Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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The district court found that the initial contact with both defendants in a parked car constituted an investigatory stop for which the police lacked reasonable articulable suspicion, and it suppressed all evidence acquired after the point of initial contact as the fruit of an unlawful stop. The Colorado Supreme Court found that because the district court failed to appreciate that the officers’ initial contact with the defendants fell short of a stop, and by the point at which the contact progressed to a seizure within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment, the officers had acquired the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion, and subsequently probable cause, to justify their investigative conduct, or inevitably would have lawfully arrested the defendants and discovered the contraband. The Court reversed both suppression orders and remanded the respective cases for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Fields" on Justia Law

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After Respondent-cross-petitioner Brian Rowland was cited for drunk driving, he argued at his license revocation hearing that section 42-2-126(8)(c) C.R.S. (2017) barred the hearing officer from considering an analyst’s report on his blood alcohol content (“BAC”) because the report was an affidavit and the analyst had not signed it under penalty of perjury. The court of appeals ultimately held that: (1) section 42-2-126(8)(c) required all written statements from non-law enforcement sources to be presented in affidavit form and sworn to under penalty of perjury before they can be considered as evidence in driver’s license revocation hearings; but (2) BAC test results may be admitted at a driver’s license revocation hearing through a law enforcement officer’s testimony even if the laboratory report on which the officer’s testimony is based is inadmissible. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari on both issues, and reversed as to issue one and, as a result, decline to reach the second issue. The Court found that the plain language of section 42-2-126(8)(c) did not require all written statements from non-law enforcement sources to be presented in affidavit form and sworn to under penalty of perjury before they could be considered as evidence in driver’s license revocation hearings. Specifically, no section of the revocation statute expressly required all written reports to be sworn to under penalty of perjury or to meet any other affidavit requirements. However, the Court found the statute did not define the term “affidavit,” and concluded the BAC report in this case was not an affidavit. View "Dep't. of Revenue v. Rowland" on Justia Law

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The District Attorney brought Joshua Epps to trial on charges related to allegations that Epps had threatened his probation officer. Shortly after a mistrial was declared, the alleged victim’s husband (who was also a witness called by the prosecution at trial) had an antagonistic encounter with Epps in the courtroom. The deputy district attorney prosecuting the case witnessed the encounter and later spoke to the alleged victim’s husband about it. Epps subsequently endorsed the deputy district attorney as a witness both to the encounter and to the statements made to him by the alleged victim’s husband. Epps then sought to disqualify the deputy district attorney on the basis of his expected testimony, which was to be offered to impeach the husband. The State opposed both the effort to call the deputy district attorney as a witness and the motion to disqualify. The district court, however, ruled that Epps would be allowed to call the deputy district attorney to testify at trial and disqualified the entire district attorney’s office, based, in large part, on the State’s alleged failure to object to that proposed action. The State filed an interlocutory appeal. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the district court’s order because it found the district court relied on an erroneous understanding that the State had not objected to the disqualification. Moreover, the Supreme Court could not say the deputy district attorney’s proffered testimony would have been of sufficient consequence to deny Epps a fair trial. View "Colorado v. Epps" on Justia Law

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Ervin Isom was convicted of sexual assault on a child, adjudicated a habitual sex offender against children, and sentenced to an indeterminate term of forty years to life. The Colorado Supreme Court held that to calculate the maximum permissible minimum end of an indeterminate sentence for a defendant sentenced as a habitual sex offender against children, trial courts must triple the maximum of the presumptive range for the offense and may then double the resulting figure if the court finds extraordinary aggravating circumstances under section 18-3-401(6), C.R.S. (2017). Here, the Court affirmed the court of appeals and concluded the bottom end of Isom’s indeterminate sentence had to be no lower than eighteen years, and could be extended up to thirty-six years if the trial court found extraordinary aggravating circumstances. Isom’s sentence of forty years to life was vacated and the matter remanded for resentencing. View "Isom v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The State of Colorado filed an interlocutory appeal of a district court order suppressing statements made by, and contraband seized from defendant-appellee Brandy Ball. Although the district court found her initial stop to be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion, it nevertheless found that before she made any inculpatory statements, the seizure of her person had exceeded the permissible scope of an investigatory stop; that she was already under arrest by the time she was interrogated without the benefit of Miranda warnings; and that her subsequent consent to search her purse and car was not voluntary. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the district court either misapprehended or misapplied the controlling legal standards governing investigatory stops, arrests, and custodial interrogations, and because the warrantless searches of the defendant’s car and purse were justified on the basis of probable cause and exigent circumstances, without regard for the voluntariness of her consent or compliance with the dictates of section 16-1-301, C.R.S. (2017), the statute governing consensual vehicle searches in this jurisdiction. View "Colorado v. Ball" on Justia Law

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When police officers went to Defendant Sylvia Garcia’s house to do a welfare check on a child, they found an elderly woman in distress on the living room floor. They noticed a padlock on the refrigerator in the kitchen and feces and bugs throughout the house. Medical personnel, additional police officers, firefighters, and a building inspector were called to the residence. Garcia made several statements to the officers at the house, including that she was a caretaker of the elderly woman (her mother) and that the padlock was to keep her brother from eating food in the refrigerator. Garcia was later charged with two offenses relating to neglect of her mother and one count of child abuse. The trial court granted Garcia’s motion to suppress the statements she made during this encounter with the police at her house, concluding Garcia had been subjected to custodial interrogation and had not received a Miranda advisement. The State appealed that order. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded Garcia was not in custody for Miranda purposes during the encounter, and as such, reversed the trial court’s order suppressing the statements. View "Colorado v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Defendant James Sampson spoke with a police officer while Sampson was in a hospital for treatment of knife wounds. Sampson told the officer someone the street had stabbed him while trying to rob him, and a Good Samaritan drove him to the hospital. The officer ran Sampson’s name in APD’s information database and learned Sampson was a suspect in a September 2015 domestic violence assault case that allegedly occurred at an address near where Sampson said he was picked up. The officer then sent officers to the address to make sure it wasn’t a crime scene. When the officers arrived at the address, they saw what looked like blood outside the apartment door. No one answered the door, so they forced entry. Inside they found Ms. R. with a stab wound on her thigh. Ms. R. told the officers that Sampson had attacked her with a bat, and she had defended herself with a knife. At the hospital, the officer told Sampson that officers were in contact with Ms. R. and that he knew what had happened at the apartment. At first, Sampson stuck to his original story, but after the officer said, “[L]ook, we already know what happened,” Sampson admitted he had lied. After this admission, the officer read Sampson a Miranda advisement, the sufficiency of which was not in dispute. Sampson acknowledged that he understood his rights, and he agreed to answer questions. Sampson’s statements were at issue in this appeal: whether Sampson was in custody when he spoke to the officer. The trial court ruled Sampson was not in custody for Miranda purposes until the officer gave Sampson a Miranda advisement. Finding the State failed to prove Sampson made a voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights, the trial court suppressed the statements Sampson made after the advisement. The State appealed, and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding defendant was not in custody at any point during his conversation with the officer at the hospital. Therefore, Miranda did not apply, and the trial court was reversed. View "Colorado v. Samspon" on Justia Law

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Several days before trial, Jesus Ronquillo decided he’d had enough of the lawyer he’d hired to defend him. Counsel asked to withdraw, noting that he had been fired, and that he and Ronquillo had suffered a complete breakdown in communication. The trial court denied counsel’s motion to withdraw, reasoning that it was too late in the game for counsel to exit the case because of non-payment, particularly in a case involving out-of-state witnesses. Therefore, the judge told Ronquillo he could go to trial as scheduled with retained counsel, or he could represent himself. Ronquillo chose the court’s first option, and a jury convicted him as charged. Ronquillo appealed. A division of the court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred by focusing on the non-payment issue and by not addressing the alleged breakdown in communication. To obtain substitute counsel in this retained-to-appointed scenario, it held, the defendant had to show good cause. So, the division remanded the case to the trial court to expressly address that issue. The question for the Colorado Supreme Court’s resolution was whether on facts such as those in this case, a defendant must show good cause to fire retained counsel. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to hire counsel of choice includes the right to fire that counsel without showing good cause, even when a defendant seeks court-appointed counsel as a replacement. “But while a defendant may fire retained counsel for any reason, he may be limited in his options going forward in ways he does not appreciate. Thus, before granting defendant’s request to release retained counsel, a trial court must ensure that the defendant understands the consequences of doing so.” View "Ronquillo v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Bernardino Fuentes-Espinoza challenged his convictions under Colorado’s human smuggling statute on the ground that that statute was preempted by the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In 2007, Fuentes-Espinoza was walking along the Las Vegas Strip when an individual approached him and offered him $500 to drive several family members from Phoenix to Kansas. En route, Fuentes-Espinoza stopped at a gas station in Wheat Ridge, Colorado to get gas and to repair a broken taillight. As pertinent here, he went into the station to pay and gave the clerk a one-hundred-dollar bill, which apparently had been included in the travel money that Fuentes-Espinoza had received. The clerk determined that the bill was counterfeit and called the police. A responding police officer asked Fuentes-Espinoza about the counterfeit bill and the people in the van. The officer then spoke with the people in the van and requested identification from them. After doing so, the officer spoke with his supervisor to report on his investigation and to get further instructions. The supervisor told the officer to bring the group to the police station, and the officer did so. The officer then called the human smuggling hotline, and the hotline sent representatives to the station to assist. The court of appeals did not consider Fuentes-Espinoza’s preemption argument because it was unpreserved. The Colorado Supreme Court exercised its discretion to review that argument and concluded that the INA preempted section 18-13-128 C.R.S. (2017) under the doctrines of both field and conflict preemption. The Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment, and remanded this matter for further consideration. View "Fuentes-Espinoza v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a district court’s authority to continue to collect from petitioner Karla Pineda-Liberato unpaid restitution, court costs, and fees ordered as conditions of a deferred sentence after the completion of that deferred sentence. The State charged Pineda-Liberato with two felony counts of theft ($500 to $15,000) and two felony counts of providing false information to a pawn broker after she pawned a laptop computer and a television that she had rented from Rent-A-Center. Eventually, Pineda-Liberato entered into a plea agreement under which: (1) she would plead guilty to one count of theft; (2) she would receive “a two-year deferred sentence with terms and conditions to include 48 hours of useful public service, pay restitution as ordered by the court, and any other terms and conditions the court deems appropriate”; and (3) the State would dismiss the remaining counts. In addition to these terms, the agreement contained a handwritten addendum that read, “No jail at initial sentencing.” If Pineda-Liberato complied with the terms of her deferred sentence, then, according to the parties’ Stipulation for Supervised Deferred Sentence, Pineda-Liberato could withdraw her guilty plea and the theft charge would be dismissed with prejudice. The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the two district court orders with the first finding that the court lacked authority to collect unpaid restitution (but that avenues potentially remained open for the victim to do so), and the second finding that the court lacked authority to collect unpaid fees and costs. With respect to restitution, the Court concluded the pertinent statutes allowed the district court to collect any unpaid amounts from Pineda-Liberato after the completion of her deferred sentence, until the restitution has been paid in full. With respect to the fees and costs ordered as probationary-like supervision conditions, however, the Court concluded the district court lacked the authority to collect such unpaid amounts after it terminated Pineda-Liberato’s deferred sentence, withdrew her guilty plea, and dismissed her case with prejudice. View "Pineda-Liberato v. Colorado" on Justia Law