Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In 2006, Guy Lucero was convicted by jury for multiple offenses arising from a drive-by shooting. He was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Lucero to consecutive term-of-years prison sentences for each count, aggravated as crimes of violence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of eighty-four years. The court of appeals affirmed Lucero’s convictions and sentences on direct appeal. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile non-homicide offender, concluding that states must “give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Subsequently, Lucero filed a motion pursuant to Rule 35(b) of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure seeking reduction of his sentence. As relevant here, Lucero argued that his sentence must be reduced under Graham to meet constitutional standards, because an eighty-four-year sentence imposed on a juvenile carried the same implications as a sentence of life without parole. The trial court denied the motion; the court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Lucero's aggregate term-of-years sentence. The Court also rejected Lucero’s argument that the court of appeals erred in treating his claim as one under Rule 35(c). View "Lucero v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Atorrus Rainer was convicted by jury on two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of aggravated robbery, and crime of violence. He was seventeen at the time of the charged offenses, and he was charged as an adult. Rainer was sentenced to forty-eight years for each attempted murder charge, thirty-two years for each assault charge, and thirty-two years each for the charges of burglary and aggravated robbery. The sentences for the two counts of attempted murder were subsequently ordered to run concurrently, as were the sentences for the two counts of assault, resulting in an aggregate sentence of 112 years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which categorically banned sentences of life without parole for juveniles who were not convicted of homicide, Rainer moved the district court to vacate the sentence, arguing that his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional under "Graham." The district court denied the motion. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, concluding that, because Rainer would be eligible for parole at about age seventy-five, thus ineligible for parole within his expected lifetime, he had no meaningful opportunity to obtain release and was unconstitutional under "Graham" and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Rainer's aggregate term-of-years sentence. View "Colorado v. Rainer" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Cheryl Armstrong was convicted by jury on two counts of second-degree murder under a complicity theory. She was sixteen at the time of the charged offenses, and was tried as an adult. Armstrong was sentenced to forty-eight years in prison on each count, to be served consecutively, resulting in an aggregate sentence of ninety-six years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which categorically banned sentences of life without parole for juveniles who were not convicted of homicide, Armstrong moved the district court to vacate the sentence, arguing that her aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional under "Graham." The district court denied Armstrong’s motion. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Armstrong will be eligible for parole at about age sixty, she has a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, and her sentence thereby complied with "Graham" and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Armstrong's aggregate term-of-years sentence. View "Armstrong v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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When a defendant knowingly and intelligently waives his Miranda rights, knew he was free to leave an interview, and confessed to committing a crime during the course of a conversational, friendly interview devoid of coercive promises or threats, he gave his statements voluntarily. This interlocutory appeal required the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether an defendant's confession to an Army investigator during basic training was the product of coercion. A thirteen-year-old victim told a sheriff's office that seven years prior, defendant Z.T. forced her to give him oral sex. At the time of the alleged assaults, Z.T. was thirteen, and the victim was six. At the time the victim made the allegations in 2015, Z.T. was in Army basic training in Georgia. A sheriff's deputy formally asked an Army investigator to interview Z.T. about the allegations. Z.T. would ultimately be charged with sexual assault on a child. He was extradited to Colorado to stand trial. He moved to suppress the confession, and the trial court granted the motion, finding the Army investigator engaged in coercive conduct that played a significant role in inducing the confession. Finding no such coercive behavior and that the confessions were given voluntarily, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's suppression order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Colorado in the Interest of Z.T.T." on Justia Law

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In a construction-defect matter filed by a homeowners’ association (HOA) against several developers, an attorney for the HOA previously represented one of the developers. The developers moved to disqualify that attorney under Rules 1.9 and 1.10 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The trial court denied the motion, without what the Colorado Supreme Court described as “meaningfully analyzing for purposes” of Rule 1.9 whether this case was “substantially related” to the prior matters in which the attorney represented the developer. Instead, the Court found the trial court relied on issue preclusion, and found that in this situation, the attorney was not disqualified to represent the developer. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by not analyzing the facts of this case under Rule 1.9, and therefore vacated the denial of the developers’ motion, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Villas at Highland Park Homeowners Assoc. v. Villas at Highland Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a jury convicted Alejandro Estrada-Huerta of second-degree kidnapping and sexual assault. Estrada-Huerta was seventeen at the time he was charged, and he was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Estrada-Huerta to twenty-four years for the kidnapping conviction and sixteen years to life for each count of sexual assault. The sexual assault sentences were ordered to run concurrently with each other but consecutive to the kidnapping sentence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of forty years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Estrada-Huerta moved to vacate his sentences, arguing his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and was therefore unconstitutional under Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Estrada-Huerta would be eligible for parole at age fifty-eight, he had a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, therefore his sentence complied with “Graham” and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s result, though on different grounds. The Court found that “Graham” and “Miller” did not apply in this matter; Estrada-Huerta was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole: he received consecutive terms for three separate convictions. View "Estrada-Huerta v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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A non-negligently constructed and maintained piece of playground equipment cannot be a “dangerous condition” under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act’s recreation-area waiver. Nine-year-old Alexa Loveland fell while using her elementary school playground’s zip line apparatus and severely fractured her wrist and forearm. Alexa and her parents filed a tort action against the school district, seeking damages for Alexa’s injuries. Because the Colorado legislature limited when public entities such as the school district may be sued, the issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was whether the Lovelands’ lawsuit fell within one of the limited exceptions to sovereign immunity under the Act. The Supreme Court concluded the facts as the Lovelands have alleged them, did not satisfy the dangerous-condition requirement, and that the trial court was correct to conclude the recreation-area waiver did not apply. View "St. Vrain Valley Sch. Dist. RE-1J v. Loveland" on Justia Law

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Select Energy Services, LLC, wanted to run a water pipeline across an old, partly destroyed irrigation ditch alongside the South Platte River. An easement arising from a water right long associated with that ditch stood in its way. K-LOW, LLC owned the easement, and attempted to block Select’s pipeline as a trespass. Yet, because the water right supporting the easement recently changed, K-LOW’s easement might no longer exist. Whether the easement existed turned on the scope of the underlying water right. Absent that water right, K-LOW’s trespass claim failed. The water court found no right to divert water from the ditch, and the Colorado Supreme Court agreed with its determination. Because, by its plain language, the decree defining the water right allowed its holder to divert water only at the pump downriver from the disputed ditch, the Court concluded the decree did not include a right to divert water from that ditch. View "Select Energy Servs., LLC v. K-LOW, LLC" on Justia Law

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Samuel J. Stoorman & Associates, P.C. represented Kristy Casagranda (“Wife”) during dissolution proceedings against her then-husband Brian Todd Dixon (“Husband”). The Firm asserted a charging lien for its fees under Colorado’s attorney’s lien statute against assets the court awarded to Wife during the divorce and obtained a court order recognizing that lien. The firm later filed a motion for an entry of judgment enforcing its charging lien against maintenance payments Husband owed to Wife, seeking to have Husband redirect those payments to the Firm. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that an attorney’s charging lien could not attach to a maintenance award. The court of appeals affirmed. Because the attorney’s lien statute’s plain language provided that a charging lien attached to any judgment that an attorney helps a client obtain, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed. View "Stoorman v. Dixon" on Justia Law

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Creager Mercantile Co., Inc., a wholesale distributor of groceries and tobacco products, sells Blunt Wraps, a type of cigar wrapper made of thirty to forty-eight percent tobacco. Blunt Wraps are designed to be filled with additional tobacco or marijuana and then smoked. The Colorado Supreme Court was called on the determine whether Blunt Wraps could be taxed as “tobacco products,” as that term was defined in section 39-28.5-101(5), C.R.S. (2016). Because Blunt Wraps are a “kind” or “form” of tobacco, and are “prepared in such manner as to be suitable . . . for smoking,” the Court held Blunt Wraps fell within the plain language of the definition of “tobacco products” under section 39-28.5-101(5) and were taxable accordingly. View "Colo. Dept. of Revenue v. Creager" on Justia Law