Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
by
In January 2021, the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force (“NCDTF”) received an anonymous tip that claimed two residents of a home in Berthoud were dealing a variety of drugs, including methamphetamine. Marcelo Moreno left the house, driving to a truck stop. A patrol car followed Moreno into the truck stop parking lot and parked in a far corner where the officer could observe Moreno from a distance. Moreno and a woman went into the truck stop, returned to sit in the vehicle for a short time, and then drove to another part of the parking area. At no point did they pump gas. A short while later, another surveilling officer, still back at the residence, witnessed a husband and wife leave the house in their SUV. The officer followed the couple to the truck stop where Moreno was waiting. The couple pulled in next to Moreno, who exited his own truck carrying a black backpack and got into the backseat of the couple’s SUV, and the three drove off together. The second officer in the patrol car then stopped the SUV on suspicion of drug trafficking activity. In this interlocutory appeal of a suppression order, the issue presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the trial court erred when it found that the police lacked reasonable articulable suspicion to support an investigatory stop. The Court held that under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct the stop. The Court therefore reversed the trial court’s order suppressing evidence obtained from the search and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Moreno" on Justia Law

by
In November 2017, Saul Cisneros was charged with two misdemeanor offenses and jailed. The court set Cisneros’s bond at $2,000, and Cisneros’s daughter posted that bond four days later, but the County Sheriff’s Office did not release him. Instead, pursuant to Sheriff Bill Elder’s policies and practices, the Sheriff’s Office notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) that the jail had been asked to release Cisneros on bond. ICE then sent the jail a detainer and administrative warrant, requesting that the jail continue to detain Cisneros because ICE suspected that he was removable from the United States. Cisneros was placed on an indefinite “ICE hold,” and remained in detention. During his detention, Cisneros, along with another pretrial detainee, initiated a class action in state court against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity, for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the appellate court erred in concluding that section 24-10-106(1.5)(b), C.R.S. (2021), of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”) did not waive sovereign immunity for intentional torts that result from the operation of a jail for claimants who were incarcerated but not convicted. The Supreme Court concluded section 24-10-106(1.5)(b) waived immunity for such intentional torts. "In reaching this determination, we conclude that the statutory language waiving immunity for 'claimants who are incarcerated but not yet convicted' and who 'can show injury due to negligence' sets a floor, not a ceiling. To hold otherwise would mean that a pre-conviction claimant could recover for injuries resulting from the negligent operation of a jail but not for injuries resulting from the intentionally tortious operation of the same jail, an absurd result that we cannot countenance." Accordingly, the judgment of the division below was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Cisneros v. Elder" on Justia Law

by
The State asked the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse the trial court’s suppression order and remand the case to allow them to make additional arguments supporting the warrantless seizure of defendant-appellee Joe Ramos’s cell phone on the theory that they did not have specific notice that the seizure of the phone was at issue. After review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's suppression order and affirmed. View "Colorado v. Ramos" on Justia Law

by
In December 2018, Alfred Moreno repeatedly emailed his ex-wife, E.M. He asked to see his children, but he also made a series of disparaging and vulgar comments about her. E.M. told Moreno to stop contacting her. Undeterred, Moreno posted the following on Facebook: “To whom ever is fkng [E.M.] in my friends list. Will you please tell her to have my kids call me asap. You can have her and the STD[.] I just want my kids to contact me. And remember that you are not there [sic] father okay. Thanks homies[.]” Moreno was charged with: (1) harassment under section 18-9-111(1)(e), a class three misdemeanor; and (2) habitual domestic violence under section 18-6-801(7), C.R.S. (2021), a class five felony. Moreno moved to dismiss the harassment charge, arguing that subsection (1)(e) is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague, both facially and as applied to him, in violation of the freedom-of-speech provisions in the United States and Colorado constitutions. The district court concluded that the phrase “intended to harass” in section 18-9-111(1)(e), C.R.S. (2021), unconstitutionally restricted protected speech. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed that this provision was substantially overbroad on its face and thus affirmed the order. View "Colorado v. Moreno" on Justia Law

by
Jared Cortes-Gonzalez entered into a global disposition that required him to plead guilty in four felony cases, including two in which he faced complaints to revoke his probation. The plea agreement indicated that, while the sentences would be within the court’s discretion, the cumulative prison term would not exceed twenty years. Two weeks later, Cortes-Gonzalez filed a “Motion to Consider 35-C,” alleging that his attorney (the “public defender”) had provided ineffective assistance by failing to accurately advise him of the plea agreement’s potential punishment. In April 2021, alternate defense counsel submitted a supplemental Crim. P. 35(c) motion. The prosecution asked the district court to issue an order finding a “waiver of all confidential attorney-client privileges or relationships affected by the pursuit” of the Crim. P. 35(c) ineffective assistance claim. The court granted the motion, and the prosecution served an subpoena duces tecum (“SDT”) on the public defender to compel the production records in her possession related to Cortes-Gonzalez’s four cases. The public defender objected to the SDT. The issue presented to the Colorado Supreme Court in this case related to the attorney-client privilege in the context of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court held: (1) whenever a defendant alleges ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant automatically waives the attorney-client privilege, as well as any other confidentiality, between counsel and the defendant, but only with respect to the information that is related to the ineffective assistance claim; (2) the procedures set forth in Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V) in no way modify section 18-1-417, C.R.S. (2021); (3) it is improper for prosecutors to request an order or use a Crim. P. 17 subpoena duces tecum (“SDT”) to attempt to access the confidential information covered by section 18-1-417(1); and (4) the prosecution doesn’t have an inherent right to an in camera review of the allegedly ineffective counsel’s case file - even if the purpose of the review is to ensure that all the information subject to the waiver will be produced. After any in camera review, the court must disclose to the prosecution claim-related information not previously produced. View "In re Colorado v. Cortes- Gonzalez" on Justia Law

by
In November 2017, Saul Cisneros was charged with two misdemeanor offenses and jailed. The court set Cisneros’s bond at $2,000, and Cisneros’s daughter posted that bond four days later, but the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office did not release Cisneros. Instead, the Sheriff’s Office notified U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) that the jail had been asked to release Cisneros on bond. ICE then sent the jail a detainer and administrative warrant, requesting that the jail continue to detain Cisneros because ICE suspected that he was removable from the United States. Cisneros was then placed on an indefinite “ICE hold,” and remained detained. The jail subsequently advised Cisneros’s daughter that the Sheriff’s Office would not release her father due to the ICE hold, and she ultimately recovered the bond money that she had posted. During his detention, Cisneros, along with another pretrial detainee, initiated a class action in state court against Sheriff Elder, in his official capacity, for declaratory, injunctive, and mandamus relief. Their complaint alleged that Sheriff Elder did not have the authority under state law to continue to hold pretrial detainees in custody when Colorado law required their release, nor did he have the authority to deprive persons of their liberty based on suspicion of civil violations of federal immigration law. Cisneros also asserted a tort claim against Sheriff Elder, seeking damages for false imprisonment, but he subsequently filed an amended complaint in which he did not reassert that claim, stating that he intended to file the requisite notice of such a claim under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (“CGIA”) and to reassert that claim at the proper time. The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider whether the district court erred in concluding that section 24-10-106(1.5)(b), C.R.S. (2021), of the CGIA did not waive sovereign immunity for intentional torts that result from the operation of a jail for claimants who were incarcerated but not convicted. The Supreme Court concluded section 24-10-106(1.5)(b) waived immunity for such intentional torts. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the division below and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cisneros v. Elder" on Justia Law

by
The State of Colorado filed an interlocutory appeal to challenge a Denver District Court order suppressing defendant Alexander Brown's statements following his detention by police. The trial court determined that the officers who detained Brown did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime had been committed, was being committed, or was about to be committed. After its review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that while the trial court erred in considering the officers’ subjective intent in effectuating the seizure, it was nonetheless correct that the officers lacked reasonable and articulable suspicion to detain Brown. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order suppressing Brown’s statements, albeit on other grounds. View "Colorado v. Brown" on Justia Law

by
Brooke Rojas was convicted of two counts of theft based on her improper receipt of food stamp benefits. Rojas initially applied for food stamp benefits from the Department of Human Services in August 2012 when she had no income. She received a recertification letter in December, which she submitted in mid-January 2013, indicating that she still had no income. And although she had not yet received a paycheck when she submitted the recertification letter, Rojas had started a new job on January 1. Rojas continued receiving food stamp benefits every month until July, when she inadvertently allowed them to lapse. She reapplied in August 2013. Although still working, Rojas reported that she had no income. The Department checked Rojas’s employment status in connection with the August application and learned that she was making about $55,000 a year (to support a family of seven). The Department determined that Rojas had received $5,632 in benefits to which she was not legally entitled. At trial, Rojas’s defense was that she lacked the requisite culpable mental state—she didn’t knowingly deceive the government; she just misunderstood the forms. Before trial, Rojas objected to the prosecution’s proposed admission of the August 2013 application because it exceeded the time period of the charged offenses and didn’t lead to the receipt of any benefits. The prosecution countered that the application was admissible as res gestae evidence—to show how the investigation began—and as evidence of specific intent. The court found it relevant as circumstantial evidence of Rojas’s mental state. In its opinion issued upon Rojas' appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded it was "time for us to bury res gestae. ... By continuing to rely on res gestae as a standalone basis for admissibility and allowing the vagueness of res gestae to persist next to these more analytically demanding rules of relevancy, we have created a breeding ground for confusion, inconsistency, and unfairness." The Court's decision to abolish the res gestate doctrine in criminal cases prompted it to reverse judgment and remand for a new trial. View "Rojas v. Colorado" on Justia Law

by
In 2013, Respondent Ray Ojeda was charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting, and shooting a fifteen-year-old girl back in 1997. The victim, who survived, reported the crime immediately but could not identify the perpetrator. The investigation eventually stalled out. At some point in time, the Denver Police Department’s Crime Lab misplaced the victim’s rape kit. Years later, when the police found and retested evidence from the victim’s rape kit, DNA from the vaginal swab matched Ojeda. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on a split decision of a division of the court of appeals, which held that the trial court erred in denying Ojeda’s challenge to an allegedly discriminatory jury strike under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), during the jury selection process. The Supreme Court held that because the prosecution offered an explicitly race-based reason for striking Juror R.P., it did not meet its burden of providing a race-neutral explanation for the strike, as required under step two of the Batson test. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals, albeit on other grounds. View "Colorado v. Ojeda" on Justia Law

by
The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed Nicholas Garcia, Jr's conviction for second degree kidnapping. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review centered on whether the trial court erred by instructing the jury that the phrase “seizes and carries,” as used in the second degree kidnapping statute, 18-3-302(1), C.R.S. (2021), meant “any movement, however short in distance.” Because the trial court’s instruction allowed the jury to convict Garcia without finding that he seized the victim or moved the victim from “one place to another” as required by the statute, the Supreme Court held that the trial court committed reversible error. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded with directions to remand to the trial court for a new trial. View "Garcia v. Colorado" on Justia Law