Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In this case and two companion cases announced at the same time, Melton v. Colorado, 2019 CO 89, and Colorado v. McRae, 2019 CO 91, the Colorado Supreme Court considered “multiple issues that lie at the intersection of proportionality review and habitual criminal punishment.” In June 2012, an undercover agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, received information from a confidential informant that Belinda May Wells-Yates was stealing identity documents from cars, and arranged a meeting, during which she sold him a birth certificate, a social security card, and a driver’s license. Several days later, the Waldo Canyon fire started. Wells-Yates told the agent that she was “chasing the fire” - stealing property from homes that had been evacuated. The agent scheduled another meeting, during which she sold him additional stolen property. Wells-Yates was arrested; a search revealed a bag containing a small amount of methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia. The prosecution charged Wells-Yates in 2012 with second degree burglary, conspiracy to commit second degree burglary, theft, possession with intent to sell or distribute 7 grams or less of a schedule II controlled substance, four counts of identity theft, and three habitual criminal counts. In February 2013, a jury found Wells-Yates guilty of all the substantive charges. Following a bench trial in May 2013, the court adjudicated her a habitual criminal based on three predicate offenses. In total, Wells-Yates received an aggregate prison term of 72 years, eligible for parole. The trial court found that the sentence was not unconstitutionally disproportionate, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that a reviewing court must consider each triggering offense and the predicate offenses together and determine whether, in combination, they are so lacking in gravity or seriousness as to raise an inference that the sentence imposed on that triggering offense is grossly disproportionate. Because the court of appeals’ decision was at odds with the conclusions the Court reached in this opinion, it reversed judgment. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. View "Wells-Yates v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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After a traffic stop of a Cadillac driven by Billie Allen, Greeley Police Department officers conducted an inventory search that yielded a handgun and methamphetamine. In an interlocutory appeal brought by the State of Colorado, the issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the district court erred in granting Allen’s pretrial request to suppress those items. The State argued no constitutional violation occurred when the Cadillac was seized and inventoried because the officers properly exercised their discretion in deciding to impound it. Alternatively, the State contended the officers were authorized to conduct either a protective search for weapons or a search pursuant to the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The Supreme Court surmised whether the officers had probable cause to search the Cadillac, as required by the automobile exception, was a close question, but one it ultimately concluded the district court resolved correctly. And, because the Court also agreed with the district court that neither the protective search exception nor the inventory search exception could justify the challenged search, it affirmed the outcome. View "Colorado v. Allen" on Justia Law

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Brooke Rojas received food stamp benefits to which she was not legally entitled. The prosecution charged her with two counts of theft under the general theft statute, section 18-4-401(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Rojas moved to dismiss these charges, arguing that she could only be prosecuted under section 26-2-305(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), because it created the specific crime of theft of food stamps. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury convicted Rojas of the two general theft counts. Rojas contended on appeal that the trial court erred by denying the motion to dismiss because section 26-2-305(1)(a) abrogated the general theft statute in food stamp benefit cases. A split division of the court of appeals agreed with her. The Colorado Supreme Court, however, disagreed with Rojas and the division majority. Based on the statute’s plain language, the Supreme Court held the legislature didn’t create a crime separate from general theft by enacting section 26-2-305(1)(a). View "Colorado v. Rojas" on Justia Law

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In early 2013, an undercover officer sold Clayton Schaner a series of ostensibly stolen goods as part of an investigation into whether Schaner was using his computer repair store as a front to buy and resell stolen items on e-commerce websites. At the time, petitioner Caleb Butler was the store’s assistant manager. Investigators discovered that Schaner made near-daily transfers of money to Butler from his e-commerce sites, and Butler then withdrew cash and gave it to Schaner. Schaner and Butler were both arrested. Schaner was charged with a number of offenses, among them money laundering. Butler was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, two counts of money laundering for aiding and abetting Schaner in two specific laundering transactions. On appeal, Butler challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him to support the laundering charges. Finding no reversible error, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. View "Butler v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Julian Deleon was charged with two counts of sexual assault on a child. During his trial, Deleon exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination and elected not to testify. At the jury instruction conference prior to closing arguments, Deleon tendered an instruction regarding a defendant’s right to remain silent, which the trial court denied because it did not match the pattern instruction. Instead, the court indicated that it would give that pattern instruction. But at the close of evidence, the trial court never instructed the jury regarding Deleon’s right to remain silent either verbally or in writing. Deleon argued this constituted reversible error. Under the facts of this case, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed and reversed for further proceedings. View "Deleon v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Deputies interrogated Jacob Davis in the basement of his parents’ home about an alleged sexual assault. At that time, Davis made some incriminating statements. He moved to suppress those statements, arguing they were obtained in violation of his Miranda rights. The trial court granted his motion to suppress, finding Davis was subjected to a custodial interrogation without having first been given a Miranda advisement. The State appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court determined Davis was not in custody at the time for the purposes of Miranda, so it reversed the trial court’s suppression order. View "Colorado v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Derrick Carrera pled guilty to possession of one gram or less of a schedule I controlled substance, a class 6 felony, in August 2010. Consistent with the parties’ plea agreement, in October 2010, the district court placed Carrera on a two-year deferred judgment and required the probation department to supervise him. The court imposed certain conditions of supervision, including the payment of $1,183.50 in fees and costs. No restitution was requested or ordered. In September 2012, Carrera and his case manager filed a joint motion requesting that the deferred judgment be extended for six months, from October 4, 2012, when it was scheduled to expire, until April 4, 2013. The motion explained that the extension was necessary “[t]o allow [Carrera] more time in which to complete his Court-ordered obligations.” It then specified that Carrera still owed some of the fees and costs imposed. The prosecution did not object, and the district court granted the motion and extended the deferred judgment. On April 2, 2013, Carrera’s case manager submitted a complaint to revoke the deferred judgment, alleging that Carrera had failed to pay $938.50 of the fees and costs and to complete outpatient treatment. Following an evidentiary hearing, the district court found that the prosecution had proven both of the alleged violations, and revoked Carrera’s deferred judgment, entered a judgment of conviction, and sentenced him to unsupervised probation for a period of one year. Carrera appealed. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on the interpretation of section 18-1.3-102(1), C.R.S. (2019), as it read between 2002 and 2012. That statute authorized trial courts to place a defendant on a deferred judgment and sentence “except that such period may be extended for an additional time up to one hundred eighty days” if the payment of restitution was the only condition of supervision not yet fulfilled. In a “fractured” opinion, the court of appeals determined that the language of section 18-1.3-102(1) was ambiguous because the parties’ diametrically opposed constructions were both reasonable. It then concluded that “other interpretive aids must be consulted” and that “those interpretive aids refute [Carrera’s] reading of the statute and support the [prosecution’s] interpretation.” The Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court’s analysis and affirmed judgment. View "Carrera v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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R.B. was knocked cold from behind when trying to enter a locked door to a bar. His belongings were taken. Police identified defendant Johnny Delgado as someone fleeing the scene. Police caught Delgado, who was eventually convicted of both theft from a person and robbery based on a single taking. But theft from a person was the unlawful taking of an item without force, and robbery was the unlawful taking of an item with force. Thus, based on the elements, it appears that Delgado was both convicted and absolved of taking R.B.’s belongings without force. And he was both convicted and absolved of taking R.B.’s belongings with force. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded these verdicts could not be legally or logically reconciled: elements of the two convictions were mutually exclusive. The State argued that as remedy, even if the verdicts were mutually exclusive, the cure was to maximize the convictions by throwing out the lesser theft-from-a-person conviction. Delgado countered that double jeopardy required striking both convictions. The appellate court took a middle ground and concluded that, here, the solution was a new trial. To this, the Supreme Court concurred: “Because such mutually exclusive convictions leave us without a meaningful way to discern the jury’s intent, the proper remedy is a new trial.” View "Colorado v. Delgado" on Justia Law

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Kyle Brooks was convicted by jury of two class 4 felony counts for victim tampering. The the trial court adjudicated him to be a habitual criminal based on two prior felony convictions, including his guilty plea to theft from a person. As a result, the court sentenced him to twenty-four years in prison. Brooks claimed on appeal of that conviction his prior theft from a person conviction was constitutionally invalid. The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the record established by a preponderance of the evidence whether Brooks understood the elements of theft from a person when he previously pleaded guilty. After that review, the Supreme Court concluded that it did, and held that Brooks’s prior guilty plea to theft from a person was constitutionally valid. The Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals on different grounds. View "Brooks v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At the time of the dissolution of their marriage, Ryan Boettcher (“father”) and Christina Boettcher (“mother”) agreed that neither party would pay child support. Several years later, mother, citing a substantial change in father’s income, sought a modification of the original decree so that she could receive child support. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing to determine whether modification was appropriate. At the hearing, the parties admitted evidence of their incomes showing that mother earned $13,343 per month and father earned $92,356 per month—a combined monthly income far exceeding the highest combined income of $30,000 per month listed in the schedule contained in the statutory child support guidelines. Father requested that the district court impose a monthly child support obligation of $1,424.82, which would be the presumptive award amount if the parties combined income were $30,000 per month. Father argued that the presumptive amount of child support for that income level was also the presumptive amount for any higher income level. If the court ordered a higher payment, father argued, such payment would constitute a deviation from the statutory presumptive amount and would require specific findings under section 14-10-115(8)(e) C.R.S. (2019). Mother disagreed, contending the district court should extrapolate father’s monthly child support obligations from the uppermost level of the guidelines in light of the parties’ actual combined income. This approach would result in a monthly support payment of $5,024. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the plain language of the statute provided that the uppermost award identified explicitly in the schedule was the minimum presumptive award for families with higher incomes, and the district court could, within its discretion, aware more than that amount so long as the court supports its order with findings made pursuant to 14-10-115(2)(b). View "In re Marriage of Boettcher" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law