Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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Jairo Perez was shot and killed in his garage. A witness later positively identified defendant Daniel Gutierrez as the murderer in a police photo array. Gutierrez filed several motions that required pretrial evidentiary hearings. Relevant here, he sought to suppress the statements he made to the arresting officer on the basis of an alleged Miranda violation. The court scheduled a hearing on that motion in February 2017, but ended up continuing it three times to accommodate witness availability. At a hearing in early June where the officer was not present but other witnesses testified, the People stated that he would be back and prepared to testify in July. The officer was not present at the July hearing because of an on-the-job shoulder injury that required surgery and left him "not cleared for duty." The People asked for another continuance to which the trial court granted over defendant's objection. When rescheduling the hearing, the court noted that the trial date could not be moved because the court had no available dates between the scheduled trial time in August and the speedy trial deadline in September. The court closed the July 7 hearing by again cautioning the People that if the officer was not present, the People would be unable to meet their burden in contesting the motion to suppress. The officer was not at the next hearing; he was out of state recuperating from surgery. The People offered to have the officer testify as a civilian, and remotely via Skype or similar service. The trial court denied the People's request. The People then filed an interlocutory appeal. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the order suppressing defendant's statements. View "Colorado v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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Based on acts that defendant Curtis Brooks committed when he was fifteen years old, prosecutors charged him as an adult with felony murder and other crimes. After a jury convicted Brooks on multiple counts, including the felony murder charge, the trial court imposed a mandatory life without the possibility of parole ("LWOP") sentence in accordance with Colorado’s then-applicable sentencing statutes. This case presented a question of whether Colorado’s recently enacted sentencing scheme for juvenile offenders who received unconstitutional mandatory sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) violates the Special Legislation Clause of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that it did not. View "Colorado v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Dustin James sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for possession of methamphetamine. Upon realizing that it had failed to discharge the alternate juror before the jury retired to deliberate, the district court recalled and dismissed the alternate; instructed the jury to continue on with deliberations uninfluenced by anything the alternate may have said or done; and denied the defense motion for dismissal or mistrial. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court’s error in allowing the alternate juror to retire with the jury and the juror’s presence for part of the deliberations were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, and after rejecting James’s other assignments of error, affirmed his conviction. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the evidence supporting the defendant’s guilt of the lesser offense of possession, the only offense of which he was convicted, was overwhelming and was in fact never seriously challenged, the district court’s failure to recall the alternate for approximately ten minutes amounted, under the facts of this case, to harmless error. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "James v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The State brought this interlocutory appeal seeking review of a trial court’s order suppressing evidence of two laser-sight rifles seized during a warrantless search of defendant Michael Pappan’s residence. Around 6:40 in the evening, an individual called 911 to report that he observed a man in the green house directly across the street pointing a laser-sight rifle at him. Apparently scared for his safety, after requesting assistance, the 911 caller left his residence in his car and parked nearby. Police arrived to investigate and speak to the residents of the house from which the laser-sight was witnessed; officers asked Pappan to come out of the house to speak with them on the porch of the house. Because he disregarded an officer's commands while on the porch, he was placed in handcuffs and detained. Concerned for their safety, the officers “cleared” the house for other occupants. They made a peaceable entry into the house, albeit with their guns drawn. Inside, in an upstairs room, they saw in plain view and collected two laser-sight rifles. Pappan was subsequently charged with felony menacing, reckless endangerment, and disorderly conduct. Following a pretrial hearing, the trial court granted Pappan’s motion to suppress evidence obtained during the search of his home, finding that “it would have been better practice for the police to obtain a search warrant.” The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order, finding the officers’ warrantless search was justified by exigent circumstances. More specifically, the Court concluded: (1) the officers had an objectively reasonable basis to believe there was an immediate need to protect their lives or safety; and (2) the manner and scope of the search was reasonable. Furthermore, the Court held the warrantless seizure of the laser-sight rifles was justified by the plain view doctrine. View "Colorado v. Pappan" on Justia Law

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A jury found petitioner Matthew Zoll guilty of second degree assault on a peace officer, criminal impersonation, and two counts of resisting arrest. The trial court adjudicated Zoll a habitual criminal and sentenced him to eighteen years in the Department of Corrections. Zoll appealed, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed his convictions in a unanimous, unpublished opinion. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine: (1) the proper remedy when an appellate court concludes that the trial court incorrectly failed to disclose certain documents from a responding officer’s personnel file; and (2) whether replaying a 911 recording for the jury in the courtroom during deliberations is a critical stage of the proceeding requiring the defendant’s presence. After review, the Supreme Court held found court of appeals erred in assessing whether the nondisclosure of documents in a responding officer’s personnel file affected the outcome of the trial: the court of appeals should have remanded the case for the trial court to disclose the improperly withheld documents to the parties and for petitioner to demonstrate a reasonable probability that had the documents been disclosed to him prior to trial, the result of the proceeding might have been different. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that even if playing the 911 recording during jury deliberations could have been deemed a critical stage of the proceedings, petitioner's absence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the Court declined to address whether the appellate court correctly decided whether petitioner's absence did not occur during a critical stage. Accordingly, the Court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded with instructions to return this case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Zoll v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Respondent James Patton stole two camcorders worth about $1700 total in 2009. At the time, theft for the value of the two camcorders constituted a class 4 felony. But in 2013, the Colorado General Assembly changed the theft statute to make thefts for items valued between $750 and $2000 a class 1 misdemeanor. The amendment to the theft statute did not say whether it applied prospectively or retroactively. Regardless, the trial court denied Patton’s motion arguing that, if convicted, he should be sentenced under the amended statute. A jury convicted Patton in 2014, and the trial court sentenced him for committing a class 4 felony under the pre-2013 theft statute. Patton appealed, arguing he should have received the benefit of a lower sentence under the amended theft statute. The Colorado Supreme Court held that ameliorative, amendatory legislation applied retroactively to non-final convictions under section 18-1-410(1)(f), C.R.S. (2017), unless the amendment contained language indicating it applied only prospectively. So, the division properly concluded that the theft amendment applied retroactively to cases involving convictions that were not final on the effective date of the amendment, and thus, Patton should have been sentenced for committing a class 1 misdemeanor. View "Colorado v. Patton" on Justia Law

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Respondent John Stellabotte owned a towing company that he used to illegally tow cars and then demand payment from the owners. At the time he did this, his thefts constituted a class 4 felony. But before he had been convicted and sentenced, the General Assembly changed the theft statute to make the crime a class 5 felony, with a correspondingly lower sentence. The amendment to the theft statute did not say whether it applied prospectively or retroactively. Without any party bringing this statutory change to the trial court’s attention, it sentenced Stellabotte, as relevant here, for two class 4 felony counts under the old theft statute. Stellabotte appealed, arguing he should have been sentenced for two class 5 felonies under the amended statute. The Colorado Supreme Court held that ameliorative, amendatory legislation applied retroactively to non-final convictions under section 18-1-410(1)(f), C.R.S. (2017), unless the amendment contained language indicating it applied only prospectively. Because the 2013 amendment to the theft statute in this case is silent on whether it applies prospectively, Stellabotte should have received the benefit of retroactive application in his sentencing. View "Colorado v. Stellabotte" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Andres Castillo admitted he fired a shotgun at several people, including two police officers, in a crowded parking lot after a night out celebrating his wife’s birthday in downtown Denver. But he claimed he acted in self-defense. Driving a car occupied by his wife and several friends, Castillo tried to exit a parking lot, when an unknown assailant opened fire on his car. At some point during this episode, Castillo got out of the car, retrieved a shotgun from his trunk, and returned fire. Nearby police officers then rushed to the scene and began firing at Castillo from a different direction. He turned and shot back. Castillo testified that he didn’t realize his targets were police officers; he claimed that he thought they were associated with the initial shooter. Castillo asserted self-defense at trial. The trial court instructed the jury on self-defense but, over Castillo’s objection, also instructed the jury on two exceptions to self-defense: initial aggressor and provocation. The jury found Castillo guilty of several offenses. A division of the court of appeals found that: (1) the trial court did not err in giving the initial aggressor jury instruction; and (2) while the trial court did err in giving the provocation jury instruction, the error was harmless. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in giving the initial aggressor jury instruction because there was no evidence to support the instruction, and that error was not harmless. Castillo was entitled to a new trial; the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Castillo v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether the trial court abused its discretion in granting the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial after a jury found that the defendants, two pilots, were not negligent during a near collision that resulted in one plane crashing and killing all five passengers on board. To resolve this issue, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed two underlying questions: (1) whether the trial court’s stated reasons for granting a new trial met the requirements of C.R.C.P. 59(d); and (2) if not, whether a trial court may nevertheless grant a new trial for a reason other than those enumerated in Rule 59(d). The Supreme Court answered both questions in the negative and accordingly held that the trial court abused its discretion in granting a new trial. View "In re Rains" on Justia Law

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In 2008, James Stackhouse was charged with one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, a class-three felony, one count of sexual assault on a child, a class-four felony, and the sentence enhancer of sexual assault on a child as a pattern of abuse, which elevated the class-four felony of sexual assault on a child to a class-three felony. In 2010, Stackhouse proceeded to trial on these charges. A jury found Stackhouse guilty of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust and of sexual assault on a child. The jury did not find the pattern-of-abuse sentence enhancer. At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this case was the district court's order permitting the State to retry Stackhouse on only one of the many alleged acts of sexual assault on a child for chich he had been charged. The district court concluded that the jury in Stackhouse’s first trial had necessarily concluded that he did not commit multiple acts of assault, and therefore that he could not be retried for more than a single assault. Concluding that the jury lacked unanimity as to the commission of two or more types of abuse did not require (or even permit) a conclusion that the jury necessarily and unanimously agreed that Stackhouse did not engage in multiple acts of abuse of a single type. The Supreme Court concluded the district court abused its discretion when it found otherwise. Therefore, in this case double jeopardy did not require the State to elect the January 2007 allegation as the sole basis for Stackhouse’s retrial. View "Colorado v. Stackhouse" on Justia Law