Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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The State of Colorado charged James Garner for a shooting at a bar that injured three brothers. The State’s case depended on the brothers’ live identifications of Garner at trial, almost three years later. None of them could identify Garner in a photo array at the police station. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether, in the circumstances of this case, Neil v. Biggers, 409 U.S. 199 (1972) required the trial court to assess the reliability of the brothers’ first-time in-court identifications before allowing them in front of the jury. The Colorado Court held that where an in-court identification is not preceded by an impermissibly suggestive pretrial identification procedure arranged by law enforcement, and where nothing beyond the inherent suggestiveness of the ordinary courtroom setting made the in-court identification itself constitutionally suspect, due process did not require the trial court to assess the identification for reliability under Biggers. Because Garner alleged no impropriety regarding the pretrial photographic arrays, and the record revealed nothing unusually suggestive about the circumstances of the brothers’ in-court identifications, the in-court identifications did not violate due process. Furthermore, the Court held Garner’s evidentiary arguments were unpreserved and that the trial court’s admission of the identifications was not plain error under CRE 403, 602, or 701. View "Garner v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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As part of an extensive narcotics investigation that spanned almost all of 2017, law enforcement obtained arrest warrants for defendant Amber Threlkel and her significant other, Robert Allen, based on their alleged distribution of controlled substances. On the evening of December 7, 2017, deputies observed a truck owned by Allen leave the residence he shared with Threlkel; they suspected that Allen and Threlkel were both in the truck. As the deputies attempted to perform a traffic stop, the truck evaded them, causing them to momentarily lose sight of it. But they eventually spotted the truck again, stopped it, and apprehended the driver, Allen, within a mile of the home. Although there was no passenger in the truck, Threlkel was located a couple of hundred yards from it, attempting to hitch a ride. It was a frigid and snowy night, the roads were slippery, and there was no easy access on foot between the home and the location of the stop. A deputy who recognized Threlkel detained her. Threlkel was later arrested pursuant to her outstanding warrant. Threlkel was charged with multiple drug-related offenses. Before trial, she filed several motions to suppress. The trial court granted one of them, finding that the deputies lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop her. The court thus suppressed all evidence and observations derived from Threlkel’s stop, specifically the deputies’ observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel. Practically speaking, the prosecution would not have been allowed to mention at trial that Threlkel was even at the location where she was detained. Upon the State’s request for review, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, finding the deputies had reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain Threlkel. “[E]ven if the trial court’s contrary ruling had been correct, there is no authority to suppress the deputies’ observations and investigation before they contacted Threlkel.” The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Threlkel" on Justia Law

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After observing Crystal Johnson conduct an apparent drug transaction, police officers followed her vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. Officers searched Johnson’s vehicle and seized methamphetamine and a digital scale. Her four-year-old daughter was in the car at the time. Johnson was then arrested and charged with possession of more than two grams of methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute, possession of drug paraphernalia, and child abuse. During jury selection, the court read several instructions, which it framed as six “bedrock” principles of the American criminal justice system. One of those instructions was the pattern instruction for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Specifically, the court stated that a reasonable doubt is “a doubt that is not vague, speculative, or imaginary, but such a doubt as would cause reasonable people to hesitate to act in matters of importance to themselves.” Then, the court elaborated on what the phrase “hesitate to act” meant. In this appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether the court of appeals erred when it held that the trial court’s extraneous jury instruction concerning reasonable doubt did not unconstitutionally lower the prosecution’s burden of proof. While the Supreme Court considered the trial court’s extraneous “hesitate to act” instruction as improper, there was not a reasonable likelihood that it prejudiced the defendant. “The instruction was nonsensical, given only once during voir dire, not referenced by either party at any time, and flanked by the proper instruction regarding the burden of proof at the beginning and end of the trial.” Therefore, the Court held the instruction did not lower the prosecution’s burden of proof in violation of due process, and affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals. View "Johnson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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On the day her trial was set to begin, April Travis told the court that she was hoping she could have more time “to look for and pay for an attorney.” The trial court denied the request to continue the case, noting that the trial had previously been continued and Travis was already being represented by a public defender. Travis appealed that decision, arguing that her request to look for a lawyer was an invocation of her Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel of her choice. A division of the court of appeals agreed, concluding that because Travis had invoked that right, the trial court was required to make a record that it had reviewed each of the factors elaborated in Colorado v. Brown, 322 P.3d 214. The Colorado Supreme Court found that the right to be represented by counsel of the defendant’s choosing was not implicated by a bare request to “look for and pay for” a new lawyer. The trial court was therefore not obligated to review the Brown factors, and its decision to deny Travis’s trial-day continuance request was not an abuse of discretion. View "Colorado v. Travis" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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