Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Appellee David Ehrnstein was convicted by jury of incest against L.E. He filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that one of his trial prosecutors and the victim advocate in his case had instructed L.E. to avoid a defense subpoena. Prior to holding a hearing on that motion, the trial court found that it was compelled by the rules of professional conduct to appoint a special prosecutor for purposes of the hearing. Pursuant to sections 16-12-102(2) and 20-1-107(3), C.R.S. (2017), the district attorney filed an interlocutory appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court, which was faced with deciding whether the trial court abused its discretion in appointing the special prosecutor. The Court concluded the trial court abused its discretion because it misapplied the law when it concluded that Colo. RPC 3.7 required the appointment of a special prosecutor for purposes of the hearing on the new trial motion in this case. View "Colorado v. Ehrnstein" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed a district court order suppressing drug evidence that the defendant dropped on the ground when he was approached by the police on the street. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence because, at the time the defendant dropped the drugs, no seizure had taken place. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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In this case the Colorado Supreme Court considered two issues: (1) whether defendant Adam Smith waived or invited error with respect to his claim of a prejudicial simple variance when defense counsel stated that the proposed jury instructions were generally acceptable; and (2) whether a jury instruction that did not identify the particular victim named in the charging document created a simple variance warranting reversal when the jury could potentially have deemed either of two people to be the victim. In light of the Court’s opinion in Colorado v. Rediger, 2018 CO 32, ___ P.3d ___, the Court concluded that Smith neither waived nor invited error with respect to his variance claim because the record did not indicate that he intentionally relinquished a known right or that he injected the alleged error into this case. Consequently, the Court reviewed Smith’s variance claim for plain error, and because the Court could not say that the evidence presented at Smith’s trial obviously would have allowed the jury to conclude that Smith menaced a victim not named in his charging document, the trial court did not plainly err in instructing the jury without specifying the victim. View "Colorado v. Smith" on Justia Law

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David Rediger drove to the Rocky Mountain Youth Academy (the “Academy”) to speak with Stacey Holland, the Academy’s owner and director. Holland and her husband had accused Rediger of stealing hay from their property, and Rediger intended to speak with Holland about the theft charges against him. Holland characterized Rediger’s behavior as “very aggressive” and said that she “was very scared” and “felt really threatened” by Rediger’s conduct. Rediger conceded that he did not initially leave when asked to do so, but he said that he never stepped inside the school building and that he “was trying not to make a scene at the school.” Based on this incident, the State charged Rediger with intimidating a witness or victim, interference with a public employee in a public building, and interference with staff, faculty, or students of an educational institution. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the State’s petition and Rediger’s cross-petition for certiorari review of the court of appeals division’s decision affirming in part and reversing in part Rediger’s convictions for: (1) interference with a public employee in a public building and (2) interference with the staff, faculty, or students of an educational institution. With regard to the first conviction, the issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether the owner-director of a nonprofit school regulated by various governmental entities was a “public employee” within the meaning of section 18-9-110(1)., C.R.S. (2017). Based on the plain meaning of the phrase “public employee,” the Supreme Court agreed. With regard to the second conviction, the issue reduced to invited error and waiver. A majority of the appeals court concluded that Rediger had waived his right to challenge the constructive amendment of his criminal information when his defense counsel stated that he was “satisfied” with the proposed jury instructions. In the Supreme Court’s view, mere acquiescence to a jury instruction does not constitute a waiver without some record evidence that the defendant intentionally relinquished a known right. Likewise, the Court disagreed with the State’s contention that Rediger’s alleged acquiescence to the erroneous instructions tendered by the State constitutes invited error. Reviewing for plain error, the Supreme Court concluded the discrepancy between the charging document and the jury instructions in this case effected a constructive amendment of the charging document, and on the record presented, this error was plain and required reversal. View "Colorado v. Rediger" on Justia Law

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David Rediger drove to the Rocky Mountain Youth Academy (the “Academy”) to speak with Stacey Holland, the Academy’s owner and director. Holland and her husband had accused Rediger of stealing hay from their property, and Rediger intended to speak with Holland about the theft charges against him. Holland characterized Rediger’s behavior as “very aggressive” and said that she “was very scared” and “felt really threatened” by Rediger’s conduct. Rediger conceded that he did not initially leave when asked to do so, but he said that he never stepped inside the school building and that he “was trying not to make a scene at the school.” Based on this incident, the State charged Rediger with intimidating a witness or victim, interference with a public employee in a public building, and interference with staff, faculty, or students of an educational institution. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the State’s petition and Rediger’s cross-petition for certiorari review of the court of appeals division’s decision affirming in part and reversing in part Rediger’s convictions for: (1) interference with a public employee in a public building and (2) interference with the staff, faculty, or students of an educational institution. With regard to the first conviction, the issue presented to the Supreme Court was whether the owner-director of a nonprofit school regulated by various governmental entities was a “public employee” within the meaning of section 18-9-110(1)., C.R.S. (2017). Based on the plain meaning of the phrase “public employee,” the Supreme Court agreed. With regard to the second conviction, the issue reduced to invited error and waiver. A majority of the appeals court concluded that Rediger had waived his right to challenge the constructive amendment of his criminal information when his defense counsel stated that he was “satisfied” with the proposed jury instructions. In the Supreme Court’s view, mere acquiescence to a jury instruction does not constitute a waiver without some record evidence that the defendant intentionally relinquished a known right. Likewise, the Court disagreed with the State’s contention that Rediger’s alleged acquiescence to the erroneous instructions tendered by the State constitutes invited error. Reviewing for plain error, the Supreme Court concluded the discrepancy between the charging document and the jury instructions in this case effected a constructive amendment of the charging document, and on the record presented, this error was plain and required reversal. View "Colorado v. Rediger" on Justia Law

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Following a stop and inventory search of his car, Therrold Quick was charged with possession of a weapon by a previous offender, violation of a protection order, driving under restraint, and violation of a traffic control signal. He moved to suppress a gun discovered during the search as the product of an unconstitutional seizure of his car. The State brought an interlocutory appeal of the district court’s order granting Quick’s motion to suppress the gun. The district court initially denied the motion, upon reconsideration in light of the court of appeals’ opinion in Colorado v. Brown, 2016 COA 150, __ P.3d __, it found that where Quick was merely cited, and not actually arrested, for driving with a suspended license, and where the only justification offered for seizing his car was instead the likelihood that he would continue to drive and thereby endanger public safety, the initial seizure of his car did not fall within the community caretaking exception to the probable cause and warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Because compliance with a departmental policy or procedure is insufficient in and of itself to bring the seizure of a vehicle within an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, and because seizing a vehicle to prevent the driver from continuing to drive with a suspended license does not fall within the specific community caretaking exception, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Quick" on Justia Law

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Carl Brown was charged with and convicted of possession with intent to distribute a schedule II controlled substance, stemming from the discovery of crack cocaine during an inventory search of his vehicle. He was sentenced to ten years in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. The State petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing Brown’s drug-related conviction on the ground that his motion to suppress should have been granted. The district court found that the contraband in question was discovered during an inventory search of the defendant’s vehicle, the conduct of which was within the officers’ discretion according to the policies and procedures of the Aurora Police Department, even though they had already decided to issue a summons rather than arrest the defendant for driving with a suspended license. The court of appeals found that in the absence of an arrest, seizing the defendant’s vehicle so as to provoke an inventory of its contents could not be justified as an exercise of the police caretaking function, and in the absence of any other recognized exception to the probable cause and warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment, violated its prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Colorado Supreme Court found the trial court record failed to demonstrate that seizure of the defendant’s vehicle was justified as an exercise of the police caretaking function or was otherwise reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, regardless of local ordinances or police policies and procedures broad enough to grant the officers discretion to impound the vehicle of a driver merely summoned rather than arrested for driving with a suspended license, the judgment of the court of appeals thus affirmed. View "Colorado v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The State sought review of a court of appeals judgment that reversed an amended restitution order that substantially increased defendant Franck Belibi after he was convicted. Following the acceptance of Belibi’s guilty plea, the imposition of a sentence to probation, including a stipulation to $4,728 restitution, and the entry of judgment, the district court amended its restitution order to require the payment of an additional $302,022 in restitution. The court of appeals held that in the absence of anything in the court’s written or oral pronouncements reserving a final determination of the amount of restitution, the initial restitution order had become final and could not be amended. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed: because a judgment of conviction, absent a statutorily authorized order reserving a determination of the final amount of restitution due, finalizes any specific amount already set, the sentencing court lacked the power to increase restitution beyond the previously set amount of $4,728. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "Colorado v. Belibi" on Justia Law

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The State sought review of a court of appeals judgment that reversed an amended restitution order that substantially increased defendant Franck Belibi after he was convicted. Following the acceptance of Belibi’s guilty plea, the imposition of a sentence to probation, including a stipulation to $4,728 restitution, and the entry of judgment, the district court amended its restitution order to require the payment of an additional $302,022 in restitution. The court of appeals held that in the absence of anything in the court’s written or oral pronouncements reserving a final determination of the amount of restitution, the initial restitution order had become final and could not be amended. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed: because a judgment of conviction, absent a statutorily authorized order reserving a determination of the final amount of restitution due, finalizes any specific amount already set, the sentencing court lacked the power to increase restitution beyond the previously set amount of $4,728. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "Colorado v. Belibi" on Justia Law

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Carlos Meza pled guilty, pursuant to a plea agreement, to the Class A Traffic Infraction of “Limitations on backing.” Although defendant was present at the providency hearing, his guilty plea consisted merely of acknowledging his reading, understanding, and signing a standardized advisement and plea form, which was presented to the court by the prosecutor, along with an unsigned order for restitution in the amount of $150. The court accepted the plea, fined the defendant $100, ordered restitution, and signed both the completed advisement and plea form and the restitution order. Shortly thereafter, the State filed a motion for additional restitution, which was opposed by the defendant. In addition to legal argument before the trial court, both counsel made a number of further factual allegations concerning the incident, the reasons for the victim’s belief that his full damages would be, but were not, paid by defendant’s insurance company, and the plea negotiations. The county court ordered the requested additional amount of restitution, finding that the victim had suffered a loss of $936.85 that was not known to the State or the court at sentencing, when restitution was initially, but not finally, set at $150. On appeal, the district court, sitting as the court of direct appellate review (pursuant to the simplified procedure for county court convictions) found that the annotation “RR” on the form guilty plea was sufficient to reserve the final amount of restitution and that the record supported the county court’s finding of an additional loss not known at sentencing; it therefore affirmed the increase as having been sanctioned by section 18-1.3-603(3)(a) of the revised statutes. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. Because a judgment of conviction, absent a statutorily authorized order reserving a determination of the final amount of restitution, finalizes any specific amount already set, and because the court ordered no reservation in this case, it lacked the power to increase the amount of restitution it had previously set. View "Meza v. Colorado" on Justia Law