Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Petitioner Shawna Hoggard and her ex-husband Javier were in the midst of a child-custody dispute when she forwarded an email she received from Javier to their court-appointed child and family investigator containing "concerning comments and an apparent threat." Javier claimed that while he had written parts of the email, he had not written the "concerning" portions. He then contacted law enforcement to report that Hoggard had falsified the email. The State charged Hoggard with attempt to influence a public servant and second-degree forgery. At trial, when the court instructed the jury on the charge of attempt to influence a public servant, it did not inform the jury that the mens rea of “with the intent” applied to all elements of the crime and not just a single element. Additionally, when the court instructed the jury on the charge of second-degree forgery, a class 1 misdemeanor, it included language in one element from the offense of felony forgery, a class 5 felony. Hoggard did not object to either instruction. The jury found her guilty of both original charges. Hoggard appealed, and the court of appeals upheld her convictions. Hoggard argued to the Colorado Supreme Court that the trial court’s instructions constituted reversible error. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the conviction, finding that even if the instruction on attempt to influence a public servant was erroneous, any error was not plain. Furthermore, although the trial court erred in including language from the felony forgery statute when it instructed the jury, the instruction did not amount to a constructive amendment, and the error was not plain. Hence the Court affirmed the appellate court, but on different grounds. View "Hoggard v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Forty-five-year-old Richard Manjarrez hired his friends’ teenage daughter to clean his house. The girl’s parents had consented to the housecleaning arrangement because they considered Manjarrez a family friend and trusted him. On the girl’s third cleaning visit, however, Manjarrez kissed her, touched her breast, and digitally penetrated her. He then drove her home. A jury convicted Manjarrez of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust in violation of section 18-3-405.3(1), C.R.S. (2019), and the court of appeals affirmed the conviction. Manjarrez acknowledged that the sexual contact took place but argued on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to show that he occupied a position of trust with respect to the victim because there was no evidence that he had any express duty of supervision over her. Finding he was implicitly responsible for her welfare and supervision while she was at his home to clean, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed Manjarrez's conviction. View "Manjarrez v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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An expert from the Denver Crime Lab testified that a DNA sample taken from Brandon Campbell matched a DNA profile developed from a soda can found at a burglary scene, as well as a profile developed from a partially eaten plum found at another residential burglary. The plum profile had been developed at an out-of-state lab; the technician who tested the plum did not testify. Although Campbell objected to evidence of the other burglary on CRE 404(b) grounds, he did not argue that allowing the Denver Crime Lab expert to testify about the plum profile violated his confrontation rights. The jury convicted Campbell of second degree burglary and first degree criminal trespass; he was also charged with three other habitual offender counts. Campbell appealed, arguing for the first time that the admission of the Denver Crime Lab expert’s surrogate testimony about the plum DNA profile violated his confrontation rights. Campbell also renewed his contention that the trial court erroneously allowed the prosecution to constructively amend the habitual offender charge against him. The court of appeals rejected both contentions. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court held: (1) any error in allowing the Denver Crime Lab expert to testify about the plum DNA profile was not plain; and (2) the mislabeled offense in the habitual offender count did not result in a constructive amendment requiring reversal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the court of appeals and remanded with directions to return the case to the trial court for resentencing and correction of the mittimus in accordance with the court of appeals’ decision. View "Campbell v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The State sought review of an appellate court's judgment reversing a district court order voiding a juvenile magistrate's ruling. The district court found that the juvenile magistrate lacked jurisdiction to grant J.D.’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea and, further, that J.D.’s sole remedy for a failure of his counsel to render effective assistance in advising him concerning his deferred adjudication was to file a petition with the court for reinstatement of his review rights nunc pro tunc. By contrast, the court of appeals found that the juvenile magistrate had jurisdiction to entertain J.D.’s Crim. P. 32(d) motion to withdraw his guilty plea because it was a motion in a delinquency case the magistrate had been appointed to hear, and it was not a motion seeking review of any prior order of the magistrate. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in ruling that the magistrate lacked jurisdiction over the juvenile’s Crim. P. 32(d) motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Although on different grounds, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed. View "Colorado in Interest of J.D." on Justia Law

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Petitioner John Halaseh petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to review a court of appeals' remand order to his underlying appeal, which directed the district court to enter four convictions for class 4 felony theft in place of the single conviction of class 3 felony theft that was reflected in the charge and jury verdict. The appellate court reversed the class 3 felony on grounds that when the statutory authorization for aggregating separate acts of theft was properly applied, there was insufficient evidence to support a single conviction for theft of $20,000 or more. It also found, however, that there was sufficient evidence to support four separate convictions for aggregated thefts with values qualifying as class 4 felonies, and that substituting these four class 4 felony convictions for the vacated class 3 felony conviction was necessary to fulfill what it understood to be its obligation to maximize the effect of the jury’s verdict. The Supreme Court disapproved of the appellate court's judgment, finding no theft offense required the aggregation of two or more separate instances of theft, whether that aggregation were to be based on commission within a period of six months or on commission as a single course of conduct, was a lesser included offense of the class 3 felony of which Halaseh was actually charged and convicted. Further, no such offense was implicitly found by the jury, and therefore none could be entered in lieu of the reversed conviction without depriving the defendant of his right to a jury trial. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Halaseh v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Gary Richardson was convicted by jury of multiple crimes. The jury venir included the trial judge's wife ("Juror 25"). During trial, the judge at times "casually tossed a spotlight" on his relationship to Juror 25: He joked about what was for dinner and forcing his wife to spend more time with him. He also told counsel that he thought his wife would be a “fine juror” and at another point asked them to “[b]e nice” to her. However well-intentioned, the Colorado Supreme Court surmised the fanfare around Juror 25 created "fairly predictable questions" on appeal: had the judge at least inadvertently conferred a special status on his wife to which defense counsel and the other jurors were expected to defer? Should the judge have excused his wife or himself, even without being asked to do so? The Supreme Court concluded that by failing to object, Richardson waived his challenge to Juror 25. The Supreme Court also concluded the trial judge did not have a duty to excuse Juror 25 from the jury or recuse himself in the absence of any contemporaneous objection. "While the trial judge could have handled this unusual situation in a more restrained manner, his failure to do so did not create reversible error." View "Richardson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The issue this case case, which stemmed from a late-night argument on Twitter among several high school students, presented to the Colorado Supreme Court centered on the applicable framework for distinguishing a true threat from constitutionally protected speech in the "cyber arena." R.D., a juvenile, was adjudicated delinquent for harassment by communication based on those tweets directed at another student that took place in the wake of a local school shooting. Put differently, the question was whether R.D.'s statements were "true threats." The Supreme Court held a true threat is a statement that, considered in context and under the totality of the circumstances, an intended or foreseeable recipient would reasonably perceive as a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence. In determining whether a statement is a true threat, a reviewing court must examine the words used, but it must also consider the context in which the statement was made. Particularly where the alleged threat is communicated online, the contextual factors courts should consider include, but are not limited to: (1) the statement’s role in a broader exchange, if any, including surrounding events; (2) the medium or platform through which the statement was communicated, including any distinctive conventions or architectural features; (3) the manner in which the statement was conveyed (e.g., anonymously or not, privately or publicly); (4) the relationship between the speaker and recipient(s); and (5) the subjective reaction of the statement’s intended or foreseeable recipient(s). Because neither the juvenile court nor the court of appeals had the benefit of the framework announced by this case, the Supreme Court reversed judgment and remanded for reconsideration. View "Colorado in Interest of R.D." on Justia Law

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Andre Jones was convicted by jury of shooting and killing his estranged and pregnant wife. Although she died, medical personnel managed to deliver her severely injured baby. The jury found Jones guilty of many crimes related to the shooting, including first degree murder of his wife and child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. The court of appeals reversed, determining: (1) the trial court erred by excluding Jones’s parents from the courtroom during the testimony of two witnesses; and (2) in a split decision, Jones could not be retried for child abused because an unborn fetus, even if later born alive, was not a "person" under the child abuse statute. The division reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court on both issues, but on slightly different grounds with respect to the child abuse issue. The Court concurred the trial court's exclusion of Jones' parents constituted a partial closure of the courtroom that violated Jones' Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. Because that error was structural, Jones was entitled to a new trial. With regard to the child abuse issue, the Court could not discern the legislature's intent regarding a defendant's liability under the child abuse statute. Under the rule of lenity, the Court vacated Jones' conviction and concluded he could not be retried on that charge. View "Colorado v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The State petitioned for review the court of appeals' judgment reversing a trial court's imposition of consecutive sentences for respondent Martin Espinoza's ten convictions of attempted first degree murder of ten different people. Espinoza was charged with first degree arson, third degree assault, and attempted first degree murder (extreme indifference), with corresponding crime-of-violence counts, arising out of an incident in which a fire raged through his mother’s apartment. Respondent started a fire on the balcony of his mother’s apartment, which spread throughout the apartment building and to a neighboring building. The ten people who were named victims of the attempted murder counts were inside the defendant’s mother’s apartment building during the fire but were able to escape and survive. Reasoning that Espinoza’s ten attempted murder convictions were separate crimes of violence, the trial court considered itself bound by statute to impose consecutive sentences. The intermediate appellate court, however, found that because the ten convictions were premised on a “single act of fire-setting,” they were supported by identical evidence, notwithstanding the fact that each conviction required proof that the defendant attempted to kill a different person. Further concluding that convictions for multiple crimes of violence that were supported by identical evidence did not fall within the statutory mandate to sentence consecutively, the intermediate appellate court reversed and remanded for resentencing. The Colorado Supreme Court found that because offenses defined in terms of their victimization of another and committed against different victims were not capable of being proved by identical evidence within the contemplation of section 18-1-408(3), C.R.S. (2019), and because even according to the appellate court’s understanding of the term “separate crimes of violence,” Espinoza’s convictions therefore required consecutive sentences pursuant to section 18-1.3-406(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Colorado v. Espinoza" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court has previously held a defendant was entitled to a preliminary hearing if charged with driving under the influence (DUI), a class four felony, where the defendant is held in custody on that charge. The issue this case presented for the Court's review centered on whether such a defendant entitled to demand and receive a preliminary hearing if not placed in custody, but the offense requires "mandatory sentencing." The Court concluded that indeed a defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing whenever he is charged with a class four, five, or six felony and the charge requires the imposition of mandatory sentencing. Further, by its plain meaning, “mandatory sentencing” involved any period of incarceration required by law. Applying these principles to this case, the Court held Donald Huckabay was entitled to a preliminary hearing because he was charged with felony DUI - a class four felony that carried mandatory sentencing. View "In re Colorado v. Huckabay" on Justia Law