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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

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Steve Taylor unwittingly invested millions of dollars in what proved to be a massive Ponzi scheme. Before the scheme’s collapse, Taylor fortuitously withdrew his entire investment, plus nearly half a million dollars in profit. After the Ponzi scheme’s collapse, a court-appointed receiver brought what is commonly referred to as an “actual fraud” claim under the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (“CUFTA”) section 38-8-105(1)(a), C.R.S. (2018), to claw back Taylor’s profits. As an innocent investor, Taylor argued he should be allowed to keep the money, contending (in the words of a statutory affirmative defense) that he provided “reasonably equivalent value” in exchange for his profits. A division of the court of appeals concluded that Taylor was not precluded as a matter of law from keeping some of the profit, because he may have provided reasonably equivalent value in the form of the time value of his investment. The receiver appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Taylor could not keep the profit exceeding his initial investment based on the time value of money: under CUFTA, an innocent investor who profited from his investment in an equity-type Ponzi scheme, lacking any right to a return on investment, does not provide reasonably equivalent value based simply on the time value of his investment. View "Lewis v. Taylor" on Justia Law

Posted in: White Collar Crime

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This quiet title action called on the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether the owner of a garage condominium unit could validly subdivide that unit under section 38-33.3-213, C.R.S. (2018) of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (“CCIOA”) by merely painting or marking lines on the garage wall, and thereafter separately convey the spaces thus marked as individual condominium parking units. Petitioner Perfect Place, LLC (“Perfect Place”) claimed ownership of three parking spaces (spaces “C, D, and E”) in a mixed-use residential and commercial building. Respondent R. Parker Semler contended he owned spaces C and D. The dimensions of these parking spaces were not marked or otherwise discernible from the condominium declaration or accompanying map. Quail Street Company (“Quail Street”) obtained a majority of the building’s condominium units, including the Garage Unit, from the original owner. Quail Street’s manager and sole shareholder, John Watson, later physically marked the boundaries of spaces C, D, and E with paint or tape, purportedly subdividing the Garage Unit into three individual units that could be separately conveyed. However, there was no evidence that Watson ever recorded any amendment to the declaration reflecting the subdivision of the Garage Unit, as required by section 38-33.3-213 of CCIOA. Watson later transferred his interests in spaces C and D to different buyers; those buyers later transferred their interests to others, including Semler. In June 2013, Perfect Place filed a quiet title action, asserting superior title to spaces C, D, and E based on a quitclaim deed it obtained from Watson in 2011 (the “2011 Quitclaim Deed”) that purportedly conveyed the Garage Unit as a single, undivided condominium unit. Although the individual spaces C, D, and E had been conveyed to other owners, Perfect Place contended that these conveyances were invalid because Watson had never validly subdivided the Garage Unit. Perfect Place thus claimed title to all three parking spaces, contending that the quitclaim deed it obtained from Watson was the only valid conveyance of the Garage Unit. Semler claimed superior title to spaces C and D based on deeds that conveyed these spaces to him as individual units. He further argued that Perfect Place obtained the quitclaim deed from Watson through fraudulent misrepresentations. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that the Garage Unit was properly subdivided and that Semler owned spaces C and D. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded Watson did not validly subdivide the Garage Unity; and the court of appeals erred in concluding the 2011 Quitclaim Deed was void for fraud in the factum. View "Perfect Place v. Semler" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Albert Johnson sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing jury verdicts in his favor on personal injury claims against Ryan Schonlaw and VCG Restaurants of Denver, Inc. At the close of the case, the district court overruled the objections of Schonlaw and VCG to its announced decision to allow the alternate to deliberate to verdict with the other jurors. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in allowing an alternate juror to participate in jury deliberations over the objection of a party, and that the error gave rise to a presumption of prejudice, which remained unrebutted by Johnson, and therefore required reversal. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the error in this case did not affect the substantial rights of either Schonlaw or VCG, and it should have been disregarded as harmless, as required by C.R.C.P. 61. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Schonlaw" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Dustin James sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for possession of methamphetamine. Upon realizing that it had failed to discharge the alternate juror before the jury retired to deliberate, the district court recalled and dismissed the alternate; instructed the jury to continue on with deliberations uninfluenced by anything the alternate may have said or done; and denied the defense motion for dismissal or mistrial. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court’s error in allowing the alternate juror to retire with the jury and the juror’s presence for part of the deliberations were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and after rejecting James’s other assignments of error, affirmed his conviction. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the evidence supporting the defendant’s guilt of the lesser offense of possession, the only offense of which he was convicted, was overwhelming and was in fact never seriously challenged, the district court’s failure to recall the alternate for approximately ten minutes amounted, under the facts of this case, to harmless error. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "James v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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A jury found petitioner Matthew Zoll guilty of second degree assault on a peace officer, criminal impersonation, and two counts of resisting arrest. The trial court adjudicated Zoll a habitual criminal and sentenced him to eighteen years in the Department of Corrections. Zoll appealed, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed his convictions in a unanimous, unpublished opinion. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) the proper remedy when an appellate court concludes that the trial court incorrectly failed to disclose certain documents from a responding officer’s personnel file; and (2) whether replaying a 911 recording for the jury in the courtroom during deliberations is a critical stage of the proceeding requiring the defendant’s presence. After review, the Supreme Court held found court of appeals erred in assessing whether the nondisclosure of documents in a responding officer’s personnel file affected the outcome of the trial: the court of appeals should have remanded the case for the trial court to disclose the improperly withheld documents to the parties and for petitioner to demonstrate a reasonable probability that had the documents been disclosed to him prior to trial, the result of the proceeding might have been different. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that even if playing the 911 recording during jury deliberations could have been deemed a critical stage of the proceedings, petitioner's absence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the Court declined to address whether the appellate court correctly decided whether petitioner's absence did not occur during a critical stage. Accordingly, the Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded with instructions to return this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Zoll v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The State brought this interlocutory appeal seeking review of a trial court’s order suppressing evidence of two laser-sight rifles seized during a warrantless search of defendant Michael Pappan’s residence. Around 6:40 in the evening, an individual called 911 to report that he observed a man in the green house directly across the street pointing a laser-sight rifle at him. Apparently scared for his safety, after requesting assistance, the 911 caller left his residence in his car and parked nearby. Police arrived to investigate and speak to the residents of the house from which the laser-sight was witnessed; officers asked Pappan to come out of the house to speak with them on the porch of the house. Because he disregarded an officer's commands while on the porch, he was placed in handcuffs and detained. Concerned for their safety, the officers “cleared” the house for other occupants. They made a peaceable entry into the house, albeit with their guns drawn. Inside, in an upstairs room, they saw in plain view and collected two laser-sight rifles. Pappan was subsequently charged with felony menacing, reckless endangerment, and disorderly conduct. Following a pretrial hearing, the trial court granted Pappan’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the search of his home, finding that “it would have been better practice for the police to obtain a search warrant.” The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order, finding the officers’ warrantless search was justified by exigent circumstances. More specifically, the Court concluded: (1) the officers had an objectively reasonable basis to believe there was an immediate need to protect their lives or safety; and (2) the manner and scope of the search was reasonable. Furthermore, the Court held the warrantless seizure of the laser-sight rifles was justified by the plain view doctrine. View "Colorado v. Pappan" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this matter was the issue of whether an insured was entitled to collect prejudgment interest when he settles an uninsured motorist claim (“UM claim”) with his insurer in lieu of filing a lawsuit and proceeding to judgment. The Court held that under the plain language of the prejudgment interest statute, 13-21-101, C.R.S (2017), an insured is entitled to prejudgment interest only after: (1) an action is brought; (2) the plaintiff claims damages and interest in the complaint; (3) there is a finding of damages by a jury or court; and (4) judgment is entered. Because the plaintiff in this case did not meet all of these conditions, he was not entitled to prejudgment interest. View "Munoz v. Am. Fam. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2011, Defendants Mitchell Davis, Samuel Stimson, Peter Stimson, and Christopher Torres threw a party at a house they were renting in Boulder to celebrate one defendant’s birthday and another’s college graduation. They invited a number of people, and information about the party was posted on social media. Between 20 and 120 guests attended at various points throughout the evening. Not all who came to the party had been specifically invited by the defendants. Some heard about it from other party-goers. Some guests may have brought their own alcohol, but alcohol was provided by the party hosts as well. Plaintiff Jared Prezkurat and Hank Sieck went to the party that night with Victor Mejia. Mejia had heard about the party through a friend, Robert Fix, who knew the defendants and helped plan the party. Sieck was twenty-years old. None of the defendants knew Sieck before that night. Sieck drank both beer and hard alcohol at the party. Around 2 a.m., Sieck, Mejia, and Przekurat left the party in Przekurat’s car. Sieck drove, at times going more than one-hundred miles per hour. He lost control of the car and drove into a ditch, rolling the car several times. Przekurat was thrown from the vehicle and suffered severe, life-altering injuries. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether Colorado’s dram-shop liability statute required a social host who provided a place to drink alcohol have actual knowledge that a specific guest was underage to be held liable for any damage or injury caused by that underage guest. Concluding that the plain language of the statute was unambiguous, the Supreme Court held that it did: a social host have actual knowledge of an underage guest’s age in order to be liable for injury or damages resulting from that guest’s intoxication. View "Przekurat v. Torres" on Justia Law