Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Several days before trial, Jesus Ronquillo decided he’d had enough of the lawyer he’d hired to defend him. Counsel asked to withdraw, noting that he had been fired, and that he and Ronquillo had suffered a complete breakdown in communication. The trial court denied counsel’s motion to withdraw, reasoning that it was too late in the game for counsel to exit the case because of non-payment, particularly in a case involving out-of-state witnesses. Therefore, the judge told Ronquillo he could go to trial as scheduled with retained counsel, or he could represent himself. Ronquillo chose the court’s first option, and a jury convicted him as charged. Ronquillo appealed. A division of the court of appeals concluded that the trial court erred by focusing on the non-payment issue and by not addressing the alleged breakdown in communication. To obtain substitute counsel in this retained-to-appointed scenario, it held, the defendant had to show good cause. So, the division remanded the case to the trial court to expressly address that issue. The question for the Colorado Supreme Court’s resolution was whether on facts such as those in this case, a defendant must show good cause to fire retained counsel. The Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to hire counsel of choice includes the right to fire that counsel without showing good cause, even when a defendant seeks court-appointed counsel as a replacement. “But while a defendant may fire retained counsel for any reason, he may be limited in his options going forward in ways he does not appreciate. Thus, before granting defendant’s request to release retained counsel, a trial court must ensure that the defendant understands the consequences of doing so.” View "Ronquillo v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Bernardino Fuentes-Espinoza challenged his convictions under Colorado’s human smuggling statute on the ground that that statute was preempted by the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In 2007, Fuentes-Espinoza was walking along the Las Vegas Strip when an individual approached him and offered him $500 to drive several family members from Phoenix to Kansas. En route, Fuentes-Espinoza stopped at a gas station in Wheat Ridge, Colorado to get gas and to repair a broken taillight. As pertinent here, he went into the station to pay and gave the clerk a one-hundred-dollar bill, which apparently had been included in the travel money that Fuentes-Espinoza had received. The clerk determined that the bill was counterfeit and called the police. A responding police officer asked Fuentes-Espinoza about the counterfeit bill and the people in the van. The officer then spoke with the people in the van and requested identification from them. After doing so, the officer spoke with his supervisor to report on his investigation and to get further instructions. The supervisor told the officer to bring the group to the police station, and the officer did so. The officer then called the human smuggling hotline, and the hotline sent representatives to the station to assist. The court of appeals did not consider Fuentes-Espinoza’s preemption argument because it was unpreserved. The Colorado Supreme Court exercised its discretion to review that argument and concluded that the INA preempted section 18-13-128 C.R.S. (2017) under the doctrines of both field and conflict preemption. The Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment, and remanded this matter for further consideration. View "Fuentes-Espinoza v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a district court’s authority to continue to collect from petitioner Karla Pineda-Liberato unpaid restitution, court costs, and fees ordered as conditions of a deferred sentence after the completion of that deferred sentence. The State charged Pineda-Liberato with two felony counts of theft ($500 to $15,000) and two felony counts of providing false information to a pawn broker after she pawned a laptop computer and a television that she had rented from Rent-A-Center. Eventually, Pineda-Liberato entered into a plea agreement under which: (1) she would plead guilty to one count of theft; (2) she would receive “a two-year deferred sentence with terms and conditions to include 48 hours of useful public service, pay restitution as ordered by the court, and any other terms and conditions the court deems appropriate”; and (3) the State would dismiss the remaining counts. In addition to these terms, the agreement contained a handwritten addendum that read, “No jail at initial sentencing.” If Pineda-Liberato complied with the terms of her deferred sentence, then, according to the parties’ Stipulation for Supervised Deferred Sentence, Pineda-Liberato could withdraw her guilty plea and the theft charge would be dismissed with prejudice. The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the two district court orders with the first finding that the court lacked authority to collect unpaid restitution (but that avenues potentially remained open for the victim to do so), and the second finding that the court lacked authority to collect unpaid fees and costs. With respect to restitution, the Court concluded the pertinent statutes allowed the district court to collect any unpaid amounts from Pineda-Liberato after the completion of her deferred sentence, until the restitution has been paid in full. With respect to the fees and costs ordered as probationary-like supervision conditions, however, the Court concluded the district court lacked the authority to collect such unpaid amounts after it terminated Pineda-Liberato’s deferred sentence, withdrew her guilty plea, and dismissed her case with prejudice. View "Pineda-Liberato v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Defendant Hung Van Nguyen, who only spoke Vietnamese, waived his Miranda rights after they were translated to him by a chaplain for the Denver Police Department. The trial court ruled that the defendant’s waiver was voluntary, but not knowing and intelligent, because the translation could be considered “confusing.” The court therefore suppressed Nguyen’s statements. The question presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was whether the translation “reasonably convey[ed]” to Nguyen his rights under Miranda. The Court concluded that the translation was sufficient, and reversed the trial court’s suppression order. View "Colorado v. Nguyen" on Justia Law

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Amber Torrez was confined in Denver County on two unrelated warrants: a Jefferson County warrant for assault and other charges (the case giving rise to this appeal) and a Denver County warrant for two murder charges. With regard to the Denver County charges, Torrez was held without bond until a jury eventually found her not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI), at which time she was committed to Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP). While confined after the NGRI verdict, Torrez pled guilty to the Jefferson County assault. Torrez asked the trial court to award her presentence confinement credit (PSCC) toward her Jefferson County sentence for both the time that she spent confined during the pendency of the Denver proceedings, as well as the time she spent at CMHIP after the Denver NGRI verdict. The trial court gave her credit for neither period. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that because Torrez would have remained confined prior to and after the NGRI verdict even had the charges in Jefferson County not existed, her presentence confinement for those periods was not attributable to this case, and credit was therefore not warranted for either period. View "Colorado v. Torrez" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a trial court abuses its discretion when it denies a continuance that defense counsel requested seeking more time to prepare for trial. At the time defense counsel moved for the continuance, the trial court was confronted with (and considered): (1) that defense counsel would have three weeks to prepare for a two- or three-day trial involving eight witnesses and no physical evidence, but defense counsel refused to make specific arguments on why the additional time was needed; (2) that the trial court would have had to rearrange its docket and possibly hand off the case to a different judge; (3) priority was given to cases involving the sexual assault of a child; and (4) the victim’s family wanted to resolve the case promptly. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that, under these circumstances, the trial court’s decision to deny a continuance was not so manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair to constitute an abuse of discretion. The Court reversed the contrary holding of the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Ahuero" on Justia Law

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In this case, the supreme court considers whether a prospective juror’s silence in response to rehabilitative questioning constitutes evidence sufficient to support a trial court’s conclusion that the juror has been rehabilitated. Defendant Bradley Clemens chased his girlfriend out of their home and attacked her with a golf club on the street. He also attacked a bystander who attempted to intervene and stop the assault. The State charged Clemens with second-degree assault, felony menacing, and third-degree assault. Clemens pleaded not guilty, and the matter was tried before a jury. During Clemens’s portion of voir dire, defense counsel questioned the venire members, asking for their thoughts on relevant legal principles. Juror 25 commented that there are “always two sides to the story” and that he would need to hear both sides before making a judgment call. Defense counsel followed up by asking, “if you don’t hear from [Clemens] you have some real concerns as to whether or not you can find him not guilty?” Juror 25 said that was correct. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that a juror has been rehabilitated when, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the context of the silence indicates that the juror will render an impartial verdict according to the law and the evidence submitted to the jury at the trial. Applying this test, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defense counsel’s challenges for cause. View "Colorado v. Clemens" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Jamey Robert Page entered the home of an eighty-six-year-old woman late at night and sexually assaulted her. During the assault, the victim bit Page’s tongue, causing him to bleed on her clothing. A DNA analysis of the victim’s blood-stained clothing revealed that a mixture of DNA was present and that Page’s DNA was the source of a major component. The People charged Page with several crimes related to the assault. As relevant here, the jury found Page guilty of both sexual assault involving an at-risk adult and unlawful sexual contact involving an at-risk adult. The trial court sentenced Page to twenty-four years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections on the sexual assault charge and eighteen months concurrently on the unlawful sexual contact charge. The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether a conviction for unlawful sexual contact involving an at-risk adult merged with a conviction for sexual assault involving an at-risk adult. The Court concluded that it did. Hence, it reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded this case to the court of appeals with instructions to return the case to the trial court to vacate the defendant’s conviction for unlawful sexual contact. View "Page v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Gilbert Naranjo was charged with two counts of felony menacing for pointing a handgun from his vehicle toward the two occupants of another vehicle during a road-rage incident. Naranjo admitted at trial that he handled the gun during the incident but testified that he merely moved the weapon from the front passenger seat to the glove compartment to prevent it from sliding onto the floor and accidentally discharging. At the close of evidence, Naranjo tendered a jury instruction for the lesser non-included offense of disorderly conduct, which, in relevant part, prohibited the intentional, knowing, or reckless display of a deadly weapon in a public place "in a manner calculated to alarm." The trial court refused, and the jury convicted Naranjo of both counts of felony menacing. On appeal, the court of appeals concluded that Naranjo was entitled to the instruction, and reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. The State appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded there was no rational basis for the jury to simultaneously acquit Naranjo of felony menacing and convict him of disorderly conduct. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeals. View "Colorado v. Naranjo" on Justia Law

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The State sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment reversing defendant Priscilla Rock’s convictions for second degree burglary and theft. The trial court denied Rock’s request for an additional, lesser-included-offense instruction on second degree criminal trespass, on the ground that second degree criminal trespass was not an included offense of second degree burglary. The court of appeals reversed, concluding both that the trial court erred in denying Rock’s requested instruction and that the error was not harmless with regard to either of Rock’s convictions. The Colorado Supreme Court determined the district court erred in denying the defendant her requested instruction on second degree criminal trespass on the ground that it was not a lesser included offense of the charged offense of second degree burglary, and because erroneously denying Rock’s requested instruction was not harmless with regard to either of her convictions, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed. View "Colorado v. Rock" on Justia Law