Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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Aldo Gabriel Gutierrez was driving a pickup truck, in which Julio Cesar Carrillo-Toledo was a passenger, on I-70 in Mesa County, Colorado. Colorado State Patrol Trooper Christian Bollen, who has extensive training in drug interdiction, noticed the truck, and initiated a traffic stop after witnessing two driving violations. Both passengers were asked to alight from the vehicle. The trooper asked and was given consent to search the truck. Trooper Bollen discovered three to five pounds of heroin in the tailgate of the truck. Both Gutierrez and Carrillo-Toledo were arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Before trial, Gutierrez and Carrillo-Toledo filed a joint motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the truck, alleging that Trooper Bollen stopped them without a reasonable suspicion of a traffic violation. After a hearing, the trial court granted the suppression motion, finding that Trooper Bollen's belief the truck made multiple traffic violations was not objectively reasonable. Granting interlocutory review, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the suppression order, finding that on the Court's interpretation of the plain language of the applicable statute and the factual record, the Trooper's stop was based on a reasonable suspicion a traffic violation had occurred. View "Colorado v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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In an interlocutory appeal brought by the State, the issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the district court correctly granted Walter Wheeler’s pretrial motion to suppress after finding that deputies with the Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office conducted an unlawful investigatory stop of the Subaru in which he was a passenger. Although it was a close call, the Court ultimately concluded that the court erred: from the totality of the circumstances, and the rational inferences therefrom, provided the deputies reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that the occupants of the Subaru were committing, had committed, or were about to commit a crime. Therefore, the suppression order was reversed. View "Colorado v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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De Etta Wester-Gravelle worked as a certified nursing assistant for a company called Interim Healthcare. During the time period in question, the company assigned her to care for a patient, W.M., who had suffered a stroke and needed assistance with tasks like bathing. W.M.’s partner, E.G., was also in poor health and could not perform such tasks for W.M. Interim Healthcare assigned Wester-Gravelle to visit W.M. five times per week for two hours each day. At the conclusion of each shift, Wester-Gravelle was required to have either W.M. or E.G. sign Wester-Gravelle’s shift chart to verify that she had been there. The charts would then serve as a record pursuant to which Interim Healthcare would pay Wester-Gravelle for her work. Wester-Gravelle had been assigned to work with W.M. for several months when, in late July or early August of 2015, her supervisor, Lisa Conley, made a routine visit to W.M.’s house during a time when Wester-Gravelle had been scheduled to be there. When Conley arrived, however, Wester-Gravelle was not there. Conley performed routine tasks of her own that day, and in the course of her conversation with W.M. and E.G., they said that they had not seen Wester-Gravelle in several weeks. After an investigation, the matter was transferred to the Colorado Attorney General, who prosecuted Wester-Gravelle on one count of forgery. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether the court of appeals erred in concluding the prosecution had an obligation to elect the specific document or documents on which it would rely for conviction or, alternatively, that Wester-Gravelle was entitled to a "modified unanimity instruction" requiring the jurors to agree unanimously that she had committed the same underlying act of forgery or that she had committed all of the underlying acts. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not plainly err when it did not, sua sponte, require an election or give a modified unanimity instruction because any error was neither obvious nor substantial. The court of appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for consideration of Wester-Gravelle's remaining contentions on appeal. View "Colorado v. Wester-Gravelle" on Justia Law

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Defendant-respondent Sandra Archuleta took care of her four-month-old grandson, D.A., for one week. Several hours after D.A.’s mother picked him up, she returned to Archuleta’s home with D.A. Archuleta noticed that D.A. did not appear to be breathing, so she attempted CPR and called 911. First responders arrived shortly thereafter and transported D.A. to the hospital, but he died the following morning. An autopsy revealed that D.A. had been suffering from dehydration and a bacterial infection that had started as pneumonia and that had spread to his blood. The prosecution subsequently charged Archuleta with one count of “child abuse resulting in death,” alleging that she caused D.A.’s death over the course of the week in which she took care of him. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on when a trial court must give a jury a so-called "modified unanimity instruction." Specifically, the issue reduced to whether defendant was entitled to such an instruction requiring that the jurors either unanimously agree that she committed the same act or acts underlying the child abuse charge or that she committed all of those acts. The Supreme Court found that the prosecution charged and tried this case on the theory that Archuleta had committed the offense at issue by engaging in a single criminal transaction resulting in the child’s death. And because, in light of the prosecution’s theory, the Court found no reasonable likelihood that the jurors disagreed on which specific act caused the child’s death, the Court concluded Archuleta was not entitled to a modified unanimity instruction here. View "Archuleta v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Proponents-respondents Monica Vondruska and Jon Caldara submitted proposed Initiative #293 to the Title Board for the setting of a title and submission clause. Initiative #293 proposed to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. The measure implements the new preschool program, in part, by: (1) redirecting certain state cigarette and tobacco tax revenue away from local governments that ban selling tobacco or nicotine products and to the new preschool program and (2) reallocating a portion of the cigarette and tobacco taxes collected under article X, section 21 of the Colorado Constitution that are currently allocated to several health-related programs (Initiative #315 differed from Initiative #293 to the extent that Initiative #315 also added a ten percent sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products). Petitioner Anna Jo Haynes then filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the title did not satisfy either the single subject or clear title requirement. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the title that the Title Board set for Initiative #293 presented a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by reallocating existing taxes on, and other revenues derived from, tobacco and nicotine products. Furthermore, the Court concluded the title satisfied the clear title requirement because it described Initiative #293’s central features succinctly, accurately, and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Title Board’s actions in setting the title for Initiative #293. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019 (Initiative 293)" on Justia Law

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Both the State and respondent-defendant Eswin Figueroa-Lemus petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming the denial of the defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Defendant, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, was arrested in 2012, and charged with one count each of possession of a controlled substance (cocaine), possession of drug paraphernalia, and driving under the influence. In 2013, he pled guilty to the controlled substance count pursuant to a statutorily sanctioned stipulation with the district attorney for the deferral of judgment for a period of two years, pending satisfaction of the conditions of his deferral. At the providency hearing at which his plea was taken, the defendant acknowledged his awareness that his plea could make him deportable, and defense counsel affirmatively stated on the record that he and the defendant had a lengthy conversation about immigration consequences, after which the defendant understood that this drug offense would render him deportable. When expressly asked by the trial court whether plea counsel’s statement was true, the defendant responded affirmatively. Weeks thereafter, the State moved to revoke the deferred judgment, alleging that defendant had been arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) officers and therefore could no longer comply with the requirements of his deferred judgment. Defendant then moved to withdraw his guilty plea. The State challenged the appellate court’s jurisdiction on the grounds that until defendant was actually sentenced and judgment of conviction enters, there could be no final judgment from which an appeal would lie. Defendant challenged the appellate court’s ultimate conclusion on the merits that he was not entitled to an advisement by his counsel to the effect that he would be detained without bond during the pendency of any deportation proceedings initiated against him by the federal government. The Colorado Supreme Court found that because a guilty plea taken pursuant to a statutorily sanctioned stipulation to defer judgment and sentence does not become a final, appealable judgment unless and until the deferral is revoked, sentence is actually imposed, and judgment of conviction enters, defendant was without any immediate right to appeal the denial of his motion, and the court of appeals was therefore not authorized to entertain the defendant’s claim. Choosing, nevertheless, to exercise its original jurisdiction in this case, the Supreme Court found the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant’s motion. The court of appeals' judgment was vacated. View "Colorado v. Figueroa-Lemus" on Justia Law

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Proponents-respondents Monica Vondruska and Jon Caldara submitted proposed Initiative #315 to the Title Board for the setting of a title and submission clause. Initiative #315 proposed to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. This program would be created by reallocating revenue generated by existing state taxes on tobacco products and tobacco litigation settlements and by levying a new sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products. Petitioner Anna Jo Haynes then filed a motion for rehearing, asserting that the title did not satisfy either the single subject or clear title requirement. Upon review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the title that the Title Board set for Initiative #315 presented a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by state taxes on nicotine and tobacco products. Furthermore, the Court concluded the title satisfied the clear title requirement because it described Initiative #315’s central features succinctly, accurately, and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. View "In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019 (Initiative 315)" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Court of Appeals dismissed Christopher Sullivan's appeal, finding that it was barred by the plea proviso, rejecting Sullivan's claim the plea proviso did not apply because his appeal involved the manner in which the sentence was imposed, not "the propriety of the sentence." The appellate court surmised an appeal related to the manner in which the sentence was imposed was an appeal regarding the propriety of the sentence. The issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether "propriety of the sentence" as that phrase was used in C.R.S. 18-1-409(1), encompassed the manner in which the sentence was imposed. The Supreme Court held that “the propriety of the sentence,” as that phrase was used in the plea proviso, did not comprehend the manner in which the sentence was imposed (i.e., the propriety of the sentencing proceeding). Because Sullivan’s appeal concerned the manner in which his sentence was imposed, it was not barred by the plea proviso. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court's judgment. View "Sullivan v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The Colorado State Engineer, and the Division Engineer for Water Division 3 (the “Engineers”), brought claims against Nick Meagher for injunctive relief, civil penalties, and costs, arising from Meagher’s failure to submit Form 6.1, "Water Use Data Submittal Form," as required by Rule 6.1 of the Rules Governing the Measurement of Ground Water Diversions Located in Water Division No. 3, The Rio Grande Basin (the “Measurement Rules”). Meagher appealed the water court’s orders denying his motion to dismiss the Engineers’ claims and granting the Engineers summary judgment on those claims, contending the court erred by: (1) denying his motion to dismiss because the Engineers’ claims were mooted by his ultimate submission of Form 6.1; (2) granting summary judgment for the Engineers based on an erroneous interpretation of Rule 6.1 and section 37-92-503, C.R.S. (2019), and notwithstanding the existence of genuine issues of material fact as to his culpable mental state and the amount of the civil penalties to be imposed; (3) enjoining future violations of Rule 6.1; and (4) awarding costs and fees to the Engineers. Finding no reversible error, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the water court's judgment. View "Colorado v. Meagher" on Justia Law

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Brittany Harrison was charged with possession of two controlled substances and drug paraphernalia. Before trial, she filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that she was entitled to immunity pursuant to section 18-1-711, C.R.S. (2019) because she had suffered an emergency drug overdose event that was reported by another person to the 911 system. Though the district court denied her motion, it allowed her to rely on that statute to raise an affirmative defense at trial. The jury found Harrison guilty as charged, but a division of the court of appeals vacated her judgment of conviction. In a matter of first impression for the Colorado Supreme Court, the Court reduced the issues presented on appeal as: (1) did the division correctly construe the requirement in section 18-1-711(1)(a) that a person must “report[] in good faith an emergency drug or alcohol overdose event;” and (2) did the division correctly conclude that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to disprove Harrison’s affirmative defense and, consequently, to support her convictions? Because the Court answered both questions in the negative, it reversed the division’s judgment. View "Colorado v. Harrison" on Justia Law