Articles Posted in Criminal Law

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Israel Chavez-Torres was born in Mexico who immigrated to the United States with his mother and three sisters in 1991 when he was thirteen years old. In August 1996, while in high school, Chavez-Torres pled guilty to first-degree felony criminal trespass. He received probation, which he completed successfully. In 2013, seventeen years after his conviction, the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) notified Chavez-Torres that it had initiated removal proceedings against him based on his conviction. Chavez-Torres promptly consulted an immigration attorney who advised him that his conviction made him ineligible for cancellation of removal proceedings. The immigration attorney thus opined that plea counsel may have provided Chavez-Torres ineffective assistance by failing to provide an advisement about the immigration consequences of the plea. The question Chavez-Torres' appeal raised for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether, as a noncitizen, Chavez-Torres was entitled to a hearing on the timeliness of his Crim. P. 35(c) postconviction motion when he invoked the justifiable excuse or excusable neglect exception and alleged that plea counsel provided him no advice regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. The Supreme Court held that when the plea agreement or the plea hearing transcript is submitted, the trial court should consider it in conjunction with the allegations advanced. In this case, Chavez-Torres was entitled to a hearing. "Chavez-Torres alleged that he had no reason to question or investigate his plea counsel’s failure to advise him regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. Further, although he was not required to do so, Chavez-Torres submitted the plea agreement and the plea hearing transcript with his motion, and neither references the immigration consequences of his plea." View "Colorado v. Chavez-Torres" on Justia Law

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William Kutzly was charged with several crimes involving sexual assault on a child. During his trial, the court qualified a social worker as an expert witness in child sexual assault and victim dynamics; the witness then testified. Prior to trial, Kutzly moved the trial court to hold a Shreck hearing to determine the reliability of the social worker’s proposed testimony. The trial court held a hearing on that motion, determined that the testimony was reliable, and ultimately denied the motion to hold a full evidentiary Shreck hearing on that issue. Kutzly argued on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court that this was error. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court made specific findings of reliability such that its decision not to hold a Shreck hearing was not an abuse of discretion. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals’ decision. View "Kutzly v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In this case, a juvenile, "T.B." texted a picture of his erect penis to two underage girls and then repeatedly asked the girls to text him naked pictures of themselves. After initially resisting, both girls eventually complied and texted nude selfies to the juvenile. T.B. kept these sexts on his cell phone, where they were discovered by law enforcement in 2013. The question this case presented was whether T.B. could be adjudicated delinquent for sexual exploitation of a child under section 18-6-403(3), C.R.S. (2018), for possessing these images. At a bench trial, T.B. argued that the prosecution failed to prove that he knowingly possessed erotic nudity for the purpose of the overt sexual gratification of a “person involved.” The court rejected this argument and adjudicated T.B. delinquent on both counts. A split court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court granted review to determine the proper standard of review for an unpreserved sufficiency of the evidence claim and to review whether the court of appeals misconstrued section 18-6-403(3)(b.5) in holding the evidence was sufficient to support T.B.’s adjudication for sexual exploitation of a child. The Court was satisfied that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's conclusion that the images constituted “erotic nudity” (and therefore “sexually exploitative material”) for purposes of the sexual exploitation of a child statute. View "Colorado in the Interest of T.B." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a district court order partially granting defendant-appellee Keith Haack’s motion and suppressing evidence acquired after officers made a warrantless entry into his residence. The district court found that the officers, who were investigating defendant for driving under the influence, had unlawfully followed the defendant into his home and, as a result, all relevant evidence they acquired either inside the home or after the defendant and officers went back outside should have been suppressed. The court expressly found that defendant was not in custody for purposes of Miranda warnings until he was ultimately arrested outside the home and that the results of the defendant’s field sobriety tests, including a horizontal gaze nystagmus test, and subsequent blood test, both of which were conducted after leaving the residence, would have been admissible but for the earlier constitutional violation. The court did not, however, offer any rationale for suppression of these test results beyond the fact that they followed in time the unlawful entry. In reversing the district court's order, the Colorado Supreme Court determined the district court failed to address the question of whether the evidence suppressed was independent of an earlier unlawful entry; the portion of the district court order suppressing this evidence was not adequately supported by its findings and is therefore vacated. The case was remanded with directions to determine whether the evidence acquired after leaving the defendant’s home was in fact derivative of the unlawful entry at all and if so whether the subsequent searches in which that evidence was discovered were genuinely independent sources of that evidence. View "Colorado v. Haack" on Justia Law

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After being charged with first degree murder as an adult in district court, Brandon Brown exercised his statutory right to request a “reverse transfer” to juvenile court. In doing so, he asked the Colorado Supreme Court to address whether he could temporarily waive privilege as to certain information at the reverse-transfer hearing without suffering a continued waiver at trial. The Court held he could not: nothing in the reverse-transfer statute gave Brown the ability to make such a limited waiver. "And, neither common law scope-of-waiver limitations nor constitutional principles regarding impermissibly burdening rights changes that result. By disclosing otherwise privileged information in open court during a reverse-transfer hearing, Brown would waive privilege as to any such information at trial." View "Colorado v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a court of appeals' judgment reversing respondent Mike Morehead's convictions for possession and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, as well as seven gambling-related charges. The pertinent issue presented to the Colorado Supreme Court was the trial court's denial of defendant’s motion to suppress evidence discovered in his home. The trial court ruled the officers’ initial entry of the home with the permission of the defendant’s former girlfriend was lawful and that the evidence seized in a subsequent search was conducted pursuant to a warrant that was supported by probable cause and was not misleading. By contrast, the intermediate appellate court found that defendant’s former girlfriend lacked either actual or apparent authority to consent to the officers’ initial entry of the defendant’s home, during which they observed gambling machines. It also declined, however, to either entertain arguments on appeal that the evidence seized in the subsequent warranted search was not the fruit of the initial entry or that its seizure at least came within an exception to the exclusionary rule, or to remand for findings concerning those issues, reasoning that the prosecution was barred from raising any such arguments for not having asserted them at any of the numerous suppression hearings. Instead, the appellate court ordered all the evidence seized from the defendant’s residence suppressed, and it reversed his convictions; but in addition, after supplemental briefing, it mandated that the trial court be barred from considering new arguments for admission of that evidence on retrial. The Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred in restricting the trial court's discretion to entertain additional evidence or consider additional arguments regarding the seizure of this evidence on retrial. Therefore, that portion of the appellate court's judgment was reversed. View "Colorado v. Morehead" on Justia Law

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The charge at issue arose after a witness spotted someone later identified as petitioner Bob Junior Maestas ringing the doorbell of an elderly neighbor’s home and then walking around the side of the house and attempting to open the gate. The witness called 911, and the police responded. Shortly thereafter, a different neighbor approached one of the officers who had arrived to assist, reporting he had heard someone try to open his front door. When they got to the neighbor’s detached garage, they noticed that the padlock on the door had been broken. The officer investigated and found Maestas hiding behind a couch in the garage. Officers later also discovered the sliding glass door in the back of the elderly neighbor’s house had been opened, despite the fact that she had left it closed the night before. The prosecution charged Maestas with attempted second degree burglary for opening the door of the elderly neighbor’s house and second degree burglary for Maestas’s entry into the garage with the intent to commit therein the crime of obstructing a peace officer. A jury ultimately convicted Maestas of all three charges against him, and he appealed, arguing, as pertinent here, that under the plain language of the burglary statute, the crime of obstructing a peace officer was not sufficient to establish the element of “intent to commit therein a crime against another person or property.” In a split unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed Maestas’s conviction on the burglary count, concluding that although Maestas had properly challenged the sufficiency of the evidence by twice moving for a judgment of acquittal in the trial court, he did not properly preserve the precise argument that he was making on appeal. The majority therefore concluded that the appropriate standard of review was for plain error and reviewed Maestas’s sufficiency claim pursuant to that standard. The minority concluded a plain error analysis of a sufficiency claim like the one at issue lead to unjust results. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded sufficiency of the evidence claims could be raised for the first time on appeal and were not subject to plain error review. Because the division reviewed Maestas’s sufficiency claim for plain error and affirmed the trial court’s ruling without considering the merits of Maestas’s assertion that insufficient evidence supported his conviction for second degree burglary, the Supreme Court reversed the portion of the judgment concerning that count and remanded this case with instructions that the division perform a de novo review of Maestas’s sufficiency claim. View "Maestas v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari review of a court of appeals' decision affirming David McCoy's convictions for two counts of unlawful sexual while engaged in the treatment or examination of a victim for other than bona fide medical purposes (a class four felony). On appeal, McCoy argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. The charges at issue stemmed from McCoy’s interactions with two young men, P.K. and G.M., who met with McCoy believing that they were interviewing and training for possible jobs with him. McCoy subsequently had them come to his apartment for what he represented would be job interviews and initial training. At some point during each of these meetings, McCoy told the young men that he needed to conduct a physical examination of them, allegedly to make sure that they were physically fit and able to do the supposed job. The police became involved in 2009, when P.K. contacted them following his encounter with McCoy. In a split published opinion, the appellate court affirmed, rejecting the State's argument regarding the standard of review, holding that appellate courts review claims of insufficient evidence de novo, even if the defendant did not raise such claims at trial. Proceeding then to interpret section 18-3-404(1)(g), C.R.S. (2018) in light of this standard, the division concluded that the provision unambiguously applied to someone in McCoy’s position because the statutory language did not restrict the provision’s application to medical professionals or those claiming to be medical professionals but rather applied to “any actor.” The appellate court thus concluded that the prosecution had presented sufficient evidence to sustain McCoy’s convictions. The Colorado Supreme Court initially concluded, as did the majority of the court of appeals, that sufficiency of the evidence claims could be raised for the first time on appeal and were not subject to plain error review. The Court determined 18-3-404(1)(g) was not facially overbroad nor unconstitutionally vague, and that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence to support McCoy's convictions. View "McCoy v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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While patrolling Mesa County, Deputy Stuckenschneider observed a black Dodge pickup driving with a missing front license plate. Stuckenschneider phoned Deputy Briggs, alerting her to the situation. A few days prior, Sergeant Beagley had stopped the same car for being incorrectly registered and for displaying invalid license plates. Briggs knew all of this when she received the alert from Stuckenschneider. Briggs informed defendant Amanda Gadberry that she initiated the stop because of the missing front plate. Gadberry told Briggs that the car indeed had a front plate and, upon inspection, Briggs found the missing plate shoved into the grill of the Dodge, although the car was still improperly registered. While all of this was happening, Beagley, Handler Cheryl Yaws, and dog Talu, who is trained to alert to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, arrived on the scene. During the time that it took Briggs to run Gadberry’s plates, Beagley asked Gadberry if there was any marijuana in the vehicle. She said no. Shortly thereafter, Talu sniffed around the car and alerted to the driver and passenger doors. With the benefit of that alert, the officers conducted a search of the car, finding a cellophane wrapper of methamphetamine lodged inside a wallet. Gadberry was then charged with (1) display of a fictitious license plate, (2) possession of drug paraphernalia, and (3) possession of a controlled substance. Gadberry moved to suppress the evidence on four grounds: (1) Briggs didn’t have reasonable suspicion to initiate the stop; (2) the stop was unreasonably prolonged; (3) Talu’s sniff was unlawful because Talu was trained to alert on both marijuana, a legal substance, and illegal substances, such as methamphetamine; and (4) Talu’s sniff was unreliable. The trial court denied claims one and two. The trial court did, however, grant Gadberry’s motion to suppress based on claim three. It followed the court of appeals’ decision in Colorado v. McKnight, 2017 COA 93, __ P.3d __, and found that a sniff is a search when a drug-detection dog can alert to both illegal and legal substances. Here, the trial court found no one presented any evidence suggesting that the vehicle had any illegal substances in it or that Gadberry was aware of all the belongings in the car, especially since multiple people had driven the car in the few days before the stop. Therefore, the trial court reasoned that, under McKnight, the officers on the scene needed reasonable suspicion that Gadberry had been involved in criminal activity to initiate Talu’s sniff. Because the officers here lacked reasonable suspicion to deploy Talu, the court granted the motion to suppress and didn’t reach claim four. The State asked for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review, and the Supreme Court determined the officers needed probable cause to deploy Talu. “They didn’t have it. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s suppression order.” View "Colorado v. Gadberry" on Justia Law

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Police officers discovered a pipe inside of defendant Kevin McKnight’s truck containing what later proved to be methamphetamine residue. McKnight would ultimately be charged and convicted for various drug offenses. On appeal, he challenged the constitutionality of the search that netted the pipe. A divided court of appeals reversed McKnight’s convictions, each member writing separately on the issue of what effect, if any, legalized marijuana in Colorado should have on the constitutionality of the search of McKnight’s truck. The drug-detection dog used to find the pipe, Kilo, was trained to alert on multiple drugs, including marijuana. “Even a hint of marijuana can trigger the same response from Kilo as any quantity of methamphetamine.” The Supreme Court surmised that no matter how reliable his nose, Kilo could render “a kind of false positive for marijuana. He has been trained to alert to marijuana based on the notion that marijuana is always contraband, when that is no longer true under state law. And historically, whether a drug-detection dog might alert on noncontraband drives whether the dog’s sniff constitutes a search implicating constitutional protections.” The Court determined the dog’s sniff arguably intruded on a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in lawful activity; therefore any intrusion had to be justified by some particuarlized suspicion of criminal activity. The Supreme Court held that a sniff from a drug-detection dog trained to alert to marijuana constitutes a search under the Colorado Constitution because the sniff could detect lawful activity (namely the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults aged twenty-one years or older). Furthermore, the Court held in Colorado, law enforcement officers must have probable cause to believe that an item or area contains a drug in violation of state law before deploying a drug-detection dog that alerts to marijuana for an exploratory sniff. Because there was no such probable cause justifying Kilo’s search of McKnight’s truck, the trial court erred in denying McKnight’s motion to suppress. View "Colorado v. McKnight" on Justia Law