Articles Posted in Criminal 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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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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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

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The State appealed the court of appeals’ judgment vacating defendant Richard Anderson’s conviction for attempted extreme indifference murder. Concluding that the universal malice element of extreme indifference murder requires for conviction that more than one person have been endangered by the defendant’s conduct and also concluding that no evidence was offered to prove the defendant’s shooting endangered anyone other than the victim, the court found the evidence insufficient to support the conviction. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the statutory definition of extreme indifference murder did not limit conviction of that offense to conduct endangering more than one person, and because the evidence in this case was sufficient to permit a jury determination of the defendant’s guilt of attempted extreme indifference murder, the judgment of the court of appeals vacating the defendant’s conviction was reversed, and the case remanded for consideration of any assignments of error concerning that conviction not yet addressed. View "Colorado v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the trial court erred in suppressing a statement made by defendant Justin Cline after a search of his residence by his parole officer and a member of the Craig, Colorado Police Department. The search netted a zippered pouch containing drug paraphernalia that tested positive for methamphetamine. The trial court found that when Corporal Grant Laehr confronted Cline with the zippered pouch and questioned him, Cline was “effectively under arrest” and “not free to leave.” The trial court reiterated that once Cline was confronted with the zippered pouch, “a reasonable person in [his] position would not have believed he was free to leave.” The trial court ruled that any subsequent questions should have been preceded by an advisement pursuant to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Since no such advisement was provided, the trial court suppressed Cline’s statements. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court applied the wrong legal standard. “[W]hen viewed in conjunction with the other circumstances present, it is insufficient to warrant a determination that Cline was in custody and that Corporal Laehr was required to read him his Miranda rights. Because the trial court applied the wrong legal standard and treated as dispositive the fact that Corporal Laehr confronted Cline with the zippered pouch, we reverse its suppression order and remand for further proceedings.” View "Colorado v. Cline" on Justia Law

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Tommy Gow was walking in a residential neighborhood at abut 2:15 in the morning when he was stopped by police. The deputy pulled up, got out of his patrol car, and asked “what he was up to.” The man, Gow, responded that he had just come from a friend’s house where he had purchased an iPad. He asked the deputy if the deputy wanted to see his identification; and after checking to make sure that Gow had no outstanding warrants, the deputy told Gow that he was free to leave. The deputy decided to drive down the street and leave the area. As he was about to pass, Gow began waving his hands at the deputy and signaled for the deputy to roll down his window. The deputy stopped and rolled down the passenger side window. Gow asked the deputy to give him a ride to his friend’s house, which was four blocks away. The deputy replied, “Sure,” but said that he had to pat Gow down before allowing him to get into the car, to ensure that Gow did not have any weapons or anything illegal on him. According to the deputy, Gow responded, “Okay. I don’t have weapons.” At that point, the deputy got out of his patrol car, patted down Gow, and asked to look inside the box again, to ensure that no weapons were hidden underneath the iPad in the box. Gow said, “Sure,” and as he pulled out the iPad, the box fell to the ground and two small plastic baggies fell out. The deputy directed Gow to hand him the baggies, and Gow complied. The deputy then asked what was in them, and Gow responded that it was speed. The deputy arrested Gow and transported him to jail. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked to decide whether Gow’s federal and state constitutional rights were violated when he was subjected to a pat down and search of a box that he was carrying before accepting a courtesy ride with a sheriff’s deputy. The Court concluded the pat down and search of the box were constitutionally permissible because on the facts as found by the trial court, Gow initiated the encounter with the deputy by asking for a courtesy ride and then voluntarily and expressly consented to the pat down and search of the box as preconditions of getting into the deputy’s car. View "Gow v. Colorado" on Justia Law