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Jared Cowen owned a semi-truck that needed extensive maintenance. To pay the $37,485.65 repair bill, Cowen borrowed $15,000 from his brother and wrote two checks from his company’s bank account, one for $9,327.65 and the other for $13,158.00. Cowen admitted at trial that he knew he did not have sufficient funds to cover the checks when he wrote them, and his bank records corroborated his testimony. Believing it had been paid in full when it received Cowen’s checks, the repair shop released the semi-truck to him. A few days later, it learned that both of Cowen’s checks had failed to clear and that Cowen had issued a stop-payment on them. Cowen was thereafter charged with two counts of fraud by check: one count for each of the checks. He defended against the charges by asserting that he did not intend to defraud the repair shop. The jury convicted Cowen of the charge related to the first check, but acquitted him of the charge related to the second check. As part of Cowen’s sentence, the State requested restitution in the amount of $22,485.65, the total amount of the two checks. Cowen objected to any restitution being imposed for pecuniary losses suffered by the repair shop as a result of the second check because he was acquitted of the charge involving that check. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the State's request, finding that they had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Cowen had written both checks knowing he had insufficient funds in his company’s account to cover them. The trial court acknowledged Cowen’s acquittal of the charge related to the second check, but explained that it was “absolutely convinced . . . , by far more than a preponderance of the evidence,” that Cowen knew he had failed to secure the financing company’s loan to fund that check. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether Colorado’s restitution statutes authorized a trial court to order a defendant who has been acquitted of a charge to pay restitution for pecuniary losses caused by the conduct that formed the basis of that charge. A division of the court of appeals upheld the restitution order in an unpublished, unanimous decision. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate division, however, and reversed. View "Cowen v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a district court’s order compelling production of a recording of petitioner Kayla Fox’s initial consultation with her attorney. The district court determined that the recording was not subject to the attorney-client privilege because her parents were present during the consultation and their presence was not required to make the consultation possible. Further, the district court refused to consider several new arguments Fox raised in a motion for reconsideration. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the presence of a third party during an attorney-client communication ordinarily destroys the attorney-client privilege unless the third party’s presence was reasonably necessary to the consultation, unless another exception applies. On the facts of this case, the district court did not err when it found that Fox had not shown the requisite necessity to preserve her claim of privilege. Nor did the district court abuse its discretion in declining to consider Fox’s new arguments raised for the first time in her motion for reconsideration. View "In re Fox v. Alfini" on Justia Law

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Christopher Mountjoy was convicted of reckless manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence after he shot and killed V.M. outside of a motorcycle clubhouse. During sentencing, the trial court found that each crime involved extraordinary aggravating circumstances. As a result, the trial court doubled the statutory presumptive maximum of each sentence. Mountjoy appealed, arguing his sentences violated his constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court of appeals avoided the question of whether Apprendi and Blakely had been satisfied and concluded that, even assuming they were not satisfied, any error was harmless. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds: the trial court did not deny Mountjoy his rights to due process and trial by jury when it relied on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on charges related to the offenses for which the aggravated sentences were imposed. View "Mountjoy v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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George Ruibal appealed the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for second degree murder. Over defense objection and without taking evidence or making any findings as to reliability, the trial court admitted expert testimony to the effect that the victim’s injuries in this case demonstrated “overkill,” a formal term describing multiple injuries focused on one area of the victim’s body, which included blows about the head and face that were numerous and extensive, indicating that the assailant likely had either a real or perceived emotional attachment to the victim. Relying on case law from several other jurisdictions, a treatise dealing with related kinds of injuries, and the witness’s own experience with autopsies involving similar injuries, the court of appeals concluded that the expert opinion was sufficiently reliable and that the trial court had implicitly found as much by granting the prosecution’s proffer. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the trial court made no specific finding that overkill was supported by evidence in the record or already accepted in Colorado; this amounted to an abuse of discretion. However, there was overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt apart from the expert testimony, making the error harmless. The Court, therefore, affirmed the court of appeals. View "Ruibal v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Christopher Mountjoy was convicted of reckless manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence after he shot and killed V.M. outside of a bar for which he worked security. During sentencing, the trial court found that each crime involved extraordinary aggravating circumstances. In doing so, the trial court relied on factual findings that were made by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on the related charges as aggravating factors for the offense for which he was being sentenced. As a result, the trial court doubled the statutory presumptive maximum of each sentence. Mountjoy appealed his sentences, arguing that aggravating his sentences in this way violated his constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court of appeals avoided the question of whether Apprendi and Blakely had been satisfied and concluded that, even assuming they were not satisfied, any error was harmless. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari review and affirmed on alternate grounds: the trial court did not deny Mountjoy his rights to due process and trial by jury when it relied on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on charges related to the offenses for which the aggravated sentences were imposed. View "Mountjoy v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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This case involves the death of four-year-old MB, the daughter of petitioner Mark Friend’s girlfriend. During an interview with law enforcement on the day that MB was transported to the hospital (and before she died), Friend admitted to striking and throwing MB several times in the prior few days. Friend was ultimately charged with (1) first-degree murder-victim under twelve, position of trust; (2) child abuse resulting in death; (3) child abuse resulting in death- pattern of conduct; (4) two counts of child abuse causing serious bodily injury; and (5) child abuse causing serious bodily injury- pattern of conduct. In pleading each of these counts, the information generally tracked the language of the pertinent statutory provisions, but it did not indicate the specific facts supporting each count. This case principally presented two double jeopardy questions: (1) whether the child abuse statute, section 18-6-401, C.R.S. (2018), prescribed more than one unit of prosecution and whether the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to establish that petitioner committed more than one crime of child abuse; and (2) whether child abuse resulting in death under sections 18-6-401(1)(a) and (7)(a)(1), was a lesser included offense of first-degree murder of a child under section 18-3-102(1)(f), C.R.S. (2018) (“child abuse murder”). As to the first double jeopardy question presented here, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the appellate court correctly determined that section 18-6-401 created one crime of child abuse that can be committed in alternative ways; each of the child abuse convictions must merge into one conviction for child abuse resulting in death. As to the second double jeopardy question at issue, The Supreme Court concluded the lower court erred in determining that Friend’s merged child abuse resulting in death conviction did not merge into his child abuse murder conviction. The Court therefore affirmed in part and reversed in part the lower court’s judgment. View "Friend v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The water court concluded Robert Sease diverted water from Sheep Creek in violation of a 2013 order, which forbade him to use out-of-priority water from Sheep Creek on his Saguache County property (“the Sease Ranch”). Thus, the water court found Sease in contempt of court and imposed both punitive and remedial sanctions on him. Sease appealed, arguing: (1) the water court had no basis to find that he owns the Sease Ranch; and (2) the water court improperly shifted the burden of proof to him when it noted that there was a lack of evidence in the record that “someone else came on the premises and did [the contemptuous] work without [his] authorization or against his will.” The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with Sease on both arguments and affirmed the water court’s contempt order. View "Colorado v. Sease" on Justia Law

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Erin Janis stabbed a man outside of a bar in Denver. The State charged Janis with first degree assault. She claimed self-defense, and the case went to trial. Although in custody, Janis asked through trial counsel to leave the courtroom during the victim’s testimony, ostensibly because she feared it might trigger her post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). Without first advising her of her right to remain or inquiring with her directly about her desire to leave, the trial court granted her request. The jury found Janis guilty, and the trial court ultimately sentenced her to twelve years in prison. On appeal, Janis argued, in part, that she did not validly waive her right to be present during the victim’s testimony. More specifically, she contended that the trial court should have advised her of the right and then engaged her in a colloquy about her decision to waive it. By failing to do so, she asserted, the trial court failed to secure a valid waiver and thus committed reversible error. The Colorado Supreme Court held that a formal advisement of the right to be present at trial was not a prerequisite to a valid waiver of that right, even when a defendant is in custody. “Ultimately, the touchstone is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary.” On this record, the Court concluded Janis’s waiver was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded to address any previously unresolved issues. View "Colorado v. Janis" on Justia Law

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Believing there was a large marijuana grow on the agricultural and residential land owned by defendant David Cox, law enforcement officers obtained a warrant to search his home and packing shed. Cox was charged with multiple marijuana-related offenses and child abuse. In a pretrial motion, Cox sought to suppress all the evidence seized, arguing, among other things, that the search warrant lacked probable cause. Relying on evidence presented during the preliminary hearing, the trial court granted the motion, finding that certain conclusory statements in the affidavit regarding the presence of marijuana on Cox’s property should have been stricken. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the suppression order because the Court concluded the trial court erred: (1) by reviewing the magistrate’s probable cause determination de novo instead of according it great deference; (2) by failing to limit its review to the information contained within the four corners of the search warrant’s accompanying affidavit; and (3) by not giving the affidavit the presumption of validity to which it was entitled. “Presuming valid the information articulated within the four corners of the affidavit, we conclude that the magistrate had a substantial basis to find that probable cause existed to believe contraband or evidence of criminal activity would be located on Cox’s property. The trial court therefore erred in ruling that the affidavit failed to establish probable cause. On remand, the trial court should address Cox’s alternative request for a veracity hearing.” View "Colorado v. Cox" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-petitioner Charissa Schultz was injured in a 2015 car accident in which the other driver failed to stop at a stop sign. The other driver’s insurance company settled for its $25,000 policy limit, and Schultz made a demand on her own uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits under her GEICO policy, which also had a $25,000 limit. In April 2017, after months of correspondence and apparent review of an MRI performed on Schultz in April 2015, GEICO offered Schultz its full policy limit, and it did so without requesting that she undergo an independent medical examination (“IME”). Indeed, GEICO’s claim logs reveal that at the time GEICO decided to offer Schultz its policy limits, it “concede[d] peer review wouldn’t be necessary,” indicating an affirmative decision not to request an IME. A few months later, Schultz filed the present lawsuit asserting claims for bad faith breach of an insurance contract and unreasonable delay in the payment of covered benefits. GEICO denied liability, disputing the extent and cause of Schultz’s claimed injuries and asserting that causation surrounding the knee replacement surgeries was “fairly debatable” because Schultz had preexisting arthritis, which GEICO claimed may independently have necessitated her surgeries. To establish its defense, GEICO ordered the IME and the district court granted that request. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded GEICO’s conduct had to be evaluated based on the evidence before it when it made its coverage decision and that, therefore, GEICO was not entitled to create new evidence in order to try to support its earlier coverage decision. The Court also concluded the district court abused its discretion when it ordered Schultz to undergo an IME over three years after the original accident that precipitated this case and a year and a half after GEICO had made the coverage decision at issue. View "Schultz v. GEICO Casualty Company" on Justia Law