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The State of Colorado charged James Garner for a shooting at a bar that injured three brothers. The State’s case depended on the brothers’ live identifications of Garner at trial, almost three years later. None of them could identify Garner in a photo array at the police station. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, in the circumstances of this case, Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 199 (1972) required the trial court to assess the reliability of the brothers’ first-time in-court identifications before allowing them in front of the jury. The Colorado Court held that where an in-court identification is not preceded by an impermissibly suggestive pretrial identification procedure arranged by law enforcement, and where nothing beyond the inherent suggestiveness of the ordinary courtroom setting made the in-court identification itself constitutionally suspect, due process did not require the trial court to assess the identification for reliability under Biggers. Because Garner alleged no impropriety regarding the pretrial photographic arrays, and the record revealed nothing unusually suggestive about the circumstances of the brothers’ in-court identifications, the in-court identifications did not violate due process. Furthermore, the Court held Garner’s evidentiary arguments were unpreserved and that the trial court’s admission of the identifications was not plain error under CRE 403, 602, or 701. View "Garner v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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As part of an extensive narcotics investigation that spanned almost all of 2017, law enforcement obtained arrest warrants for defendant Amber Threlkel and her significant other, Robert Allen, based on their alleged distribution of controlled substances. On the evening of December 7, 2017, deputies observed a truck owned by Allen leave the residence he shared with Threlkel; they suspected that Allen and Threlkel were both in the truck. As the deputies attempted to perform a traffic stop, the truck evaded them, causing them to momentarily lose sight of it. But they eventually spotted the truck again, stopped it, and apprehended the driver, Allen, within a mile of the home. Although there was no passenger in the truck, Threlkel was located a couple of hundred yards from it, attempting to hitch a ride. It was a frigid and snowy night, the roads were slippery, and there was no easy access on foot between the home and the location of the stop. A deputy who recognized Threlkel detained her. Threlkel was later arrested pursuant to her outstanding warrant. Threlkel was charged with multiple drug-related offenses. Before trial, she filed several motions to suppress. The trial court granted one of them, finding that the deputies lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop her. The court thus suppressed all evidence and observations derived from Threlkel’s stop, specifically the deputies’ observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel. Practically speaking, the prosecution would not have been allowed to mention at trial that Threlkel was even at the location where she was detained. Upon the State’s request for review, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding the deputies had reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain Threlkel. “[E]ven if the trial court’s contrary ruling had been correct, there is no authority to suppress the deputies’ observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel.” The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Threlkel" on Justia Law

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In a judicial disciplinary proceeding, the Colorado Supreme Court considered the exceptions of now-former Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Laurie Booras to the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline’s (the “Commission’s”) recommendation that Judge Booras be removed from office and that she be ordered to pay the costs incurred by the Commission in this matter. The Commission’s recommendation was based on the factual findings and conclusions of law set forth in the December 12, 2018 Report of the Special Masters in this case. That report concluded that Judge Booras had violated Canon 1, Rule 1.2, Canon 3, Rule 3.1, and Canon 3, Rule 3.5 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct by (1) disclosing confidential information belonging to the court of appeals (namely, the vote of a court of appeals division on a case prior to the issuance of the decision in that case) to an intimate, non-spousal partner and (2) using inappropriate racial epithets in communications with that intimate partner, including a racially derogatory reference to a court of appeals colleague. Judge Booras filed exceptions to the Commission’s recommendation, contending that her communications with her then-intimate partner were protected by the First Amendment and that the recommendation that she be removed from office was too severe under the circumstances of this case. In addition, by letter dated January 2, 2019, Judge Booras advised the Chief Justice that she was resigning her position as a Colorado Court of Appeals Judge, effective as of the close of business on January 31, 2019, although no party contended Judge Booras’s resignation rendered this matter moot. Having now considered the record and the briefs of the parties, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission properly found Judge Booras’s communications with her then-intimate partner were not protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, given Judge Booras’ resignation, which she tendered and which became effective after the Commission made its recommendation, the Court did not decide whether Judge Booras’s removal from office was an appropriate sanction. Rather, the Court concluded the appropriate sanction in this case was acceptance of Judge Booras’s resignation, the imposition of a public censure, and an order requiring Judge Booras to pay the Commission’s costs in this matter. View "In the Matter of Laurie A. Booras" on Justia Law

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After observing Crystal Johnson conduct an apparent drug transaction, police officers followed her vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. Officers searched Johnson’s vehicle and seized methamphetamine and a digital scale. Her four-year-old daughter was in the car at the time. Johnson was then arrested and charged with possession of more than two grams of methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia, and child abuse. During jury selection, the court read several instructions, which it framed as six “bedrock” principles of the American criminal justice system. One of those instructions was the pattern instruction for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, the court stated that a reasonable doubt is “a doubt that is not vague, speculative, or imaginary, but such a doubt as would cause reasonable people to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves.” Then, the court elaborated on what the phrase “hesitate to act” meant. In this appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether the court of appeals erred when it held that the trial court’s extraneous jury instruction concerning reasonable doubt did not unconstitutionally lower the prosecution’s burden of proof. While the Supreme Court considered the trial court’s extraneous “hesitate to act” instruction as improper, there was not a reasonable likelihood that it prejudiced the defendant. “The instruction was nonsensical, given only once during voir dire, not referenced by either party at any time, and flanked by the proper instruction regarding the burden of proof at the beginning and end of the trial.” Therefore, the Court held the instruction did not lower the prosecution’s burden of proof in violation of due process, and affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Johnson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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On the day her trial was set to begin, April Travis told the court that she was hoping she could have more time “to look for and pay for an attorney.” The trial court denied the request to continue the case, noting that the trial had previously been continued and Travis was already being represented by a public defender. Travis appealed that decision, arguing that her request to look for a lawyer was an invocation of her Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel of her choice. A division of the court of appeals agreed, concluding that because Travis had invoked that right, the trial court was required to make a record that it had reviewed each of the factors elaborated in Colorado v. Brown, 322 P.3d 214. The Colorado Supreme Court found that the right to be represented by counsel of the defendant’s choosing was not implicated by a bare request to “look for and pay for” a new lawyer. The trial court was therefore not obligated to review the Brown factors, and its decision to deny Travis’s trial-day continuance request was not an abuse of discretion. View "Colorado v. Travis" on Justia Law

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The question presented by this appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court was a 1909 water rights decree adjudicated an enforceable water right for the Campbell Ditch in nine springs. Yamasaki Ring, LLC, which owned some of the Campbell Ditch’s water rights, asked the Court to answer the question in the affirmative. The Dills and the Pearces, who owned properties where water from the springs had been put to beneficial use since as early as 1903, urged the Court to answer the question in the negative. In two orders issued in 2016, the water court agreed with the Dills/Pearces and determined that the 1909 decree did not adjudicate a water right in the springs’ water because it did not set forth “the necessary information” for adjudication, including an appropriation date, a priority number, or quantification details. Therefore, the water court concluded the Campbell Ditch’s unquantifiable entitlement to “receive and conduct water” from the springs could not be enforced or administered against any adjudicated water rights. The Supreme Court agreed and therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment. View "Concerning the Application for Water Rights of Donald E. Dill, Cathie G. Dill, Jerry R. Pearce, and Frances M. Pearce in Fremont County" on Justia Law

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Centennial Water and Sanitation District appealed a water court order dismissing its objection to the Well Augmentation Subdistrict’s ("WAS") proposal to use additional sources of replacement water for its previously decreed augmentation plan. Centennial had asserted that WAS failed to comply with the notice requirements of the decree itself and that this failure amounted to a per se injury, for which it was entitled to relief without any further showing of operational effect. The water court heard Centennial’s motion objecting to WAS’s proposed addition of new sources of replacement water and, without requiring WAS to present evidence, found that Centennial failed to establish prima facie facts of WAS’s inability to deliver augmentation water in quantity or time to prevent injury to other water users. Referencing C.R.C.P. 41 as the appropriate procedural vehicle, the water court dismissed Centennial’s objection. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the water court: the water court’s jurisdiction was statutorily limited to preventing or curing injury to other water users, and the evidence presented by Centennial failed to establish that WAS would be unable, under the conditions imposed by the Engineer for approval of the additional sources of replacement water, to deliver augmentation water sufficient to prevent injury to other water users. View "Well Augmentation Subdist. v. Centennial Water & Sanitation Dist." on Justia Law

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A district court denied Elizabeth Tafoya a preliminary hearing. Tafoya was accused of a class four felony, DUI (fourth or subsequent offense). She requested a preliminary hearing on that charge, but the district court found the DUI count was substantively a misdemeanor that could only be elevated to felony by a sentence enhancer--here, as a fourth or subsequent offense. The Colorado Supreme Court determined, however, under the plain language of the applicable statute, Tafoya was entitled to a preliminary hearing, and the district court erred in denying her request. View "In re Colorado v. Tafoya" on Justia Law

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Brooks Tower was comprised of 566 residential units, 13 commercial units, and 297 associated garage units. Plaintiff Anthony Accetta and his wife owned a condominium in the Tower. All Brooks Tower unit owners are governed by a Declaration, which allocated condominium fees among the unit owners based on the “value” of each unit. As pertinent here, this value (1) “may or may not be the list price of the Unit as quoted to prospective third-party purchasers” as of the date of the declaration; (2) was determined “in Declarant’s sole and arbitrary discretion”; (3) was to be used for the purpose of computing the unit owners’ percentage interests in Brooks Tower’s common elements; and (4) “shall be final and conclusive.” Accetta claimed his unit was allocated association dues that were over fifty percent higher than the dues allocated to comparable units, and that this misallocation resulted in hundreds of dollars in monthly overcharges. Accordingly, he filed the underlying action against the Brooks Towers Residences Condominium Association, Inc. seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment invalidating the portion of the Declaration allowing the Declarant to allocate values in its “sole and arbitrary discretion,” rather than by way of a formula that allocates percentage ownership consistently among comparable units. The district court ordered plaintiff to join the approximately 500 individual unit owners in Brooks Tower as indispensable parties to his suit, rather than proceeding solely against the Association. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the Association could adequately represent the interests of the absent unit owners for the purposes of Accetta's declaratory judgment claim in this case, and according, he needed not to join those owners as parties. The Court reversed the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Accetta v. Brooks Towers" on Justia Law

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Police witnessed a car driven by Respondent Simon Kubuugu exit a parking lot, pull into traffic, and make a U-turn that forced other drivers to swerve to avoid hitting him. Kubuugu drive slowly past the police car, and parked in an apartment complex. Kubuugu's seven-year-old child was in the car. The officer went over to Kubuugu’s car to make contact with him, and Kubuugu reacted by backing his car over a bush, apparently in an attempt to leave the apartment complex. That attempt failed because the exit was blocked by a second police car that had responded to a call for assistance. Kubuugu then got out of his car and quickly walked away with a beer can in his hand, leaving his child in the car. Eventually, Kubuugu was stopped. Another deputy searched Kubuugu’s car and found two or three empty beer cans. The record did not reflect a breath or blood alcohol test or any sobriety test was performed, but Kubuugu was arrested and charged with criminal impersonation, child abuse, driving under restraint, reckless driving, and driving under the influence. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed the officer to testify as a lay witness about his ability to detect the smell of metabolized alcohol and, based on that metabolized odor, opine on how much alcohol the defendant ingested and when he did so. The Court found that while there was properly admitted evidence suggesting that Kubuugu was drinking and driving, such as his erratic driving, the beer can in his hand, and the empty beer cans in his car, there was also evidence to suggests that Kubuugu was not intoxicated, such as his speech not being slurred and that his walking did not indicate any alcohol impairment. Ultimately, the Court concluded the trial court improperly admitted the officer's testimony as expert testimony. Because that testimony was the only evidence that specifically refuted Kubuugu’s testimony that he began drinking after he parked his car in the apartment complex, the error was not harmless. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals which affirmed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Kubuugu" on Justia Law