Articles Posted in Juvenile Law

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In 2006, Guy Lucero was convicted by jury for multiple offenses arising from a drive-by shooting. He was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Lucero to consecutive term-of-years prison sentences for each count, aggravated as crimes of violence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of eighty-four years. The court of appeals affirmed Lucero’s convictions and sentences on direct appeal. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile non-homicide offender, concluding that states must “give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Subsequently, Lucero filed a motion pursuant to Rule 35(b) of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure seeking reduction of his sentence. As relevant here, Lucero argued that his sentence must be reduced under Graham to meet constitutional standards, because an eighty-four-year sentence imposed on a juvenile carried the same implications as a sentence of life without parole. The trial court denied the motion; the court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Lucero's aggregate term-of-years sentence. The Court also rejected Lucero’s argument that the court of appeals erred in treating his claim as one under Rule 35(c). View "Lucero v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Atorrus Rainer was convicted by jury on two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of aggravated robbery, and crime of violence. He was seventeen at the time of the charged offenses, and he was charged as an adult. Rainer was sentenced to forty-eight years for each attempted murder charge, thirty-two years for each assault charge, and thirty-two years each for the charges of burglary and aggravated robbery. The sentences for the two counts of attempted murder were subsequently ordered to run concurrently, as were the sentences for the two counts of assault, resulting in an aggregate sentence of 112 years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which categorically banned sentences of life without parole for juveniles who were not convicted of homicide, Rainer moved the district court to vacate the sentence, arguing that his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional under "Graham." The district court denied the motion. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, concluding that, because Rainer would be eligible for parole at about age seventy-five, thus ineligible for parole within his expected lifetime, he had no meaningful opportunity to obtain release and was unconstitutional under "Graham" and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Rainer's aggregate term-of-years sentence. View "Colorado v. Rainer" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Cheryl Armstrong was convicted by jury on two counts of second-degree murder under a complicity theory. She was sixteen at the time of the charged offenses, and was tried as an adult. Armstrong was sentenced to forty-eight years in prison on each count, to be served consecutively, resulting in an aggregate sentence of ninety-six years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which categorically banned sentences of life without parole for juveniles who were not convicted of homicide, Armstrong moved the district court to vacate the sentence, arguing that her aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional under "Graham." The district court denied Armstrong’s motion. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Armstrong will be eligible for parole at about age sixty, she has a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, and her sentence thereby complied with "Graham" and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Armstrong's aggregate term-of-years sentence. View "Armstrong v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a jury convicted Alejandro Estrada-Huerta of second-degree kidnapping and sexual assault. Estrada-Huerta was seventeen at the time he was charged, and he was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Estrada-Huerta to twenty-four years for the kidnapping conviction and sixteen years to life for each count of sexual assault. The sexual assault sentences were ordered to run concurrently with each other but consecutive to the kidnapping sentence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of forty years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Estrada-Huerta moved to vacate his sentences, arguing his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and was therefore unconstitutional under Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Estrada-Huerta would be eligible for parole at age fifty-eight, he had a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, therefore his sentence complied with “Graham” and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s result, though on different grounds. The Court found that “Graham” and “Miller” did not apply in this matter; Estrada-Huerta was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole: he received consecutive terms for three separate convictions. View "Estrada-Huerta v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Police responded to a domestic disturbance involving then 16-year-old A.L.-C., who was feuding with he mother and stepfather on the first floor of the family home. B.O., his sister, told an aunt who was in the house, that A.L.-C. had sexually assaulted her. B.O. repeated her allegations to the police. A.L.-C. was briefly detained, but then returned to his parents. The following day, A.L.-C. and his parents went to the police station for questioning about the alleged sexual assaults. A detective and Spanish interpreter advised the three of A.L.-C.'s "Miranda" rights, then the detective and interpreter stepped out of the room to allow the family to discuss whether A.L.-C. would waive his rights. A videorecorder captured their exchange. Initially, the tape showed the parents individually asking A.L.-C. whether he understood his rights. A.L.-C. replied that he was "always the liar, or the one lying" and told his mother he would rather keep quiet. Whether A.L.-C. meant this as a refusal to speak with his mother or with the police was unclear. Minutes later, the detective and interpreter re-enetered the room and A.L.-C. and his mother both signed the Miranda waiver form. A.L.-C. indicated he understood his rights and agreed to discuss his sister's allegations. A.L.-C.'s stepfather left the room before more questioning began, but his mother remained for its entirety. At issue was A.L.-C.'s statement to his mother outside of police presence. The trial court suppressed A.L.-C.'s incriminating statements, concluding that although his mother was present, she could not protect his right to remain silent because she did not share his interests. The State sought the Colorado Supreme Court's review. Finding that the plain language of section 19-2-511(1) C.R.S. (2016) required only that a parent be present during the advisement and interrogation, the Supreme Court reversed the suppression order. View "People in the Interest of A.L.-C." on Justia Law

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Similar to "Colorado v. Johnson," (2016 CO 69 (2016)), at issue in this case were questions involving what a trial court could order when a juvenile seeks a reverse-transfer of her criminal case from trial court to juvenile court. Defendant Brooke Higgins was a juvenile respondent before a magistrate judge. The district attorney requested, and Higgins' then-defense-counsel agreed to, a state administered mental health assessment of Higgins. Because the parties agreed, the magistrate judge ordered the assessment. Later, in front of a trial court, the DA dismissed the juvenile charges against Higgins and charged her as an adult with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Higgins sought, and the trial court granted, a reverse-transfer hearing to determine whether she should remain in adult court. Before that hearing, Higgins, now represented by different counsel, filed a motion to suppress the mental health assessment and disqualify the trial court judge. The trial court denied both requests, holding that the parties stipulated to the assessment, and there was independent statutory authority for the magistrate judge to order the assessment. Higgins appealed, arguing the trial court lacked authority to order a juvenile-charged-as-an-adult to undergo a mental health assessment for a reverse-transfer hearing. The Supreme Court found that based on the facts of this case, Higgins' arguments, while loosely related to those in "Johnson," were hypothetical and premature. The Court therefore vacated the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Higgins v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were questions involving what a trial court could order when a juvenile seeks a reverse-transfer of her criminal case from trial court to juvenile court. The district attorney directly filed a criminal complaint against defendant Sienna Johnson in trial court, treating her as an adult and charging her with two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Defendant requested a reverse-transfer hearing, and the trial court granted her request. The State appealed, arguing that C.R.S. 19-2-517(3)(b)(VI) (the reverse-transfer statute) required a trial court to evaluate the petitioner's mental health. The DA requested access to defendant's mental health and psychological records and requested a court-ordered mental health assessment. Defendant responded that she should not have to produce the records because she had not waived her psychotherapist-patient privilege in her request for a reverse-transfer, and the statute did not give the trial court authority to order an assessment. The trial court ruled in favor of the DA on both counts. The Supreme Court concluded after review: (1) nothing in the reverse-transfer statute stated that a juvenile waived her psychotherapist-patient privilege by requesting a reverse-transfer hearing, so the trial court could not order her to produce her mental records; and (2) nothing in the statute gave the trial court explicit authority to order the mental health assessment. The case was therefore remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 1997, Frank Vigil, Jr. was convicted of first degree murder for his participation in the kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of a 14-year-old girl. Vigil was sixteen at the time of the crime. The trial court sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), because it was the statutorily-mandated sentence for crimes committed between 1990 and 2006. In 2013, Vigil filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion for post-conviction relief, arguing that his sentence was unconstitutional under "Miller v. Alabama," (132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012)). Finding that Miller applied retroactively to Vigil’s sentence, the trial court granted the motion. The State petitioned pursuant to C.A.R. 50, arguing that "Miller" did not apply retroactively. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that this case was governed by "Jensen v. Colorado," (2015 CO 42), which held that "Miller" did not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review of a final judgment. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court's grant of post-conviction relief. View "Colorado v. Vigil" on Justia Law

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Three cases concerning juvenile sentencing were consolidated by the Supreme Court for the purpose of this opinion. In each, the Court examined the appropriate remedies for the defendants whose sentences would otherwise be unconstitutional under "Miller v. Alabama," (132 S. CT 2455 (2012)). Under the statutory schemen in place between 1990 and 2006, all three defendants in these cases were given mandatory life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for the crimes they committed as juveniles. Two of the cases, "Colorado v. Tate" and "Banks v. Colorado," came to the Supreme Court on direct review. "Miller" applied to these cases and rendered their sentences unconstitutional. "In order to preserve as much of the legislature’s work as possible, Tate and Banks should be given individualized resentencing hearings that take into account their 'youth and attendant characteristics.'" The third case, "Jensen," was a C.A.R. 50 petition that came on collateral review of a final judgment. Because this case was on collateral review, the issue was whether "Miller" applied retroactively. The Colorado Court found that because the rule announced in "Miller" was procedural rather than substantive, and was not a "watershed" rule of procedure, it did not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review of final judgment. Therefore, "Miller" did not apply to Jensen. View "Colorado v. Tate" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court granted review in two cases to determine what remedy is appropriate for juvenile defendants who were given sentences that would be unconstitutional under the federal Supreme Court's decision in "Miller v. Alabama," (132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)). The issue in a third case centered on whether that remedy applies retroactively. Tenarro Banks and Michael Quinn Tate, were convicted in 2004 of class 1 felonies for acts committed when they were juveniles. Tate was convicted of felony murder for the stabbing death of a friend's father during a burglary when Tate was sixteen. Banks was convicted of first degree murder for shooting another teenager outside of a house party when he was fifteen. Under the sentencing scheme in place at the time, which governed offenses committed between 1990 and 2006, both Banks and Tate were given mandatory sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole ("LWOP"). While both cases were pending on appeal to the court of appeals, the Supreme Court released its opinion in "Miller." The Miller decision rendered the Colorado statutory scheme for mandatory LWOP in place between 1990 and 2006 unconstitutional as applied to juveniles, including Tate and Banks. The Colorado Court determined that the state legislature had not acted to adopt a new sentencing scheme in light of Miller. The Court therefore remanded these cases for such a determination: if the trial court should determine, after an individualized sentencing process, that LWOP was not warranted, the appropriate sentence (in the absence of legislative action) was life in prison with the possibility of parole after forty years ("LWPP"). This was the sentence that was in place both before and after the mandatory LWOP scheme at issue in this case—that is, before 1990 and after 2006. Eric Jensen was convicted in 1998 of first degree murder for helping a friend kill the friend's mother and dispose of the body. He committed this crime when he was seventeen. Under the sentencing scheme in place at the time, Jensen was given a mandatory sentence to LWOP. On direct appeal, the court of appeals affirmed the judgment. The Colorado Court denied Jensen's certiorari petition, and the judgment became final. Jensen later filed two Crim.P. 35(c) motions for post-conviction relief, the second of which was at issue here: the trial court denied the motion, and Jensen appealed to the court of appeals. While that appeal was pending, the Supreme Court released Miller. Jensen moved for post-conviction relief in light of Miller. The issue Jensen's case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether Miller's holding was retroactive to Jensen's case. The Court concluded that the new rule announced in Miller was procedural, rather than substantive, in nature, and that therefore it did not apply retroactively. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court's order denying his motion for post-conviction relief. View "Colorado v. Tate" on Justia Law