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Prosecutors charged respondent Edward DeGreat with attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, and aggravated robbery arising out of an incident in which DeGreat did not pay his taxi fare after an altercation with a taxi driver. According to DeGreat, he initially intended to pay the fare but then realized that he was a few dollars short and offered to go into his apartment to retrieve the rest of the money. DeGreat claims that the driver then attacked him, the two began fighting, and when DeGreat believed he saw the driver brandish a weapon, he stabbed the driver in self-defense. Thereafter, the driver fled and DeGreat left the scene. The issue this case presented was whether the court of appeals erred in concluding the Colorado statutory right to self-defense could apply to justify a defendant’s robbery of taxi services. On these facts, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the appellate court correctly determined that DeGreat was entitled to a self-defense instruction as to the aggravated robbery charge, although the Court’s reasoning differed from that on which the appellate court relied. In the Supreme Court’s view, DeGreat presented some credible evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the robbery of services that DeGreat allegedly committed was committed in self-defense. View "Colorado v. DeGreat" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the trial court erred in ruling that state troopers lacked probable cause to search defendant’s car when they placed Mason, a narcotics-detecting dog, inside to sniff around. The Court held that given the totality of the circumstances, including Mason’s alert to the odor of narcotics while sniffing the exterior of the defendant’s car, provided the troopers with probable cause to search the car. “The fact that Mason’s alert was not a final indication did not render it irrelevant to the troopers’ probable cause determination.” The trial court’s order suppressing evidence collected by the troopers during a subsequent hand search of the car was reversed. View "Colorado v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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In 2008, a juvenile probation officer swabbed the cheek of Petitioner Ismael Casillas, then a juvenile, to collect a DNA sample. The probation officer’s collection of Casillas’s DNA violated C.R.S. 19-2-925.6(1) because Casillas had been granted a one-year deferred adjudication and he was not otherwise required under the statute to submit a DNA sample. His genetic markers were nevertheless uploaded to the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Several months after Casillas successfully completed the terms of his deferred adjudication and his juvenile case had been dismissed, law enforcement investigators matched DNA evidence recovered from a stolen vehicle with the sample in the CODIS database taken from Casillas during his juvenile deferred adjudication. As a result of the DNA match, Casillas was identified and charged in connection with a carjacking. Before trial, Casillas moved to suppress all evidence derived from the DNA match, arguing that evidence derived from the unauthorized cheek swab should be excluded as the fruits of an unlawful search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury later convicted Casillas of criminal mischief. The Colorado Supreme Court granted Casillas’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review whether the exclusionary rule required suppression of the evidence derived from the juvenile probation officer’s unauthorized collection of Casillas’s DNA in this case. The Court concluded that it did, and accordingly, reversed and remanded this case with instructions to vacate Casillas’s conviction. View "Casillas v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Francis Ybarra filed suit against the law firm of Greenberg & Sada, alleging that it violated the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by obtaining a judgment against her in the Denver County Court on behalf of State Farm Auto Insurance Company. While represented by Greenberg & Sada, State Farm, as the subrogee of an insured to whom it had paid a claim for damages caused by Ybarra, had taken a default judgment against Ybarra. In her complaint, Ybarra alleged particularly that in doing so Greenberg & Sada violated the Act in a number of ways, including by filing State Farm’s negligence action in Denver rather than Jefferson County, where Ybarra is a resident; by using a false representation or deceptive means in attempting to collect a debt by filing for damages in tort; by providing an address for Ybarra’s residence, where it knew or should have known she did not reside; by making false representations of the character, amount, or legal status of the “debt” by alleging that she owned the car she was driving, which she denied; and by failing to comply with the Act in various other ways. The district court granted Greenberg & Sada’s motion to dismiss, finding that the subrogated tort claim upon which State Farm took a default judgment against Ybarra was not a debt as defined by the Act, and therefore the requirements for collection of a debt imposed by the Act did not apply to Greenberg & Sada. Because a tort, as distinguished from a judgment awarding damages for its commission, does not obligate the tortfeasor to pay damages, the Colorado Supreme Court determined it could not be a transaction giving rise to an obligation to pay money, as required in order to constitute a debt within the contemplation of the Act. And because an insurance contract providing for the subrogation of the rights of a damaged insured is not a transaction giving rise to an obligation of the tortfeasor to pay money, but merely changes the person to whom the tortfeasor’s obligation to pay is owed, it also could not constitute a transaction creating debt within the contemplation of the Act. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "Ybarra v. Greenberg & Sada, P.C." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nicholas Zapata and Jose Murillo entered a convenience store. Murillo darted behind the checkout counter, where he used a knife to attack the clerk, the only other person in the store. Zapata watched the attack from the other side of the counter. The victim quickly managed to subdue Murillo with a hammer that happened to be located behind the counter. With that unexpected turn of events, Zapata fled. The State charged Zapata with attempted first degree murder and other crimes. At trial, the State asserted Zapata orchestrated the attack, painting a picture of a jealous and controlling Zapata, seeking revenge on behalf of his ex-girlfriend, S.M. S.M. worked in the convenience store and had confided in Zapata several weeks earlier that her boss, the store owner and father of the victim, had sexually harassed her. The State argued that Zapata convinced Murillo to do his dirty work in seeking revenge, but at the store, they confused the son for his father. The jury convicted Zapata of attempted second degree murder and first degree assault. Zapata seeks a new trial because the trial court declined to give him access to, or to review in camera, certain competency reports regarding Murillo (who suffered brain damage as a result of the hammer blows). Zapata alleged the reports might have contained exculpatory information about the criminal offenses of which he was convicted. He also argued the trial court committed reversible error when it admitted “res gestae” evidence of Zapata’s earlier threatening behavior toward S.M. A division of the court of appeals affirmed Zapata’s convictions, and finding no reversible error, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. View "Zapata v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Alexander Clark brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the estate of his late pain management specialist, Dr. Daniel Brookoff. Clark claimed Dr. Brookoff negligently prescribed a prolonged course of drugs to alleviate Clark’s chronic pain and that Dr. Brookoff did not adequately inform his patient (then a minor) of the risks associated with the drug. Clark claimed that his consumption of the drug caused neurological and urological damage. Prior to trial, Clark indicated that he intended to present testimony about conversations he and his mother had with Dr. Brookoff prior to and during treatment. The Estate responded by filing a motion to exclude such evidence in accordance with Colorado’s Dead Man’s Statute. The trial court agreed that the anticipated testimony was inadmissible. Unable to introduce that testimony, Clark abandoned his informed consent claim, and the case proceeded to trial on his negligence claim. After judgment was entered in favor of the Estate, Clark appealed the order prohibiting him or his mother from testifying about their conversations with Dr. Brookoff. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s decision to bar this testimony and remanded the case for a new trial on Clark’s informed consent claim. In so doing, the appellate division relied on case law predating the 2002 and 2013 amendments to the Dead Man’s Statute to conclude that, despite its current language, the statute was not applicable “in any civil action” but only when the outcome of a proceeding will increase or diminish an estate. Because Dr. Brookoff had an insurance policy, the court of appeals reasoned that any liability would be covered by insurance and thus would not diminish his estate. The court therefore declined to apply the Dead Man’s Statute. Following denial of its petition for rehearing, the Estate petitioned for certiorari. The Colorado Supreme Court held the Dead Man’s Statute was applicable “in all civil actions.” Because the statute applied irrespective of the potential impact of a judgment on an estate, the Court also held the existence of insurance coverage was not a factor militating for or against the applicability of the Dead Man’s Statute. View "Estate of Daniel Brookoff, M.D., v. Clark" on Justia Law

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R. Parker Semler, a member of a condominium association, filed a breach-of- contract claim against the law firm that employed the association’s attorney. He alleged the attorney had a contract with the association’s president not to represent one association member against another. He also alleged that the attorney had, on behalf of other association members he was representing, acquired a deed conveying ownership of parking spaces over which Semler also claimed ownership, thereby breaching the contract and damaging Semler. The trial court dismissed the claim for lack of standing. A division of the court of appeals reversed, concluding that Semler had sufficiently alleged a breach-of-contract claim as a third-party beneficiary, and concluding that the strict privity rule, which “precludes attorney liability to non-clients absent fraud, malicious conduct, or negligent misrepresentation” did not bar Semler’s claim. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the strict privity rule barred Semler's breach-of-contract claim, and as such, he lacked standing to assert it. View "Bewley v. Semler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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In 2008, a juvenile probation officer swabbed the cheek of Petitioner Ismael Casillas, then a juvenile, to collect a DNA sample. Colorado law required certain juvenile offenders to submit to collection of their DNA for testing. However, this requirement “shall not apply to an offender granted a deferred adjudication, unless otherwise required to submit to a sample pursuant to [C.R.S. section 19-2-925.6 (2018)] or unless the deferred adjudication is revoked and a sentence is imposed.” The probation officer’s collection of Casillas’s DNA violated section 19-2-925.6(1) because Casillas had been granted a one-year deferred adjudication and he was not otherwise required under the statute to submit a DNA sample. His genetic markers were nevertheless uploaded to the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Several months after Casillas successfully completed the terms of his deferred adjudication and his juvenile case had been dismissed, law enforcement investigators matched DNA evidence recovered from a stolen vehicle with the sample in the CODIS database taken from Casillas during his juvenile deferred adjudication. As a result of the DNA match, Casillas was identified and charged in connection with a carjacking. Before trial, Casillas moved to suppress all evidence derived from the DNA match, arguing that evidence derived from the unauthorized cheek swab should be excluded as the fruits of an unlawful search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury later convicted Casillas of criminal mischief. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the exclusionary rule required suppression of the evidence stemming from the probation officer’s unauthorized collection of DNA. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded this case with instructions to vacate Casillas’ conviction. View "Casillas v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Based on acts that defendant Curtis Brooks committed when he was fifteen years old, prosecutors charged him as an adult with felony murder and other crimes. After a jury convicted Brooks on multiple counts, including the felony murder charge, the trial court imposed a mandatory life without the possibility of parole ("LWOP") sentence in accordance with Colorado’s then-applicable sentencing statutes. This case presented a question of whether Colorado’s recently enacted sentencing scheme for juvenile offenders who received unconstitutional mandatory sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) violates the Special Legislation Clause of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that it did not. View "Colorado v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Jairo Perez was shot and killed in his garage. A witness later positively identified defendant Daniel Gutierrez as the murderer in a police photo array. Gutierrez filed several motions that required pretrial evidentiary hearings. Relevant here, he sought to suppress the statements he made to the arresting officer on the basis of an alleged Miranda violation. The court scheduled a hearing on that motion in February 2017, but ended up continuing it three times to accommodate witness availability. At a hearing in early June where the officer was not present but other witnesses testified, the People stated that he would be back and prepared to testify in July. The officer was not present at the July hearing because of an on-the-job shoulder injury that required surgery and left him "not cleared for duty." The People asked for another continuance to which the trial court granted over defendant's objection. When rescheduling the hearing, the court noted that the trial date could not be moved because the court had no available dates between the scheduled trial time in August and the speedy trial deadline in September. The court closed the July 7 hearing by again cautioning the People that if the officer was not present, the People would be unable to meet their burden in contesting the motion to suppress. The officer was not at the next hearing; he was out of state recuperating from surgery. The People offered to have the officer testify as a civilian, and remotely via Skype or similar service. The trial court denied the People's request. The People then filed an interlocutory appeal. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the order suppressing defendant's statements. View "Colorado v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law