Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Parish Carter was convicted of conspiracy to commit first degree murder. The district court denied his motion to suppress statements made in a videotaped interrogation, including his assertion he had not been adequately advised of his Miranda rights. In a “fractured” opinion, the court of appeals affirmed with regard to both of these assignments of error. The Colorado Supreme Court found the Miranda advisement of defendant reasonably conveyed that he had a right to consult with counsel, both before and during any interrogation by the police, and because the district court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the jury unrestricted access to both a video recording and transcript of the defendant’s custodial interrogation, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed. View "Carter v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the district court misinterpreted the “special circumstances” prong of section 20-1-107(2), C.R.S (2016), in finding that the circumstances at issue satisfied the high burden required to bar an entire district attorney’s office from prosecuting a defendant. Prosecutors from the District Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial District (the “District Attorney”) twice brought the defendant, Maurice Kendrick, to trial on numerous charges related to allegations that he threatened several women with a gun and then fired the gun at two occupied houses. Each trial ended in a mistrial, and after ordering the second mistrial, the district court found “special circumstances” rendered it unlikely that Kendrick would receive a fair trial if he were again tried by the District Attorney. Accordingly, the court disqualified the District Attorney from re-prosecuting the case and ordered that a special prosecutor be appointed to try Kendrick a third time. The Supreme Court found the district court ordered the disqualification of the District Attorney based on the court’s “lingering concern that because the People have [the defense memorandum] in hand, . . . there clearly is at least an appearance that the defendant would not receive a fair trial, if not an actual problem of him not receiving a fair trial.” Insofar as the district court based its ruling on a perceived “appearance” of impropriety, we conclude that the court applied an incorrect legal standard because, as noted above, the appearance of impropriety is no longer a valid basis for disqualifying a district attorney. View "Colorado v. Kendrick" on Justia Law

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In 2011, a jury convicted Susan Stock of third degree burglary and theft for stealing money from vending machines at the hotel where she worked. The court of appeals reversed Stock’s convictions, concluding that the trial court erroneously denied Stock’s motion to suppress statements she made to a police officer who had entered the hotel room where she lived. Stock’s father, who was Stock’s invited guest in the room, had opened the door on Stock’s behalf in response to the officer’s knock, and moved aside to allow the officer to step a few feet inside the hotel-room door. The officer then requested and obtained Stock’s express permission to come further into the room to speak with her. The court of appeals reasoned that the police officer’s entry into the hotel room was unlawful because Stock’s father lacked authority to consent to the officer’s entry into the hotel room. In reviewing the court of appeals’ decision, the issue presented to the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the officer’s entry into Stock’s hotel room violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Importantly, this case did not require the Court to decide whether Stock’s father had authority to consent to a full-blown search of the room; rather, the narrower question was whether Stock’s father could consent to the officer’s limited entry a few feet inside the door. On the facts of this case, the Colorado Court concluded Stock conferred authority on her father to consent to the officer’s limited entry. The trial court therefore properly denied Stock’s motion to suppress, and her statements to the officer were admissible at trial. View "Colorado v. Stock" on Justia Law

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The department of corrections petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing a district court order denying Raymond Fetzer’s petition pursuant to C.R.C.P. 106(a)(2). Fetzer’s petition sought an order compelling the recalculation of his parole eligibility date, asserting that the department’s “governing sentence” method, which calculated his parole eligibility date solely on the basis of the longest of his concurrent sentences, violated the statutory requirement that his multiple sentences be treated as one continuous sentence. The court of appeals reversed and remanded for recalculation, reasoning both that, contrary to the department’s understanding, the statutory continuous sentence requirement applies to concurrent as well as consecutive sentences and that the department’s “governing sentence” method of calculation could not apply to Fetzer’s sentences because they were all subject to the same statutory parole provisions. Because Fetzer’s multiple sentences were not all subject to the same statutory parole provisions, as indicated in the court of appeals’ opinion, reference to a governing sentence, or some comparable means of determining the applicable incidents of his parole, may have remained necessary to the calculation of Fetzer’s parole eligibility date. The judgment of the court of appeals reversing the district court’s order was therefore affirmed. Its remand order, directing the department to recalculate Fetzer’s parole eligibility date in accordance with its opinion, however, was reversed, and the case remanded with directions that it be returned to the district court. View "Exec. Dir. of the Colo. Dept. of Corr. v. Fetzer" on Justia Law

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The district court affirmed petitioner Monica Robert’s county court conviction for harassment. She appealed, arguing that pursuant to the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision in Colorado v. Pickering, 276 P.3d 553 (Colo. 2011), self-defense was an affirmative defense to all crimes requiring intent, knowledge or willfulness. The Supreme Court concluded that “Pickering” did not establish the “broad, bright-line rule” that Roberts contended, and was thus unpersuaded by her argument. View "Roberts v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Under Amendment 64, extracting hash oil from marijuana is manufacturing marijuana—not processing marijuana plants—and therefore does not fall within Amendment 64’s protected personal uses of marijuana. When Austin Lente tried to extract hash oil from marijuana using butane, the butane exploded, engulfing his laundry room in flames. He would later be charged with processing or manufacturing marijuana or marijuana concentrate in violation of section 18-18-406(2)(a)(I), C.R.S. (2016). The district court dismissed the charge, reasoning Amendment 64 decriminalized processing marijuana and therefore rendered section 18-18-406(2)(a)(I) unconstitutional as applied to Lente. The State appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in turn, disagreed with the district court. When Amendment 64 was approved, “processing” marijuana had a settled meaning that excluded hash-oil extraction, and the Court assumed Amendment 64 adopted that meaning. Accordingly, the district court erred in dismissing the charge. View "Colorado v. Lente" on Justia Law

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In November 2008, a jury convicted Deborah Nicholls for the murders of her three children. On appeal, Nicholls argued, inter alia, that the trial court erred in admitting at trial the statements that her husband, Tim Nicholls (then incarcerated), made to his cellmate about Nicholls’ involvement in their children’s deaths. Nicholls contended that these statements violated her state constitutional right of confrontation and were inadmissible hearsay. Nicholls also argued that the trial court erroneously admitted her mother’s testimony about Nicholls’ reaction to her second child’s death years earlier, and her husband’s cellmate’s testimony about that child’s cause of death from sudden infant death syndrome (“SIDS”). Finding no reversible error, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed Nicholls’ conviction. View "Nicholls v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In light of the evidence presented at trial and the instructions actually provided to the jury, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded there was no reasonable possibility that the trial court’s failure to instruct on reckless second degree assault contributed to the defendant Darren Roman’s conviction of first degree assault, and any error in that regard would therefore have been harmless. The State sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing Roman’s conviction for first degree assault. The trial court instructed the jury on the lesser included offense of second degree assault committed by intentionally causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon, but it denied Roman’s request for an additional lesser-included-offense instruction on second degree assault committed by recklessly causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon. The court of appeals reversed, concluding both that the trial court erred in denying Roman’s requested additional lesser-included-offense instruction and that the error was not harmless. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals. View "Colorado v. Roman" on Justia Law

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Jesus Flores-Heredia pled guilty to inducement and conspiracy to sell and possess with intent to sell a schedule II controlled substance, and he received a one-year deferred judgment in 1990. Although he successfully completed the deferred judgment in 1991, no court ever ordered his plea withdrawn or the action against him dismissed pursuant to section 18-1.3-102(2), C.R.S. (2016). In 2014, Flores-Heredia filed a motion to withdraw his plea pursuant to Crim. P. 32(d). The district court concluded that because no order had been entered withdrawing Flores-Heredia’s plea and dismissing the charge under section 18-1.3-102(2), it would enter such an order. The Colorado Supreme Court found under the plain language of Rule 32(d), there must be a “plea” to “withdraw.” Here, there was no such plea to withdraw, because the plea was previously withdrawn pursuant to section 18-1.3-102(2). Nothing in Rule 32(d) authorized a district court to withdraw an already-withdrawn plea. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Flores-Heredia v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Jose Espino-Paez pled guilty to the use of a schedule II controlled substance and received a deferred judgment. When he successfully completed the terms of the deferred judgment, his guilty plea was withdrawn and the charge was dismissed with prejudice. In 2012, Espino-Paez filed a motion to withdraw his plea pursuant to Crim. P. 32(d). The district court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed, holding that the district court had no authority to withdraw the plea because it had already been withdrawn. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. View "Espino-Paez v. Colorado" on Justia Law