutors charged Robert A. Perez with murdering his wife.  Mr. Perez maintained his innocence, arguing that his wife had died by suicide.  To support his theory, he issued a subpoena to the medical provider that held records from psychological treatment his wife had been receiving.  The government objected, and the trial court agreed to quash Mr. Perez’s subpoena on the ground that the records were protected by Colorado’s psychotherapist-patient privilege laws.  Indeed, the trial court refused even to review the evidence in private to determine if it contained any exculpatory evidence relevant to Mr. Perez’s defense, a process known as in camera review.  Mr. Perez was convicted and appealed the trial court’s decision to withhold the evidence to the Colorado Court of Appeals, arguing that, by refusing to review the medical records at issue in camera, the trial court had violated his constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause, Compulsory Process Clause, and the Confrontation Clause.  The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.  The Colorado Supreme Court rejected Mr. Perez’s petition for a writ of certiorari, and he filed a petition for review with the Supreme Court of the United States.

CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Mr. Perez’s petition for a writ of certiorari, urging the court to grant the petition and reverse the decision of the court below.

Our brief detailed the history of unjust common-law practices, dating back to seventeenth-century England, that routinely deprived accused persons of the right to present a robust defense.  As we explained in our brief, the Framers adopted the Sixth Amendment against that background to guarantee, in part, that all persons would have “the right . . . to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in [their] favor” in criminal trials.  This right had long been understood to include the right to subpoena potentially exculpatory evidence.  By denying Mr. Perez even in camera review of potentially exculpatory evidence contained in his wife’s medical records, the state of Colorado undermined Mr. Perez’s constitutional right to access evidence in his defense.

The Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari.

Case Timeline

  • July 13, 2020

    CAC files amicus brief in support of petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court

    Sup. Ct. Cert. Stage Amicus Br.
  • October 19, 2020

    Supreme Court denies petition for certiorari