Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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As Marcus Perez was being arrested after a lengthy foot pursuit, the arresting officer found two live shotgun shells in Perez’s pocket. Without giving Perez Miranda warnings, the officer asked him, “Where’s the gun?” Perez answered that he had thrown the gun away. At a suppression hearing, Perez argued that his answer should have been suppressed because he was not Mirandized before the officer questioned him. The trial court disagreed, finding that the public safety exception to Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), applied. A jury convicted Perez of second-degree assault on a peace officer and four counts of possession of a dangerous weapon by a previous offender (“POWPO”). Perez appealed, contending that the public safety exception did not apply. The court of appeals agreed but deemed the error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and affirmed the convictions. Under the facts of this case, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded the public safety exception applied, and the arresting officer was not required to give Miranda warnings before inquiring about the gun's location. View "Perez v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals vacated eleven of Joshua Bott's twelve convictions for sexual exploitation of a child by possession of sexually exploitative material. Relying on language from the statute's legislative declaration and appellate decisional law predating then-current amendments to the statute, the trial court denied Bott’s motion to dismiss all but one of these exploitation counts as multiplicitous, finding that the legislature intended to permit conviction for each single incident of victimization. The court of appeals disagreed, finding instead that the applicable unit of prosecution was determined by the legislature when it chose to amend the statute to designate the act of possessing more than twenty different items qualifying as sexually exploitative material a class 4 felony. Accordingly, the court of appeals held Bott’s conviction of multiple class 4 felonies for possessing separate items numbering multiple times greater than twenty violated his constitutional protection against being subjected to jeopardy more than once for the same crime. Finding that the statute at issue "makes clear" the legislature's intent that possession of any number of items exceeding twenty that qualified as sexually exploitative material constituted a single offense. Accordingly, the appellate court's judgment was affirmed. View "Colorado v. Bott" on Justia Law

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Several boys broke into two homes, one of which was owned by a man old enough to be considered an “at-risk” victim. When that man returned home, he happened upon one of the boys holding the "spoils of an ill-conceived, juvenile burglary." The others, including B.D., remained outside, oblivious to the elderly man’s arrival. All the boys quickly fled. By this opinion, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed the scope of complicitor liability for a fact that aggravates the punishment for theft; namely, an at-risk victim’s presence. Based on the plain language of the controlling statutes, the Supreme Court concluded that a complicitor need not be aware that an at-risk victim was present because it was a strict liability sentence enhancer and not an element of the offense. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case for the district court to reinstate the adjudication and sentence. View "Colorado in the Interest of B.D." on Justia Law

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In March 2016, law enforcement contacted Charles Linnebur after receiving a call that he had crashed his vehicle into a fence and might be driving under the influence of alcohol. Although he initially denied that he had been drinking, Linnebur eventually admitted that he had consumed whiskey that day. He was arrested, and a blood test revealed that his blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit. The State charged Linnebur with DUI and DUI per se, and sought felony convictions under sections 42-4-1301(1)(a) and (2)(a), C.R.S. (2020), which provided that DUI and DUI per se were felonies if they “occurred after three or more prior convictions” for, among other things, DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI. Prior to trial, Linnebur filed a motion in limine arguing that the fact of his prior convictions was a substantive element of felony DUI that had to be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court denied the motion, concluding instead that Linnebur’s prior convictions were “merely sentence enhancers or aggravating factors” and could be proved to the court by a preponderance of the evidence. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the fact of prior convictions as an element of the crime had to be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, not as a sentence enhancer, which a judge might find by a preponderance of the evidence. Because the court of appeals erred in arriving at the opposite conclusion, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Linnebur v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review in this interlocutory appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying the Fifth Judicial District Attorney's office. The district attorney and the elected coroner of Lake County, Colorado, Shannon Kent, did not get along. Brown prosecuted Kent for perjury, a class 4 felony, and second degree official misconduct, a class 1 petty offense. After the case had been pending for approximately nine months, Kent filed a motion to disqualify Brown’s office, arguing that he was unlikely to receive a fair trial based on Brown’s personal interest in the case and the existence of special circumstances. Following briefing and an evidentiary hearing, the district court granted the motion. The trial court determined each special circumstance, “in and of itself,” did not warrant disqualification, but “viewed as a totality,” sufficed for the exceptional remedy sought by Kent. The Supreme Court determined the district attorney's office should not have been disqualified, finding the trial court failed to adequately explain how the circumstances in question, though individually inadequate to warrant disqualification, justified the extraordinary relief requested when considered together. "And the record before us reflects that Kent plainly failed to satisfy his burden of establishing that he would be unlikely to receive a fair trial if Brown’s office continues prosecuting this case. ... Even assuming the circumstances at issue 'may cast doubt' upon Brown’s 'motives and strategies' in this case, 'they do not play a part in whether [Kent] will receive a fair trial.'" View "Colorado v. Kent" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review in this interlocutory appeal was whether the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying the Fourth Judicial District Attorney's office. Erica Arellano was charged with second degree murder for shooting and killing her boyfriend, M.H. Arellano claimed that, during the relationship, M.H. perpetrated domestic violence on her and that self-defense would be a critical issue and the crux of Arellano’s defense. A.H. was an employee of the district attorney’s office and was married to, but separated from, M.H. at the time of his death. A.H. was a potentially significant witness in this case because she had (and already provided to the district attorney’s office) information tending to undermine Arellano’s claim of self-defense. In light of A.H.’s relationship with the district attorney’s office and the significance of her testimony to this case, Arellano filed a motion to disqualify the district attorney’s office under section 20-1-107(2), C.R.S. (2020). The district court held a hearing on this motion and, in a lengthy and detailed bench ruling, found that, on the facts presented, special circumstances existed making it unlikely that Arellano could receive a fair trial. The court thus granted Arellano’s motion to disqualify. The State then filed this interlocutory appeal. The Supreme Court determined the district court did not abuse its discretion in disqualifying the district attorney's office, thus affirming the court's order and remanding this case for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Arellano" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court revisited a question left open in Castillo v. Colorado, 421 P.3d 1141 (2018): When a trial court instructs the jury on the affirmative defense of self-defense, what quantum of proof is required to instruct the jury about an exception to that defense? The State urged the Supreme Court to adopt “some evidence” as the controlling standard. Defendant Jose L. Galvan, Sr. sought a heightened standard—substantial and sufficient evidence for a reasonable juror to conclude that there were facts establishing the exception beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court held that when a trial court instructs the jury on the affirmative defense of self-defense, it should instruct the jury on an exception to that defense if there is some evidence to support the exception. In determining whether the trial court properly instructed the jury on the provocation exception here, a division of the court of appeals correctly found that there was some evidence to support the exception. "the trial court’s provocation instruction, in addition to prudently tracking the governing statute and the Colorado Model Criminal Jury Instructions, made clear to the jury that for Galvan to forfeit the affirmative defense of self-defense, he had to have provoked the same person as to whom he was asserting self-defense. View "Galvan v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether, under prevailing Colorado equal protection principles, a defendant may be charged with second degree assault based on conduct involving strangulation under both the deadly weapon subsection of the second degree assault statute, section 18-3-203(1)(b), C.R.S. (2020), and the strangulation subsection of that same statute, section 18-3-203(1)(i). The State initially charged Dearies Deshonne Austin Lee with, among other things, two counts of second degree assault-strangulation pursuant to subsection 18-3-203(1)(i), following an incident in which he was alleged to have twice strangled his former girlfriend. Eight months later, the State added two counts of second degree assault-bodily injury with a deadly weapon (namely, hands), pursuant to subsection 18-3-203(1)(b), based on the same conduct. On Lee’s motion, the trial court dismissed the two charges of second degree assault-bodily injury with a deadly weapon on equal protection grounds. The State appealed, and in a unanimous, published opinion, a division of the court of appeals affirmed dismissal. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed: a defendant may not be charged with second degree assault based on conduct involving strangulation under both the deadly weapon subsection of the second degree assault statute, section 18-3-203(1)(b), and the strangulation subsection of that statute, section 18-3-203(1)(i). Rather, the defendant must be charged under the strangulation subsection. View "Colorado v. Lee" on Justia Law

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The State of Colorado petitioned for review of a court of appeals' judgment reversing Barnett Williams' conviction for distributing a schedule II controlled substance. At trial, the district court admitted evidence pursuant to CRE 404(b) of a prior incident in which Williams pled guilty to selling cocaine. The court of appeals found that the district court abused its discretion in admitting this evidence for the limited purposes of demonstrating “modus operandi and common plan, scheme, or design,” largely on the grounds that the evidence in question did not meet the strictures imposed by prior case law for admitting uncharged misconduct evidence pursuant to CRE 404(b) for these particular purposes, and because the error was not harmless. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that because the incremental probative value of the evidence relative to any material issue in the case was substantially outweighed by the danger that it would be unfairly prejudicial, the district court abused its discretion in admitting it. Although for different reasons, the judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "Colorado v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In March 2016, law enforcement contacted Charles Linnebur after receiving a call that he had crashed his vehicle into a fence and might have been driving under the influence of alcohol. Although he initially denied that he had been drinking, Linnebur eventually admitted that he had consumed whiskey that day. He was arrested, and a blood test revealed that his blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit. The State charged Linnebur with DUI and DUI per se, seeking felony convictions under sections 42-4-1301(1)(a) and (2)(a), which provided that DUI and DUI per se were felonies if they “occurred after three or more prior convictions” for, among other things, DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI. Prior to trial, Linnebur filed a motion in limine arguing that the fact of his prior convictions was a substantive element of felony DUI that had to be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court denied the motion, concluding instead that Linnebur’s prior convictions were “merely sentence enhancers or aggravating factors” and could be proved to the court by a preponderance of the evidence. The jury found Linnebur guilty of the lesser included offense of DUI, DWAI, and DUI per se. The State submitted certified copies of Linnebur’s three prior impaired driving convictions and his state driving record. Rather than applying a preponderance of the evidence standard (as it had earlier indicated it would), the trial court instead concluded that these exhibits proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Linnebur had three prior convictions, and entered judgment for felony DWAI, merged the DUI per se conviction, and sentenced Linnebur to four years in community corrections. The Colorado Supreme Court held, contrary to the trial court, the statutory provisions that defined and provided penalties for felony DUI treated the fact of prior convictions as an element of the crime, which had be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, not as a sentence enhancer, which a judge could find by a preponderance of the evidence. Because the court of appeals erred in arriving at the opposite conclusion, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for sentencing on the misdemeanor DUI charges that were properly proved to the jury in this case. View "Linnebur v. Colorado" on Justia Law