Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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The district court in this case sua sponte ordered the parties to exchange exhibits thirty days before trial. The State charged Joshua Kilgore with two counts of felony sexual assault. In the minute order it issued following the arraignment, the court indicated, among other things, that “exhibits [were] to be exchanged 30 days before trial” (“disclosure requirement” or “disclosure order”). The disclosure requirement was not prompted by a party’s request and appeared to have been part of the court’s standard case-management practice. A couple of months later, Kilgore filed an objection, arguing that the disclosure requirement violated his attorney’s confidentiality obligations, the attorney-client privilege, the attorney work-product doctrine, and his due process rights (including his right to make the prosecution meet its burden of proof, his right to a fair trial, and his right to the effective assistance of counsel). Furthermore, Kilgore argued Rule 16 neither required him to disclose, nor entitled the prosecution to receive, his exhibits before trial. The court overruled Kilgore’s objection, reasoning that requiring Kilgore to disclose his exhibits prior to trial would “foster[] efficiency and allow[] for a fair trial” without running afoul of his rights. Any exhibits not disclosed before trial, warned the court, would “not be used at trial.” Kilgore sought reconsideration of this ruling, but the court declined to alter it. Thereafter, Kilgore submitted a sealed motion detailing the specific reasons he opposed disclosing a particular exhibit. Despite having this additional information, though, the court stood by its earlier ruling. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded a district court could not rely on its case-management discretion to order disclosures that exceed the discovery authorized by Rule 16 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, nor could a court require disclosures that infringe on an accused’s constitutional rights. In this instance, the district court erred in ordering Kilgore to disclose his exhibits before trial. View "In re Colorado v. Kilgore" on Justia Law

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After pleading guilty to Driving While Ability Impaired, Quinten Martinez was sentenced to jail and probation under section 42-4-1307, C.R.S. (2019). The county court twice revoked his probation and resentenced him. Martinez has served 608 days in jail related to this offense, of which 458 stem from probation violations. Martinez appealed, asserting that the maximum jail sentence the court could impose was ten days. Martinez had moved for a stay of execution, which the trial court granted. By the time the stay entered, Martinez had already served 103 days of his 365-day sentence on the second revocation. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that when a defendant is sentenced to probation as part of his sentence for a second or subsequent DUI offense and then violates the terms of that probation, the sentencing court may impose all or part of the suspended 365-day jail sentence but can impose no more than 365 days cumulative jail time for all probation violations. View "Martinez v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In February 2018, plaintiff-appellant Jimmie Graham’s parole officer filed a complaint alleging that Graham had violated three conditions of his parole: changing his residence without permission; failing to report to the parole office as directed; and committing a new felony - escape. The allegation related to the commission of a new felony was dismissed after the escape case was dismissed. Graham then pled not guilty to the two remaining allegations. The issue his petition for habeas corpus presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review the parole board’s order confining Graham for more than ninety days as a result of his parole violations. The Supreme Court concluded the parole board exceeded its statutory authority, and that the district court subsequently erred in denying Graham’s habeas petition. Thus, the district court’s order was reversed. Because Graham has been confined well beyond the ninety days authorized by the version of the parole revocation statute in effect at the time of Graham’s parole revocation, the Supreme Court remanded to the district court with directions to grant the writ of habeas corpus, make the writ permanent, and order the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and the Warden of Sterling Correctional Facility (collectively, “DOC”) to immediately release Graham to parole. View "Graham v. Executive Director of Colorado Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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After Kirk Williams returned home from a trip to North Dakota, his wife went through his overnight travel bag and discovered what she believed to be drugs and paraphernalia. She took the contraband items, placed them inside a soap dish, and hid the soap dish in the garage of their home. Mrs. Williams later called the Police Department and met with one of its officers at her church. She told him that she wanted the police to collect the drugs and paraphernalia she had taken from her husband’s travel bag and stored in the garage. The officer requested assistance, and two more officers responded. The three officers then accompanied Mrs. Williams home. Upon arriving, Mrs. Williams provided consent and allowed the officers to enter so they could take possession of the drugs and paraphernalia. At Mrs. Williams’s request, one officer followed her through the house to the garage. There, Mrs. Williams retrieved the soap dish she had stashed away and handed it to him. Meanwhile, another officer continued walking down the entrance hallway for about ten feet, at which point he saw the kitchen, the living room, and an open space dividing the two. He headed toward the living room because he saw Mr. Williams there, sitting on a couch, eating a bowl of cereal, and watching television. When the officer entered the living room, he advised Mr. Williams that officers were conducting a “civil standby” and told him to remain seated. At some point, Mr. Williams told the officers to leave his home. At issue in this case was whether Mrs. Williams could offer consent to the officers to search her home while her husband was present. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that although Mr. Williams was physically present on the premises, he did not object as his wife allowed the officers inside. His subsequent objection, after the officers had already entered his home and were in the process of taking possession of the drugs and paraphernalia, could not vitiate her previously given consent. Therefore, the officers were not required to heed his request to leave, and thus the trial court did not err in refusing to suppress the evidence collected inside his home. View "Williams v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Respondent Abdu-Latif Kazembe Abu-Nantambu-El forced his way into the apartment of an acquaintance, where he fatally stabbed a visitor and forced the acquaintance to clean up evidence of the crime. The prosecution subsequently charged Abu-Nantambu-El with numerous offenses, including first degree murder (after deliberation), first degree murder (felony murder), second degree murder, and two counts of first degree burglary. Abu-Nantambu-El proceeded to trial on a self- defense theory. The Colorado Supreme Court determined this case presented a question left unanswered by its holding in Colorado v. Novotny, 320 P.3d 1194: What standard of reversal applied where a trial court erroneously denies a challenge for cause, the defendant exhausts his peremptory challenges, and the challenged juror ultimately serves on the jury? "It is clear that the erroneous denial of a challenge for cause amounts to structural error if it results in an actually biased juror serving on a jury." Consistent with that principle, the Court concluded the erroneous seating of an impliedly biased juror was also structural error and required reversal. "[S]uch an error is not amenable to analysis under a harmless error standard, regardless of the juror's actual bias." View "Colorado v. Abu-Nantambu-El" on Justia Law

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In this case and the two companion cases announced at the same time, Melton v. Colorado, 2019 CO 89, ___ P.3d ___, and Colorado v. McRae, 2019 CO 91, ___ P.3d ___, the Colorado Supreme Court considered multiple issues that lie at the intersection of proportionality review and habitual criminal punishment. In June 2012, Pat Crouch, an undercover agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, received information from a confidential informant that Belinda May Wells-Yates was stealing identity documents from cars. He arranged a meeting with Wells-Yates during which she sold him a birth certificate, a social security card, and a New Mexico driver’s license. Several days later, the Waldo Canyon fire started. Wells-Yates told the agent that she was “chasing the fire” (stealing property from homes that had been evacuated). The agent scheduled another meeting with her during which she sold him stolen property. After that meeting, Wells-Yates was arrested. A search of Wells-Yates and her belongings revealed a bag containing a small amount of methamphetamine, a set of scales, small plastic bags, and other drug paraphernalia. Wells-Yates was charged with multiple crimes, including burglary, and drugs possession charges. In total, Wells-Yates received an aggregate prison term of 72 years. Wells-Yates advanced a proportionality challenge. After conducting an abbreviated proportionality review of the aggregate prison term, the trial court found that it was not unconstitutionally disproportionate. The Colorado Supreme Court held: (1) during an abbreviated proportionality review of a habitual criminal sentence, the court must consider each triggering offense and the predicate offenses together and determine whether, in combination, they are so lacking in gravity or seriousness as to raise an inference that the sentence imposed on that triggering offense is grossly disproportionate; (2) in determining the gravity or seriousness of the triggering offense and the predicate offenses, the court should consider any relevant legislative amendments enacted after the dates of those offenses, even if the amendments do not apply retroactively; (3) not all narcotic offenses are per se grave or serious; and (4) the narcotic offenses of possession and possession with intent are not per se grave or serious. Because the court of appeals’ decision was at odds with the conclusions the Supreme Court reached in this case, it reversed judgment and remanded with instructions to return the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Wells-Yates v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Nathan Vigil sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his convictions of second degree burglary and second degree aggravated motor vehicle theft. The trial court denied Vigil’s for-cause challenge to Juror C.A. but granted the prosecution’s challenge to Juror D.K. At trial, and over defense counsel’s objection, an officer was permitted to opine without qualification as an expert that Vigil’s shoes visually matched shoeprints he photographed at the crime scene. With regard to Vigil’s assignments of error concerning these rulings, the court of appeals concluded that the trial court had not abused its discretion by denying Vigil’s challenge to Juror C.A.; that any error committed in granting the prosecution’s challenge to prospective Juror D.K. would in any event have been harmless; and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the officer to offer a lay opinion concerning the shoeprint comparison in question. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Vigil’s challenge to Juror C.A.; because granting the prosecution’s challenge to prospective Juror D.K., even if it amounted to an abuse of discretion, did not result in any violation of Vigil’s rights; and because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the officer’s testimony as lay opinion. Thus, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed. View "Vigil v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether respondent Douglas Baker was entitled to additional presentence confinement credit (“PSCC”) than he originally received. Baker was arrested in Florida in 2011 for the 2009 Colorado sexual assault of a child, pattern of abuse, a class three felony. He was then extradited to Colorado where he was booked into the Jefferson County jail on July 15, 2011. He remained in custody for the duration of the case. Baker pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a child, position of trust, a class three felony, and, on July 12, 2012, he was sentenced to a term of ten years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. The court awarded Baker 364 days of credit for time served and designated him a Sexually Violent Predator (“SVP”). At the sentencing hearing, Baker objected to the SVP finding and told the court that he would file a motion objecting to it. Baker, however, failed to file a motion objecting to his SVP status for over three years, and, in the interim, he never filed a direct appeal. Then in 2015, Baker filed a pro se motion, “Motion to Correct Sentence Pursuant to Crim. P. Rule 35(a).” In it, Baker argued he was not given PSCC for his time in custody in Florida before he was extradited to Colorado. The State agreed Baker was entitled to credit for that time and did not object to the court awarding Baker an additional eighteen days of PSCC. Approximately a year later, Baker filed another pro se motion based on Leyva v. Colorado, 184 P.3d 48 (2008), seeking to vacate his conviction as a sexually violent predator, because the “recent correction of his illegal sentence” meant a collateral attack to his conviction was not time barred. The district court denied Baker’s motion, and Baker appealed. The Supreme Court held that a challenge to PSCC was not cognizable as a claim that a sentence was not authorized by law pursuant to Rule 35(a). Because Baker’s postconviction claim for eighteen days of additional PSCC did not alter his sentence, it did not impact the finality of his original judgment of conviction. Baker’s Rule 35(c) motion, filed more than three years after the date of his conviction, was therefore untimely. View "Colorado v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The relevant charges at issue here were class 4, 5, and 6 felonies that did not carry mandatory sentencing, were not crimes of violence pursuant to section 18-1.3-406, C.R.S. (2019), and were not sexual offenses. It was undisputed that defendant James Rowell was initially ineligible to receive a preliminary hearing on the relevant charges because he posted bond in both cases. The issue before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the district court erred in denying Rowell's request for a preliminary hearing on one of the two felony charges in case number 18CR1611, and on all five felony charges in case number 19CR15, when he later found himself in custody in both cases because his bonds were revoked. The Supreme Court found that because Rowell was taken into custody on the relevant charges when his bonds were revoked, he was entitled to demand a preliminary hearing on those charges "within a reasonable time." Rowell did not become eligible to demand a preliminary hearing on the relevant charges until months after he was brought before the court for the filing of the information. Inasmuch as Crim. P. Rule 7(h)(1) was silent on the timeframe within which Rowell was required to demand a preliminary hearing on the relevant charges after his bonds were revoked, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court to determine whether his demand was made “within a reasonable time” after he became statutorily eligible to advance it. View "In re Colorado v. Rowell" on Justia Law

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The State of Colorado filed a delinquency petition against B.B.A.M., charging him with one count of third degree burglary and three counts of criminal mischief. B.B.A.M.’s counsel filed a motion to determine competency. Because the court felt it lacked adequate information to make a preliminary finding regarding B.B.A.M.’s competency, it ordered the Colorado Department of Human Services (“DHS”) to conduct an outpatient competency evaluation. The competency evaluator filed a report in which she concluded B.B.A.M. was incompetent to proceed, determined there was a likelihood of restoring him to competency, and recommended the restoration services she deemed appropriate. Based on the evaluator’s report, the court made a preliminary finding of incompetency. Since neither party requested a competency hearing within ten days, the court made the preliminary finding of incompetency a final determination. Proceedings were suspended, and B.B.A.M. was ordered to receive outpatient services designed to restore him to competency. Following the provision of those services, the court ordered, over his objection, a second competency evaluation to determine whether he had been restored to competency. B.B.A.M. appealed, but the district court upheld the juvenile court’s order. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the relevant statutes did not permit a juvenile court to order a second competency evaluation to determine whether a juvenile has been restored to competency; the district court erred in affirming the juvenile court’s order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order and remanded with instructions to return the case to the juvenile court for a restoration review or a restoration hearing. View "In re Colorado v. B.B.A.M." on Justia Law