Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

by
Centennial Water and Sanitation District appealed a water court order dismissing its objection to the Well Augmentation Subdistrict’s ("WAS") proposal to use additional sources of replacement water for its previously decreed augmentation plan. Centennial had asserted that WAS failed to comply with the notice requirements of the decree itself and that this failure amounted to a per se injury, for which it was entitled to relief without any further showing of operational effect. The water court heard Centennial’s motion objecting to WAS’s proposed addition of new sources of replacement water and, without requiring WAS to present evidence, found that Centennial failed to establish prima facie facts of WAS’s inability to deliver augmentation water in quantity or time to prevent injury to other water users. Referencing C.R.C.P. 41 as the appropriate procedural vehicle, the water court dismissed Centennial’s objection. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the water court: the water court’s jurisdiction was statutorily limited to preventing or curing injury to other water users, and the evidence presented by Centennial failed to establish that WAS would be unable, under the conditions imposed by the Engineer for approval of the additional sources of replacement water, to deliver augmentation water sufficient to prevent injury to other water users. View "Well Augmentation Subdist. v. Centennial Water & Sanitation Dist." on Justia Law

by
A district court denied Elizabeth Tafoya a preliminary hearing. Tafoya was accused of a class four felony, DUI (fourth or subsequent offense). She requested a preliminary hearing on that charge, but the district court found the DUI count was substantively a misdemeanor that could only be elevated to felony by a sentence enhancer--here, as a fourth or subsequent offense. The Colorado Supreme Court determined, however, under the plain language of the applicable statute, Tafoya was entitled to a preliminary hearing, and the district court erred in denying her request. View "In re Colorado v. Tafoya" on Justia Law

by
Police witnessed a car driven by Respondent Simon Kubuugu exit a parking lot, pull into traffic, and make a U-turn that forced other drivers to swerve to avoid hitting him. Kubuugu drive slowly past the police car, and parked in an apartment complex. Kubuugu's seven-year-old child was in the car. The officer went over to Kubuugu’s car to make contact with him, and Kubuugu reacted by backing his car over a bush, apparently in an attempt to leave the apartment complex. That attempt failed because the exit was blocked by a second police car that had responded to a call for assistance. Kubuugu then got out of his car and quickly walked away with a beer can in his hand, leaving his child in the car. Eventually, Kubuugu was stopped. Another deputy searched Kubuugu’s car and found two or three empty beer cans. The record did not reflect a breath or blood alcohol test or any sobriety test was performed, but Kubuugu was arrested and charged with criminal impersonation, child abuse, driving under restraint, reckless driving, and driving under the influence. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed the officer to testify as a lay witness about his ability to detect the smell of metabolized alcohol and, based on that metabolized odor, opine on how much alcohol the defendant ingested and when he did so. The Court found that while there was properly admitted evidence suggesting that Kubuugu was drinking and driving, such as his erratic driving, the beer can in his hand, and the empty beer cans in his car, there was also evidence to suggests that Kubuugu was not intoxicated, such as his speech not being slurred and that his walking did not indicate any alcohol impairment. Ultimately, the Court concluded the trial court improperly admitted the officer's testimony as expert testimony. Because that testimony was the only evidence that specifically refuted Kubuugu’s testimony that he began drinking after he parked his car in the apartment complex, the error was not harmless. The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals which affirmed the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Kubuugu" on Justia Law

by
H.J. completed her grocery shopping at a Target store in Arvada and walked to her car. Defendant-appellee, sixteen year old Dominic Barrios was also at the Target. After H.J. entered her vehicle, Barrios opened the back door, got in the back seat, put his arm around H.J.’s throat, pulled out a knife, and told her to drive. During the encounter, Barrios took money from H.J. and drove her car to several different locations before ending up at a secluded area, where he demanded that she undress, fondled her intimate parts, and forced her to fondle his. After driving to another isolated area, Barrios disabled H.J.’s phone and left her with her keys and her car. H.J. then drove to a friend’s house and contacted the police. Fingerprint evidence found on the car matched those for Barrios, who was found at his great-grandmother's home. At the police station, over the course of just under an hour, Barrios told police his version of what happened and corroborated much of what H.J. had told police. At times, Barrios disagreed with H.J.’s version of events, especially the allegations that he used a knife and sexually assaulted her. By the end of the interview, however, Barrios implicated himself in several serious offenses. Ultimately, the State charged Barrios as an adult with eighteen criminal counts, including kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and sexual assault. At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the police sufficiently advised Barrios and his legal guardian of his rights before he waived his Miranda rights and agreed to talk to the police, and whether his waiver was reliable under the totality of the circumstances. The trial court found that the prosecution failed to establish a reliable Miranda waiver for Barrios under section 19-2-511, C.R.S. (2018), and it ordered that his statements be suppressed. The Supreme Court held that the police detective complied with section 19-2-511 when he advised Barrios and his legal guardian prior to Barrios’s waiver and that, under the totality of the circumstances, the concerns identified by the trial court did not undermine the reliability of the waiver. Therefore, the Court reversed the suppression order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Barrios" on Justia Law

by
While driving down a highway, a Colorado State Patrol (CSP) trooper observed another driver flash her turn signal twice over a distance of less than 200 feet and then change lanes. Apparently believing he’d just witnessed an illegal lane change, the trooper stopped the car in which defendant Devon Burnett rode as passenger. A subsequent search of the car revealed a handgun, drug paraphernalia, and suspected methamphetamine. As a result, Burnett was charged with multiple offenses, including possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance and possession of a weapon by a previous offender. Burnett filed a motion to suppress the evidence found during the search that flowed from the stop for the allegedly illegal lane change. He argued that the applicable statute governing turning movements and required signals, didn't signaling at a minimum distance before changing lanes; therefore, the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car. The trial court agreed and suppressed the fruits of the search. The State appealed, but the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the suppression order, finding the trooper's construction of the applicable statue was objectively unreasonable: the plain language of the statute clearly distinguished between turns and lane changes, and the statute did not require a driver to signal continuously for any set distance before changing lanes on a highway - it only required a driver use a signal before changing lanes. View "Colorado v. Burnett" on Justia Law

by
Nineteen-year-old J.L. was reported missing after she failed to return home on the evening of October 10, 2008. Following a search of the family computer, officers from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office (EPCS) determined that J.L. received a message through an online social–network platform, from a person with the username “Rex290.” The message suggested that the two “get together” the following day. The police identified “Rex290” as defendant Robert Hull Marko, a soldier stationed at Fort Carson. Marko would ultimately be convicted by jury of J.L.'s first degree murder and sexual assault. Marko appealed, arguing: (1) the trial court impermissibly denied his request to strike a juror for cause because of that juror’s views on the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity; and (2) he was in custody and under interrogation before he was informed of his Miranda rights such that certain statements he made should have been excluded at trial. Because the Colorado Supreme Court disagreed with both of Marko’s contentions, it affirmed the decision of the court of appeals, though on different grounds. View "Marko v. Colorado" on Justia Law

by
Jared Cowen owned a semi-truck that needed extensive maintenance. To pay the $37,485.65 repair bill, Cowen borrowed $15,000 from his brother and wrote two checks from his company’s bank account, one for $9,327.65 and the other for $13,158.00. Cowen admitted at trial that he knew he did not have sufficient funds to cover the checks when he wrote them, and his bank records corroborated his testimony. Believing it had been paid in full when it received Cowen’s checks, the repair shop released the semi-truck to him. A few days later, it learned that both of Cowen’s checks had failed to clear and that Cowen had issued a stop-payment on them. Cowen was thereafter charged with two counts of fraud by check: one count for each of the checks. He defended against the charges by asserting that he did not intend to defraud the repair shop. The jury convicted Cowen of the charge related to the first check, but acquitted him of the charge related to the second check. As part of Cowen’s sentence, the State requested restitution in the amount of $22,485.65, the total amount of the two checks. Cowen objected to any restitution being imposed for pecuniary losses suffered by the repair shop as a result of the second check because he was acquitted of the charge involving that check. Following a hearing, the trial court granted the State's request, finding that they had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that Cowen had written both checks knowing he had insufficient funds in his company’s account to cover them. The trial court acknowledged Cowen’s acquittal of the charge related to the second check, but explained that it was “absolutely convinced . . . , by far more than a preponderance of the evidence,” that Cowen knew he had failed to secure the financing company’s loan to fund that check. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether Colorado’s restitution statutes authorized a trial court to order a defendant who has been acquitted of a charge to pay restitution for pecuniary losses caused by the conduct that formed the basis of that charge. A division of the court of appeals upheld the restitution order in an unpublished, unanimous decision. The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate division, however, and reversed. View "Cowen v. Colorado" on Justia Law

by
Christopher Mountjoy was convicted of reckless manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence after he shot and killed V.M. outside of a motorcycle clubhouse. During sentencing, the trial court found that each crime involved extraordinary aggravating circumstances. As a result, the trial court doubled the statutory presumptive maximum of each sentence. Mountjoy appealed, arguing his sentences violated his constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court of appeals avoided the question of whether Apprendi and Blakely had been satisfied and concluded that, even assuming they were not satisfied, any error was harmless. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds: the trial court did not deny Mountjoy his rights to due process and trial by jury when it relied on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on charges related to the offenses for which the aggravated sentences were imposed. View "Mountjoy v. Colorado" on Justia Law

by
George Ruibal appealed the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for second degree murder. Over defense objection and without taking evidence or making any findings as to reliability, the trial court admitted expert testimony to the effect that the victim’s injuries in this case demonstrated “overkill,” a formal term describing multiple injuries focused on one area of the victim’s body, which included blows about the head and face that were numerous and extensive, indicating that the assailant likely had either a real or perceived emotional attachment to the victim. Relying on case law from several other jurisdictions, a treatise dealing with related kinds of injuries, and the witness’s own experience with autopsies involving similar injuries, the court of appeals concluded that the expert opinion was sufficiently reliable and that the trial court had implicitly found as much by granting the prosecution’s proffer. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the trial court made no specific finding that overkill was supported by evidence in the record or already accepted in Colorado; this amounted to an abuse of discretion. However, there was overwhelming evidence of defendant’s guilt apart from the expert testimony, making the error harmless. The Court, therefore, affirmed the court of appeals. View "Ruibal v. Colorado" on Justia Law

by
Christopher Mountjoy was convicted of reckless manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence after he shot and killed V.M. outside of a bar for which he worked security. During sentencing, the trial court found that each crime involved extraordinary aggravating circumstances. In doing so, the trial court relied on factual findings that were made by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on the related charges as aggravating factors for the offense for which he was being sentenced. As a result, the trial court doubled the statutory presumptive maximum of each sentence. Mountjoy appealed his sentences, arguing that aggravating his sentences in this way violated his constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court of appeals avoided the question of whether Apprendi and Blakely had been satisfied and concluded that, even assuming they were not satisfied, any error was harmless. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari review and affirmed on alternate grounds: the trial court did not deny Mountjoy his rights to due process and trial by jury when it relied on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on charges related to the offenses for which the aggravated sentences were imposed. View "Mountjoy v. Colorado" on Justia Law