Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Before the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Woodcrest Homes was poised to construct a new development. Woodcrest secured only a small parcel, "Parcel C" which was stuck between two larger parcels that were necessary for completion of the project. Over a decade after the failed development, a special metropolitan district controlled by a competitor, Century Communities, sought to condemn Parcel C and finish what Woodcrest started. Woodcrest objected, claiming the entire condemnation proceeding was really a sham designed to benefit Century. Woodcrest contended the condemnation violated both the public use protections of the Colorado Constitution and the statutory prohibition on economic development takings. According to Woodcrest, the purpose of the taking, at the time it occurred, was to satisfy contractual obligations between Century and the Town of Parker. Because the public would not be the beneficiary at the time of the taking, Woodcrest contends that this condemnation violated the Colorado Constitution. Moreover, it argued, the taking effectively transfers the condemned land to Century, which violated section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I), C.R.S. (2018), the state’s anti-economic development takings statute. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, finding that condemnation of Parcel C would benefit the public. And the Court found Colorado’s prohibition on economic development takings had no bearing on the condemnation at issue here: the plain language of section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I) prevented public entities from transferring condemned land to private entities. "But there was no transfer, and the only entity involved was a public one, the special district." View "Carousel Farms v. Woodcrest Homes" on Justia Law

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After being charged with first degree murder as an adult in district court, Brandon Brown exercised his statutory right to request a “reverse transfer” to juvenile court. In doing so, he asked the Colorado Supreme Court to address whether he could temporarily waive privilege as to certain information at the reverse-transfer hearing without suffering a continued waiver at trial. The Court held he could not: nothing in the reverse-transfer statute gave Brown the ability to make such a limited waiver. "And, neither common law scope-of-waiver limitations nor constitutional principles regarding impermissibly burdening rights changes that result. By disclosing otherwise privileged information in open court during a reverse-transfer hearing, Brown would waive privilege as to any such information at trial." View "Colorado v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a court of appeals' judgment reversing respondent Mike Morehead's convictions for possession and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, as well as seven gambling-related charges. The pertinent issue presented to the Colorado Supreme Court was the trial court's denial of defendant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered in his home. The trial court ruled the officers’ initial entry of the home with the permission of the defendant’s former girlfriend was lawful and that the evidence seized in a subsequent search was conducted pursuant to a warrant that was supported by probable cause and was not misleading. By contrast, the intermediate appellate court found that defendant’s former girlfriend lacked either actual or apparent authority to consent to the officers’ initial entry of the defendant’s home, during which they observed gambling machines. It also declined, however, to either entertain arguments on appeal that the evidence seized in the subsequent warranted search was not the fruit of the initial entry or that its seizure at least came within an exception to the exclusionary rule, or to remand for findings concerning those issues, reasoning that the prosecution was barred from raising any such arguments for not having asserted them at any of the numerous suppression hearings. Instead, the appellate court ordered all the evidence seized from the defendant’s residence suppressed, and it reversed his convictions; but in addition, after supplemental briefing, it mandated that the trial court be barred from considering new arguments for admission of that evidence on retrial. The Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in restricting the trial court's discretion to entertain additional evidence or consider additional arguments regarding the seizure of this evidence on retrial. Therefore, that portion of the appellate court's judgment was reversed. View "Colorado v. Morehead" on Justia Law

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Dami Hospitality, LLC (“Dami”) was the owner-operator of a Denver motel that employed between four and ten people at any given time. As an employer of three or more persons, Dami was required by statute to maintain workers’ compensation insurance. Dami allowed its workers’ compensation coverage to lapse on in 2005. Upon receiving notification of the lapse from the Division of Workers’ Compensation (“DWC”), Dami conceded the violation and paid a corresponding settlement in June 2006. Dami again allowed its workers’ compensation coverage to lapse in 2006. From June 2007 to September 2010, Dami carried the proper insurance, but the company’s workers’ compensation coverage again lapsed on September 12, 2010 and went without insurance until July 9, 2014. On February 19, 2014, the DWC discovered that Dami had allowed its workers’ compensation insurance to lapse for these periods of time and issued a notice to Dami regarding this. Dami faxed a copy of workers' compensation insurance for the July 10, 2014 - July 10, 2015 period; Dami offered no such evidence for any other period, nor any explanation for the lapses. Fines accrued for noncompliance, totaling $841,200. The DWC ultimately issued an order upholding the fines. Dami appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (“ICAO”). The ICAO rejected all but Dami’s excessive fines argument. The ICAO remanded the matter to the DWC, directing it to review the constitutionality of the aggregated per diem fines assessed in accordance with the test established by the court of appeals in Associated Business Products v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 126 P.3d 323 (Colo. App. 2005). The ICAO would ultimately affirm the resulting fines, and Dami appealed to the Court of Appeals. The appellate court set aside the fines, assuming, without deciding, the Excessive Fines Clause could be applied to challenge regulatory fees imposed on a corporation. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the proper test to assess the constitutionality of government fines under the Eighth Amendment required an assessment of whether the fine was grossly disproportional to the offense for which it was imposed. The Supreme Court thus reversed the court of appeals’ ruling and remanded to that court for return to the Division of Workers’ Compensation with instructions to, as appropriate and necessary, develop an evidentiary record sufficient to determine whether the $250–$500 fine that a business was required to pay for each day that it was out of compliance with Colorado’s workers’ compensation law is proportional to the harm or risk of harm caused by each day of noncompliance. View "Colo. Dept. of Labor & Emp. Div. of Workers' Comp. v. Dami Hosp." on Justia Law

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The charge at issue arose after a witness spotted someone later identified as petitioner Bob Junior Maestas ringing the doorbell of an elderly neighbor’s home and then walking around the side of the house and attempting to open the gate. The witness called 911, and the police responded. Shortly thereafter, a different neighbor approached one of the officers who had arrived to assist, reporting he had heard someone try to open his front door. When they got to the neighbor’s detached garage, they noticed that the padlock on the door had been broken. The officer investigated and found Maestas hiding behind a couch in the garage. Officers later also discovered the sliding glass door in the back of the elderly neighbor’s house had been opened, despite the fact that she had left it closed the night before. The prosecution charged Maestas with attempted second degree burglary for opening the door of the elderly neighbor’s house and second degree burglary for Maestas’s entry into the garage with the intent to commit therein the crime of obstructing a peace officer. A jury ultimately convicted Maestas of all three charges against him, and he appealed, arguing, as pertinent here, that under the plain language of the burglary statute, the crime of obstructing a peace officer was not sufficient to establish the element of “intent to commit therein a crime against another person or property.” In a split unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed Maestas’s conviction on the burglary count, concluding that although Maestas had properly challenged the sufficiency of the evidence by twice moving for a judgment of acquittal in the trial court, he did not properly preserve the precise argument that he was making on appeal. The majority therefore concluded that the appropriate standard of review was for plain error and reviewed Maestas’s sufficiency claim pursuant to that standard. The minority concluded a plain error analysis of a sufficiency claim like the one at issue lead to unjust results. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded sufficiency of the evidence claims could be raised for the first time on appeal and were not subject to plain error review. Because the division reviewed Maestas’s sufficiency claim for plain error and affirmed the trial court’s ruling without considering the merits of Maestas’s assertion that insufficient evidence supported his conviction for second degree burglary, the Supreme Court reversed the portion of the judgment concerning that count and remanded this case with instructions that the division perform a de novo review of Maestas’s sufficiency claim. View "Maestas v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari review of a court of appeals' decision affirming David McCoy's convictions for two counts of unlawful sexual while engaged in the treatment or examination of a victim for other than bona fide medical purposes (a class four felony). On appeal, McCoy argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. The charges at issue stemmed from McCoy’s interactions with two young men, P.K. and G.M., who met with McCoy believing that they were interviewing and training for possible jobs with him. McCoy subsequently had them come to his apartment for what he represented would be job interviews and initial training. At some point during each of these meetings, McCoy told the young men that he needed to conduct a physical examination of them, allegedly to make sure that they were physically fit and able to do the supposed job. The police became involved in 2009, when P.K. contacted them following his encounter with McCoy. In a split published opinion, the appellate court affirmed, rejecting the State's argument regarding the standard of review, holding that appellate courts review claims of insufficient evidence de novo, even if the defendant did not raise such claims at trial. Proceeding then to interpret section 18-3-404(1)(g), C.R.S. (2018) in light of this standard, the division concluded that the provision unambiguously applied to someone in McCoy’s position because the statutory language did not restrict the provision’s application to medical professionals or those claiming to be medical professionals but rather applied to “any actor.” The appellate court thus concluded that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to sustain McCoy’s convictions. The Colorado Supreme Court initially concluded, as did the majority of the court of appeals, that sufficiency of the evidence claims could be raised for the first time on appeal and were not subject to plain error review. The Court determined 18-3-404(1)(g) was not facially overbroad nor unconstitutionally vague, and that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to support McCoy's convictions. View "McCoy v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Colorado General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 10-191 (SB 191), which significantly amended Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act of 1990 (TECDA) provisions concerning teacher contracts and the transfer process. SB191 eliminated the earlier practice of transferring teachers to schools without the consent of the principal of the recipient school. Under SB 191, nonprobationary teachers who were deemed effective during the prior school year and who have not secured a mutual consent placement become members of a “priority hiring pool” for available positions. However, nonprobationary teachers who were unable to secure such a position after the longer of twelve months or two hiring cycles are placed on unpaid leave until they are able to secure an assignment. Defendant-Petitioner School District No. 1 in the City and County of Denver (DPS) sought review of the trial court’s denial of its motion to dismiss Plaintiff-Respondent Rebecca Reeves-Toney’s constitutional challenge to the “mutual consent” provisions of section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) of the TECDA. Reeves-Toney alleged these provisions violated the local control clause of article IX, section 15 of the Colorado Constitution by delegating local school boards’ hiring decisions to principals and other administrators. DPS moved to dismiss Reeves-Toney’s complaint, arguing, among other things, that she lacked standing to bring her claim. The trial court agreed that Reeves-Toney lacked individual standing, but nevertheless concluded that she sufficiently alleged taxpayer standing to challenge section 22-63-202(2)(c.5) and plausibly alleged that the statute was facially unconstitutional. The court thus denied the motion to dismiss. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Reeves-Toney did not allege an injury based on an unlawful expenditure of taxpayer money, thus failing to demonstrate a clear nexus between her status as a taxpayer and the challenged government action. Reeves-Toney therefore lacked taxpayer standing to bring her constitutional challenge to section 22-63-202(2)(c.5). Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for the trial court to dismiss Reeves-Toney's complaint. View "In re Reeves-Toney v. School Dist. No. 1 in the City & County of Denver" on Justia Law

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While patrolling Mesa County, Deputy Stuckenschneider observed a black Dodge pickup driving with a missing front license plate. Stuckenschneider phoned Deputy Briggs, alerting her to the situation. A few days prior, Sergeant Beagley had stopped the same car for being incorrectly registered and for displaying invalid license plates. Briggs knew all of this when she received the alert from Stuckenschneider. Briggs informed defendant Amanda Gadberry that she initiated the stop because of the missing front plate. Gadberry told Briggs that the car indeed had a front plate and, upon inspection, Briggs found the missing plate shoved into the grill of the Dodge, although the car was still improperly registered. While all of this was happening, Beagley, Handler Cheryl Yaws, and dog Talu, who is trained to alert to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, arrived on the scene. During the time that it took Briggs to run Gadberry’s plates, Beagley asked Gadberry if there was any marijuana in the vehicle. She said no. Shortly thereafter, Talu sniffed around the car and alerted to the driver and passenger doors. With the benefit of that alert, the officers conducted a search of the car, finding a cellophane wrapper of methamphetamine lodged inside a wallet. Gadberry was then charged with (1) display of a fictitious license plate, (2) possession of drug paraphernalia, and (3) possession of a controlled substance. Gadberry moved to suppress the evidence on four grounds: (1) Briggs didn’t have reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop; (2) the stop was unreasonably prolonged; (3) Talu’s sniff was unlawful because Talu was trained to alert on both marijuana, a legal substance, and illegal substances, such as methamphetamine; and (4) Talu’s sniff was unreliable. The trial court denied claims one and two. The trial court did, however, grant Gadberry’s motion to suppress based on claim three. It followed the court of appeals’ decision in Colorado v. McKnight, 2017 COA 93, __ P.3d __, and found that a sniff is a search when a drug-detection dog can alert to both illegal and legal substances. Here, the trial court found no one presented any evidence suggesting that the vehicle had any illegal substances in it or that Gadberry was aware of all the belongings in the car, especially since multiple people had driven the car in the few days before the stop. Therefore, the trial court reasoned that, under McKnight, the officers on the scene needed reasonable suspicion that Gadberry had been involved in criminal activity to initiate Talu’s sniff. Because the officers here lacked reasonable suspicion to deploy Talu, the court granted the motion to suppress and didn’t reach claim four. The State asked for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review, and the Supreme Court determined the officers needed probable cause to deploy Talu. “They didn’t have it. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s suppression order.” View "Colorado v. Gadberry" on Justia Law

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Police officers discovered a pipe inside of defendant Kevin McKnight’s truck containing what later proved to be methamphetamine residue. McKnight would ultimately be charged and convicted for various drug offenses. On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of the search that netted the pipe. A divided court of appeals reversed McKnight’s convictions, each member writing separately on the issue of what effect, if any, legalized marijuana in Colorado should have on the constitutionality of the search of McKnight’s truck. The drug-detection dog used to find the pipe, Kilo, was trained to alert on multiple drugs, including marijuana. “Even a hint of marijuana can trigger the same response from Kilo as any quantity of methamphetamine.” The Supreme Court surmised that no matter how reliable his nose, Kilo could render “a kind of false positive for marijuana. He has been trained to alert to marijuana based on the notion that marijuana is always contraband, when that is no longer true under state law. And historically, whether a drug-detection dog might alert on noncontraband drives whether the dog’s sniff constitutes a search implicating constitutional protections.” The Court determined the dog’s sniff arguably intruded on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in lawful activity; therefore any intrusion had to be justified by some particuarlized suspicion of criminal activity. The Supreme Court held that a sniff from a drug-detection dog trained to alert to marijuana constitutes a search under the Colorado Constitution because the sniff could detect lawful activity (namely the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults aged twenty-one years or older). Furthermore, the Court held in Colorado, law enforcement officers must have probable cause to believe that an item or area contains a drug in violation of state law before deploying a drug-detection dog that alerts to marijuana for an exploratory sniff. Because there was no such probable cause justifying Kilo’s search of McKnight’s truck, the trial court erred in denying McKnight’s motion to suppress. View "Colorado v. McKnight" on Justia Law

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Police officers entered Jeremiah Tomaske’s property without a warrant and chased him into his house; Tomaske responded by resisting and allegedly assaulting a police officer. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the evidence regarding Tomaske’s actions was properly suppressed. The trial court found that the police officers’ initial entry onto the Tomaske property was a Fourth Amendment violation. Furthermore, the court found Tomaske’s alleged assault “occurred only as a result of the illegal action of law enforcement entering the curtilage and then the residence in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” As a result, the court suppressed all evidence of the alleged assault. Because Tomaske’s decision to resist was an independent act, the Supreme Court concluded the evidence of Tomaske’s alleged criminal acts was sufficiently attenuated from the police misconduct. Therefore, the evidence of what transpired inside the house should not have been suppressed. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order. View "Colorado v. Tomaske" on Justia Law