Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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In 2008, a juvenile probation officer swabbed the cheek of Petitioner Ismael Casillas, then a juvenile, to collect a DNA sample. The probation officer’s collection of Casillas’s DNA violated C.R.S. 19-2-925.6(1) because Casillas had been granted a one-year deferred adjudication and he was not otherwise required under the statute to submit a DNA sample. His genetic markers were nevertheless uploaded to the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Several months after Casillas successfully completed the terms of his deferred adjudication and his juvenile case had been dismissed, law enforcement investigators matched DNA evidence recovered from a stolen vehicle with the sample in the CODIS database taken from Casillas during his juvenile deferred adjudication. As a result of the DNA match, Casillas was identified and charged in connection with a carjacking. Before trial, Casillas moved to suppress all evidence derived from the DNA match, arguing that evidence derived from the unauthorized cheek swab should be excluded as the fruits of an unlawful search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury later convicted Casillas of criminal mischief. The Colorado Supreme Court granted Casillas’s petition for a writ of certiorari to review whether the exclusionary rule required suppression of the evidence derived from the juvenile probation officer’s unauthorized collection of Casillas’s DNA in this case. The Court concluded that it did, and accordingly, reversed and remanded this case with instructions to vacate Casillas’s conviction. View "Casillas v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the trial court erred in ruling that state troopers lacked probable cause to search defendant’s car when they placed Mason, a narcotics-detecting dog, inside to sniff around. The Court held that given the totality of the circumstances, including Mason’s alert to the odor of narcotics while sniffing the exterior of the defendant’s car, provided the troopers with probable cause to search the car. “The fact that Mason’s alert was not a final indication did not render it irrelevant to the troopers’ probable cause determination.” The trial court’s order suppressing evidence collected by the troopers during a subsequent hand search of the car was reversed. View "Colorado v. Bailey" on Justia Law

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Prosecutors charged respondent Edward DeGreat with attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, and aggravated robbery arising out of an incident in which DeGreat did not pay his taxi fare after an altercation with a taxi driver. According to DeGreat, he initially intended to pay the fare but then realized that he was a few dollars short and offered to go into his apartment to retrieve the rest of the money. DeGreat claims that the driver then attacked him, the two began fighting, and when DeGreat believed he saw the driver brandish a weapon, he stabbed the driver in self-defense. Thereafter, the driver fled and DeGreat left the scene. The issue this case presented was whether the court of appeals erred in concluding the Colorado statutory right to self-defense could apply to justify a defendant’s robbery of taxi services. On these facts, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the appellate court correctly determined that DeGreat was entitled to a self-defense instruction as to the aggravated robbery charge, although the Court’s reasoning differed from that on which the appellate court relied. In the Supreme Court’s view, DeGreat presented some credible evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the robbery of services that DeGreat allegedly committed was committed in self-defense. View "Colorado v. DeGreat" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Nicholas Zapata and Jose Murillo entered a convenience store. Murillo darted behind the checkout counter, where he used a knife to attack the clerk, the only other person in the store. Zapata watched the attack from the other side of the counter. The victim quickly managed to subdue Murillo with a hammer that happened to be located behind the counter. With that unexpected turn of events, Zapata fled. The State charged Zapata with attempted first degree murder and other crimes. At trial, the State asserted Zapata orchestrated the attack, painting a picture of a jealous and controlling Zapata, seeking revenge on behalf of his ex-girlfriend, S.M. S.M. worked in the convenience store and had confided in Zapata several weeks earlier that her boss, the store owner and father of the victim, had sexually harassed her. The State argued that Zapata convinced Murillo to do his dirty work in seeking revenge, but at the store, they confused the son for his father. The jury convicted Zapata of attempted second degree murder and first degree assault. Zapata seeks a new trial because the trial court declined to give him access to, or to review in camera, certain competency reports regarding Murillo (who suffered brain damage as a result of the hammer blows). Zapata alleged the reports might have contained exculpatory information about the criminal offenses of which he was convicted. He also argued the trial court committed reversible error when it admitted “res gestae” evidence of Zapata’s earlier threatening behavior toward S.M. A division of the court of appeals affirmed Zapata’s convictions, and finding no reversible error, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. View "Zapata v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2008, a juvenile probation officer swabbed the cheek of Petitioner Ismael Casillas, then a juvenile, to collect a DNA sample. Colorado law required certain juvenile offenders to submit to collection of their DNA for testing. However, this requirement “shall not apply to an offender granted a deferred adjudication, unless otherwise required to submit to a sample pursuant to [C.R.S. section 19-2-925.6 (2018)] or unless the deferred adjudication is revoked and a sentence is imposed.” The probation officer’s collection of Casillas’s DNA violated section 19-2-925.6(1) because Casillas had been granted a one-year deferred adjudication and he was not otherwise required under the statute to submit a DNA sample. His genetic markers were nevertheless uploaded to the federal Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Several months after Casillas successfully completed the terms of his deferred adjudication and his juvenile case had been dismissed, law enforcement investigators matched DNA evidence recovered from a stolen vehicle with the sample in the CODIS database taken from Casillas during his juvenile deferred adjudication. As a result of the DNA match, Casillas was identified and charged in connection with a carjacking. Before trial, Casillas moved to suppress all evidence derived from the DNA match, arguing that evidence derived from the unauthorized cheek swab should be excluded as the fruits of an unlawful search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury later convicted Casillas of criminal mischief. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the exclusionary rule required suppression of the evidence stemming from the probation officer’s unauthorized collection of DNA. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded this case with instructions to vacate Casillas’ conviction. View "Casillas v. Colorado" 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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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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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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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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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