Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Michael Struckmeyer was convicted by jury of class 3 felony child abuse (knowingly or recklessly), and class 4 child abuse (criminal negligence). A division of the court of appeals concluded that the verdicts were logically and legally inconsistent and could not be sustained because the class 3 felony child abuse conviction required the jury to determine that Struckmeyer was aware of the risk of serious bodily injury to the child victim, while the class 4 felony child abuse conviction required the jury to find that Struckmeyer was unaware of the risk of serious bodily injury to the child victim. Because the division believed that the trial court had accepted mutually exclusive guilty verdicts, it found plain error, reversed the judgment of conviction, and remanded for a new trial. The State appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. Following Colorado v. Rigsby, 471 P.3d 1068, the guilty verdict for child abuse (knowingly or recklessly) and the guilty verdict for child abuse (criminal negligence), even if logically inconsistent, are not legally inconsistent. "By proving that Struckmeyer acted knowingly or recklessly, the People necessarily established that he acted with criminal negligence. It follows that by returning a guilty verdict on child abuse (knowingly or recklessly), the jury, as a matter of law, necessarily found that he acted with criminal negligence. Therefore, even if there is a logical inconsistency between acting knowingly and acting with criminal negligence, and between acting recklessly and acting with criminal negligence, no legal inconsistency exists in either scenario based on section 18-1-503(3) [C.R.S. 2019]. After all, inasmuch as criminal negligence is subsumed within knowingly and within recklessly, acting with criminal negligence cannot be legally inconsistent with acting knowingly or acting recklessly. And guilty verdicts that are legally consistent are not mutually exclusive and do not require a new trial." View "Colorado v. Struckmeyer" on Justia Law

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Brandon Jackson was convicted, as a complicitor, of both first degree murder and attempted first degree murder after his codefendant aimed at, shot, and killed Y.M. under the mistaken belief that Y.M. was E.O. The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the federal and state constitutions dictated that Jackson could not stand convicted of both first degree murder and attempted first degree murder because elements of attempted first degree murder were a subset of the elements of first degree murder, and this particular attempted first degree murder was not factually distinct from this particular first degree murder. Contrary to the State's assertion, the shooter did not attempt to kill E.O. when he aimed at and shot Y.M. Rather, in aiming at and shooting Y.M., the shooter intended and attempted to kill Y.M., the same person he actually killed. "That the shooter wanted to kill E.O. and mistakenly believed Y.M. was E.O. is of no moment." Therefore, Jackson’s convictions for first degree murder and attempted first degree murder were based on the same criminal conduct and relate to the same victim (Y.M.). The Court held the trial court plainly erred in entering convictions and imposing sentences for both offenses at issue here. The matter was remanded to the trial court to vacate Jackson's conviction and sentence for attempted first degree murder. View "Colorado v. Jackson" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the owners of a 13,000-acre tract of land known as 70 Ranch successfully petitioned to include their tract in a special district. After 70 Ranch was incorporated into the district, the district began taxing the leaseholders of subsurface mineral rights, Bill Barrett Corporation, Bonanza Creek Energy, Inc., and Noble Energy, Inc. for the oil and gas they produced at wellheads located on 70 Ranch. The Lessees, however, objected to being taxed, arguing the mineral interests they leased could not be included in the special district because neither they nor the owners of the mineral estates consented to inclusion, which they asserted was required by section 32-1-401(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), of the Special District Act. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that section 401(1)(a) permitted the inclusion of real property covered by the statute into a special taxing district when (1) the inclusion occurred without notice to or consent by the property’s owners and (2) that property was not capable of being served by the district. The Court answered "no," however, 32-1-401(1)(a) required the assent of all of the surface property owners to an inclusion under that provision, and inclusion was only appropriate if the surface property could be served by the district. "Section 32-1-401(1)(a) does not require assent from owners of subsurface mineral estates because those mineral estates, while they are real property, are not territory. Thus, Lessees’ consent was not required for the inclusion of 70 Ranch in the special district." The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals on alternate grounds. View "Barrett Corp. v. Lembke" on Justia Law

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Derek Rigsby was charged with three counts of second degree assault for smashing a glass into someone’s face during a bar fight. The three charges represented alternative methods of committing the same crime. The jury found Rigsby guilty as charged on the first two counts: (1) second degree assault (acting with intent to cause bodily injury and causing serious bodily injury); and (2) second degree assault (acting recklessly and causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon). On the third count, second degree assault (acting with intent to cause bodily injury and causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon), the jury returned a guilty verdict on the lesser included offense of third degree assault (acting with criminal negligence and causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon), a misdemeanor; in so doing, the jury effectively acquitted Rigsby of the charged offense on that count. Concluding that the guilty verdicts for second degree assault, and the guilty verdict for third degree assault, were mutually exclusive, a division of the Colorado court of appeals reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded for a new trial. On appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, the state conceded the judgment of conviction entered by the trial court was defective, but argued the error was one of multiplicity, not mutually exclusive verdicts, and that it should have been corrected by merging the three guilty verdicts. To this, the Supreme Court agreed. The matter was remanded to the court of appeals with instructions to return the case to the trial court to merge all of the convictions into a single conviction for second degree assault and to leave in place only one sentence (one of the two concurrent five-year prison sentences imposed). View "Colorado v. Rigsby" on Justia Law

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After the victim’s murder in this case, his sister-in-law discovered a peculiar microcassette among his belongings. On that cassette was a recording of a potentially incriminating voicemail message. A police detective later testified at trial that the message featured a voice like that of defendant Daniel Gonzales, whom the detective had interviewed while investigating the murder. Over Gonzales’s objection, the court admitted the recorded message into evidence at Gonzales’s trial. The detective was not present when the recorded statements were made, and neither he nor anyone else testified about the reliability of the recording process. Even so, after considering the recording and other evidence, a jury found Gonzales guilty of, among other things, first degree murder. After review of Gonzales' arguments on appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court held that in the absence of evidence suggesting that a proffered voice recording has been altered or fabricated, a proponent may authenticate a recording by presenting evidence sufficient to support a finding that it is what the proponent claims. "Once this prima facie burden is met, authenticity becomes a question for the factfinder, in this instance, the jury." The Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the voicemail, and therefore affirmed the court of appeals. View "Gonzales v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Steven Thompson was a real estate developer and sole member and manager of SGD Timber Canyon, LLC (“Timber Canyon”), a real estate company that held an interest in a number of undeveloped lots in Castle Rock, Colorado. To buy those properties, Timber Canyon initially obtained a $11.9 million loan from Flagstar Bank. The properties went into foreclosure in October 2009. In February 2010, Timber Canyon filed for bankruptcy; Flagstar Bank sought relief from the automatic stay to allow it to proceed with the foreclosure. In the spring of 2010, Thompson met John Witt (“John”), who had worked in the construction industry in Denver but wanted to become a real estate developer. John eventually began working with Thompson and signed a letter of intent indicating that John would eventually obtain an ownership interest in Thompson’s company. Shortly thereafter, and without disclosing the fact that the Timber Ridge properties were in foreclosure and subject to a forbearance agreement, Thompson obtained an “investment” from John’s parents, Thomas and Debra Witt (“the Witts”). Ultimately, the Witts agreed to increase their initial $400,000 investment to $2.4 million. At no point did Thompson disclose to the Witts that Timber Canyon's properties were already highly leveraged; the company was in bankruptcy, the properties were in foreclosure, and the properties had been valued at only $6.75 million (an amount significantly less than the $31 million value that Thompson had represented to the Witts during negotiations). When the Witts’ note ultimately came due in the winter of 2011, Thompson defaulted. The Witts filed a civil lawsuit against him and contacted law enforcement. Thereafter, the State charged Thompson with two counts of securities fraud and one count of theft. A jury convicted Thompson on all counts, and the court sentenced him to the Department of Corrections for twelve years on each of the securities fraud counts, to be served concurrently, and eighteen years on the theft count, to be served consecutively to the securities fraud counts. As pertinent here, Thompson argued on appeal: (1) because the note at issue was not a security, insufficient evidence supported his securities fraud convictions; (2) the trial court erred by tendering an incorrect jury instruction regarding the meaning of “security”; and (3) his theft conviction had to run concurrently with his securities fraud convictions. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether: (1) the promissory note at issue was a security under the "family resemblance" test; (2) any error in the jury instruction defining “security” was not plain; and (3) consecutive sentences were permissible because different evidence supported defendant Steven Thompson’s securities fraud and theft convictions. Finding the note at issue was indeed a security under Colorado law, and no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed Thompson's convictions. View "Thompson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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On the third day of Gregory Fisher’s trial for five counts of sexual assault on a child, and after the prosecution had presented the majority of its case, the prosecution moved to amend the date range of the charged offenses. The proposed amendment expanded the date range for the charged offenses by approximately six weeks from the original complaint and information. The trial court granted the motion over defense counsel’s objection. The jury ultimately found Fisher guilty on all five counts. On appeal, Fisher contended the amendment prejudiced his right to present his defense. A divided Colorado court of appeals disagreed with this contention and affirmed conviction, holding that the amendment was not one of substance and did not prejudice Fisher's substantial rights. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, holding that while expanding the date range does not automatically prejudice a defendant’s substantial rights, under the totality of the circumstances of this case, the mid-trial amendment here prejudiced Fisher’s substantial right to fully prepare and present his alibi defense. Judgment was reversed, the conviction vacated, and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Fisher v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Defendant Sheila Monroe argued that she stabbed a fellow bus passenger in the neck out of self-defense. She asserted her legal authority to do so without first retreating to a place of no escape. Yet, during the closing arguments of Monroe’s trial, the prosecution repeatedly argued that Monroe didn’t act reasonably in self-defense because she failed to retreat. Although the trial court admonished the jury that Monroe didn’t have a duty to retreat, it instructed the jury that it could consider Monroe’s failure to retreat as relevant to whether she actually believed that she faced an imminent use of unlawful force. The jury found Monroe guilty of first degree assault and attempted first degree murder. Monroe appealed, arguing that because she had no duty to retreat the trial court should not have permitted any argument regarding her failure to do so, even if it was ostensibly directed at undermining the reasonableness of her claim of self- defense. A division of the court of appeals reversed, concluding the prosecution's arguments impermissibly imposed on Monroe a duty to retreat. The matter was remanded for a new trial. The Colorado Supreme Court addressed the question the court of appeals did not address in its opinion: the prosecution could not argue that a defendant acted unreasonably in self-defense because she failed to retreat from an encounter. Thus, the trial court erred by permitting the prosecution’s arguments regarding Monroe’s failure to retreat. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals' judgment on different grounds, reversed Monroe’s judgment of conviction, and remanded this case for a new trial. View "Colorado v. Monroe" on Justia Law

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In this tragic case involving a charge of child abuse resulting in death, the issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the defendant Sandra Archuleta was entitled to a modified unanimity instruction requiring jurors either unanimously agree that she committed the same act or acts underlying the child abuse charge or that she committed all of those acts. The prosecution charged and tried this case on the theory that Archuleta had committed the offense at issue by engaging in a single criminal transaction resulting in the child’s death. In light of the prosecution’s theory, the Supreme Court found no reasonable likelihood that the jurors disagreed on which specific act caused the child’s death, therefore, Archuleta was not entitled to a modified unanimity instruction here. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals judgment to the contrary, and remanded for consideration of Archuleta’s remaining contentions on appeal. View "Archuleta v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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On March 10, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis declared a disaster emergency pursuant to the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Since that time, the Governor relied on his authority under the Act to issue a wide range of executive orders suspending certain statutes, rules, and regulations in an effort to prevent further escalation of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Among these was Executive Order D 2020 065 (“EO 65”), which (1) suspended the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require signature collection to take place in person; and (2) authorized the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email. Petitioners filed this lawsuit against Governor Polis and Secretary of State Jena Griswold, seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of EO65 and a declaratory judgment finding the Order unconstitutional under the Colorado Constitution and unauthorized under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act. After ordering expedited briefing, the district court held a remote hearing via WebEx on May 22. In its May 27 Order, the district court concluded that (1) petitioners had not established the necessary factors outlined in Rathke v. MacFarlane, 648 P.2d 648 (Colo. 1982), to obtain a preliminary injunction; and (2) petitioners had not established an entitlement to declaratory relief under C.R.C.P. 57. The court also found that the petitioners’ claims against the Secretary were not ripe because she had not yet promulgated the temporary rules that EO 65 had authorized. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Article V, section 1(6) of the Colorado Constitution required ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. "That requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, even during a pandemic." Judgment was therefore reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ritchie v. Polis" on Justia Law