Articles Posted in Constitutional Law

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Israel Chavez-Torres was born in Mexico who immigrated to the United States with his mother and three sisters in 1991 when he was thirteen years old. In August 1996, while in high school, Chavez-Torres pled guilty to first-degree felony criminal trespass. He received probation, which he completed successfully. In 2013, seventeen years after his conviction, the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) notified Chavez-Torres that it had initiated removal proceedings against him based on his conviction. Chavez-Torres promptly consulted an immigration attorney who advised him that his conviction made him ineligible for cancellation of removal proceedings. The immigration attorney thus opined that plea counsel may have provided Chavez-Torres ineffective assistance by failing to provide an advisement about the immigration consequences of the plea. The question Chavez-Torres' appeal raised for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether, as a noncitizen, Chavez-Torres was entitled to a hearing on the timeliness of his Crim. P. 35(c) postconviction motion when he invoked the justifiable excuse or excusable neglect exception and alleged that plea counsel provided him no advice regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. The Supreme Court held that when the plea agreement or the plea hearing transcript is submitted, the trial court should consider it in conjunction with the allegations advanced. In this case, Chavez-Torres was entitled to a hearing. "Chavez-Torres alleged that he had no reason to question or investigate his plea counsel’s failure to advise him regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. Further, although he was not required to do so, Chavez-Torres submitted the plea agreement and the plea hearing transcript with his motion, and neither references the immigration consequences of his plea." View "Colorado v. Chavez-Torres" on Justia Law

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William Kutzly was charged with several crimes involving sexual assault on a child. During his trial, the court qualified a social worker as an expert witness in child sexual assault and victim dynamics; the witness then testified. Prior to trial, Kutzly moved the trial court to hold a Shreck hearing to determine the reliability of the social worker’s proposed testimony. The trial court held a hearing on that motion, determined that the testimony was reliable, and ultimately denied the motion to hold a full evidentiary Shreck hearing on that issue. Kutzly argued on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court that this was error. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court made specific findings of reliability such that its decision not to hold a Shreck hearing was not an abuse of discretion. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals’ decision. View "Kutzly v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In this case, a juvenile, "T.B." texted a picture of his erect penis to two underage girls and then repeatedly asked the girls to text him naked pictures of themselves. After initially resisting, both girls eventually complied and texted nude selfies to the juvenile. T.B. kept these sexts on his cell phone, where they were discovered by law enforcement in 2013. The question this case presented was whether T.B. could be adjudicated delinquent for sexual exploitation of a child under section 18-6-403(3), C.R.S. (2018), for possessing these images. At a bench trial, T.B. argued that the prosecution failed to prove that he knowingly possessed erotic nudity for the purpose of the overt sexual gratification of a “person involved.” The court rejected this argument and adjudicated T.B. delinquent on both counts. A split court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court granted review to determine the proper standard of review for an unpreserved sufficiency of the evidence claim and to review whether the court of appeals misconstrued section 18-6-403(3)(b.5) in holding the evidence was sufficient to support T.B.’s adjudication for sexual exploitation of a child. The Court was satisfied that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's conclusion that the images constituted “erotic nudity” (and therefore “sexually exploitative material”) for purposes of the sexual exploitation of a child statute. View "Colorado in the Interest of T.B." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a district court order partially granting defendant-appellee Keith Haack’s motion and suppressing evidence acquired after officers made a warrantless entry into his residence. The district court found that the officers, who were investigating defendant for driving under the influence, had unlawfully followed the defendant into his home and, as a result, all relevant evidence they acquired either inside the home or after the defendant and officers went back outside should have been suppressed. The court expressly found that defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda warnings until he was ultimately arrested outside the home and that the results of the defendant’s field sobriety tests, including a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and subsequent blood test, both of which were conducted after leaving the residence, would have been admissible but for the earlier constitutional violation. The court did not, however, offer any rationale for suppression of these test results beyond the fact that they followed in time the unlawful entry. In reversing the district court's order, the Colorado Supreme Court determined the district court failed to address the question of whether the evidence suppressed was independent of an earlier unlawful entry; the portion of the district court order suppressing this evidence was not adequately supported by its findings and is therefore vacated. The case was remanded with directions to determine whether the evidence acquired after leaving the defendant’s home was in fact derivative of the unlawful entry at all and if so whether the subsequent searches in which that evidence was discovered were genuinely independent sources of that evidence. View "Colorado v. Haack" on Justia 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