Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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In 2014, William Berry, who was at the time a deputy of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, obtained several firearms from the office evidence locker, gave one away, attempted to sell another, and kept two for himself. For this, Berry was convicted of embezzlement of public property in violation of section 18-8-407, C.R.S. (2019), and first-degree official misconduct in violation of section 18-8-404, C.R.S. (2019). The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was one of first impression for each of these statutory provisions: (1) does “public property” include property that is in the government’s possession but not owned by the government?; and (2) what is an act “relating to [an official’s] office” for purposes of the crime of official misconduct? The Supreme Court held the statute prohibiting embezzlement of public property criminalized only the embezzlement of property that was owned by the government. Furthermore, the Court concluded the prohibition on official misconduct should be broadly construed to include circumstances, like those in this case, in which an official used the opportunities presented by his or her office to engage in improper conduct. View "Colorado v. Berry" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, shortly after the child’s birth, the Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services initiated this case based on evidence that the child’s mother was using drugs and that both father and the child’s mother were missing the child’s cues, were homeless, and had previously been involved in child welfare cases. The child was placed with maternal relatives. As pertinent here, the juvenile court adjudicated the child dependent and neglected as to father based on father’s admission that he needed support and services and that the child’s environment was injurious to her welfare. At the first hearing in the juvenile court, father appeared in custody following a recent arrest. The court appointed counsel for him and approved an initial treatment plan. Two months later, the court conducted another hearing, and father again appeared in custody, this time based on new drug possession charges. The Department filed a motion to terminate father’s parental rights. In this petition, the Department alleged that (1) father did not comply with his treatment plan, and the treatment plan failed; (2) no additional period of time would allow for the successful completion of the treatment plan; (3) father was an unfit parent; (4) father’s conduct or condition was unlikely to change within a reasonable period of time; and (5) there were no less drastic alternatives to termination, which would be in the child’s best interests. The matter then proceeded to a termination hearing; father was incarcerated. When father did not appear for the hearing, father’s counsel told the court that father was “on a writ at Arapahoe County and he refused the writ so he did not want to appear today.” Father’s counsel did not seek a continuance to ensure father’s presence, and the court found that father had voluntarily absented himself from the court. Mother was denied her request for a continuance. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review was similar to that decided in its companion, Colorado in Interest of A.R., 2020 CO 10, __ P.3d __. Here, as in A.R., the Supreme Court was asked to decide (1) the correct standard for determining whether a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffective performance and (2) whether an appellate court may vacate a juvenile court’s decision in a dependency and neglect proceeding on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel without remanding the case for further evidentiary development. Applying those principles here, the Court concluded the juvenile court correctly applied Strickland’s prejudice prong to father’s ineffective assistance of counsel claims and that the court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting those claims. View "M.A.W. v. The People in Interest of A.L.W." on Justia Law

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Alfredo Juarez appealed the denial of his motion for postconviction relief. In 2012, Juarez pleaded guilty to one class 1 misdemeanor count of possessing a schedule V controlled substance, in exchange for the dismissal of a charge of felony possession. As stipulated in the plea agreement, he received a sentence to two years of drug court probation. At the time of his offense and plea, the defendant was a citizen of Mexico and a lawful permanent resident of the United States. A month after his sentencing, the defendant violated the conditions of his probation, received a suspended two-day jail sentence, and two weeks later, after violating the conditions of that suspension, served those two days in jail. After he received an additional three-day jail sentence for again violating his probation, federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement (“ICE”) officers began removal proceedings. Defendant was eventually deported to Mexico. In October 2012 and January 2013, defendant filed motions for postconviction relief, challenging the effectiveness of his plea counsel’s representation and, as a result, the constitutional validity of his guilty plea. Over a period of three days, the district court heard these motions, including the testimony of defendant, taken by video over the internet; the testimony of his plea counsel; and the testimony of an immigration attorney retained by him in 2011, prior to his acceptance of the plea agreement. With regard to his challenge to the effectiveness of his counsel, the district court found both that defense counsel adequately advised his client concerning the immigration consequences of his plea of guilty to misdemeanor drug possession and that, in any event, there was no reasonable probability Juarez would not have taken the plea. The intermediate appellate court similarly found that counsel’s advice fell within the range of competence demanded of attorneys in criminal cases, but as a result of that finding, the appellate court considered it unnecessary to address the question whether counsel’s performance prejudiced Juarez. The Colorado Supreme Court thus concluded that because Juarez conceded he was advised and understood that the misdemeanor offense to which he pleaded guilty would make him “deportable,” defense counsel’s advice concerning the immigration consequences of his plea correctly informed him of the controlling law and therefore did not fall below the objective standard of reasonableness required for effective assistance concerning immigration advice. The judgment of the court of appeals was therefore affirmed. View "Juarez v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on the contention of ineffective assistance of counsel in the context of a dependency and neglect proceeding. In 2016, petitioner A.R.’s (the “child’s”) paternal step-grandmother took him to the emergency room to receive treatment for scabies. A physician who treated the then-six-month-old child determined that the degree of scabies on the child evinced a case of neglect, and, later that night, another doctor confirmed that the child also had a skull fracture. The Department of Human Services subsequently initiated this dependency and neglect proceeding, and the juvenile court granted the Department continued custody of the child. Later, the juvenile court held an adjudicatory hearing with respect to both parents. When mother did not appear, her counsel told the court that he had made arrangements with mother to attend the hearing, but did not know why she did not appear. Apparently in an effort to move the case forward, and after speaking with counsel for both mother and the child’s father (who also did not appear), the Department asked the court for leave to amend the Department’s dependency and neglect petition to include an allegation that the child was dependent or neglected through no fault of the child’s parents and to allow the Department to rest on the Report of Investigation filed with the petition. The child’s guardian ad litem (“GAL”) agreed with this procedure, stating that it was in the child’s best interests to “move forward,” and the court therefore entered a no-fault adjudication and approved the proposed treatment plan. Mother did not appeal this adjudication. The mother challenged the ultimate termination of her rights to A.R. The Supreme Court was asked to decide: (1) whether, in a direct appeal from a judgment terminating parental rights, an appellate court may consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s performance at an adjudicatory hearing; (2) the correct standard for determining whether a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding was prejudiced by counsel’s ineffective performance; and (3) whether an appellate court may vacate a juvenile court’s decision in a dependency and neglect proceeding on the ground of ineffective assistance of counsel without remanding the case for further evidentiary development. The Supreme Court held an appellate court may consider a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel based on counsel’s performance at an adjudicatory hearing only when the party claiming ineffective assistance did not have a full and fair opportunity to assert such a claim immediately after his or her child was adjudicated dependent and neglected, and outlined the standard for determining ineffective performance in a dependency and neglect context. Applying these determinations to the facts and claims presented, the Court affirmed the judgment below (on different grounds), and remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado in Interest of A.R." on Justia Law

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The district court in this case sua sponte ordered the parties to exchange exhibits thirty days before trial. The State charged Joshua Kilgore with two counts of felony sexual assault. In the minute order it issued following the arraignment, the court indicated, among other things, that “exhibits [were] to be exchanged 30 days before trial” (“disclosure requirement” or “disclosure order”). The disclosure requirement was not prompted by a party’s request and appeared to have been part of the court’s standard case-management practice. A couple of months later, Kilgore filed an objection, arguing that the disclosure requirement violated his attorney’s confidentiality obligations, the attorney-client privilege, the attorney work-product doctrine, and his due process rights (including his right to make the prosecution meet its burden of proof, his right to a fair trial, and his right to the effective assistance of counsel). Furthermore, Kilgore argued Rule 16 neither required him to disclose, nor entitled the prosecution to receive, his exhibits before trial. The court overruled Kilgore’s objection, reasoning that requiring Kilgore to disclose his exhibits prior to trial would “foster[] efficiency and allow[] for a fair trial” without running afoul of his rights. Any exhibits not disclosed before trial, warned the court, would “not be used at trial.” Kilgore sought reconsideration of this ruling, but the court declined to alter it. Thereafter, Kilgore submitted a sealed motion detailing the specific reasons he opposed disclosing a particular exhibit. Despite having this additional information, though, the court stood by its earlier ruling. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded a district court could not rely on its case-management discretion to order disclosures that exceed the discovery authorized by Rule 16 of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, nor could a court require disclosures that infringe on an accused’s constitutional rights. In this instance, the district court erred in ordering Kilgore to disclose his exhibits before trial. View "In re Colorado v. Kilgore" on Justia Law

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In April 2019, Monica Colbert and Juliet Sebold sought to have titles set for eight ballot initiatives. Each of the proposed initiatives was designed to create an “Expanded Learning Opportunities Program” for Colorado children, but each included a different funding mechanism. The Title Board held a hearing on the eight initiatives; it declined to set titles for two, Initiatives #74 and #75, after concluding that both proposed initiatives contained multiple subjects in violation of the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked, in its original jurisdiction, whether a statement in section 1-40-107(1)(c), C.R.S. (2019), that “[t]he decision of the title board on any motion for rehearing shall be final, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, and no further motion for rehearing may be filed or considered by the title board” – meant what it said. The Court responded, “yes”: Section 1-40-107 contemplated only a single Title Board rehearing on a proposed initiative title. The Court therefore affirmed the decision of the Title Board declining to consider a motion for a second rehearing on Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #74 and Proposed Initiative 2019–2020 #75. View "In re Ballot Title #74, & No." on Justia Law

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After pleading guilty to Driving While Ability Impaired, Quinten Martinez was sentenced to jail and probation under section 42-4-1307, C.R.S. (2019). The county court twice revoked his probation and resentenced him. Martinez has served 608 days in jail related to this offense, of which 458 stem from probation violations. Martinez appealed, asserting that the maximum jail sentence the court could impose was ten days. Martinez had moved for a stay of execution, which the trial court granted. By the time the stay entered, Martinez had already served 103 days of his 365-day sentence on the second revocation. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that when a defendant is sentenced to probation as part of his sentence for a second or subsequent DUI offense and then violates the terms of that probation, the sentencing court may impose all or part of the suspended 365-day jail sentence but can impose no more than 365 days cumulative jail time for all probation violations. View "Martinez v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In February 2018, plaintiff-appellant Jimmie Graham’s parole officer filed a complaint alleging that Graham had violated three conditions of his parole: changing his residence without permission; failing to report to the parole office as directed; and committing a new felony - escape. The allegation related to the commission of a new felony was dismissed after the escape case was dismissed. Graham then pled not guilty to the two remaining allegations. The issue his petition for habeas corpus presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review the parole board’s order confining Graham for more than ninety days as a result of his parole violations. The Supreme Court concluded the parole board exceeded its statutory authority, and that the district court subsequently erred in denying Graham’s habeas petition. Thus, the district court’s order was reversed. Because Graham has been confined well beyond the ninety days authorized by the version of the parole revocation statute in effect at the time of Graham’s parole revocation, the Supreme Court remanded to the district court with directions to grant the writ of habeas corpus, make the writ permanent, and order the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections and the Warden of Sterling Correctional Facility (collectively, “DOC”) to immediately release Graham to parole. View "Graham v. Executive Director of Colorado Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Title Board set a title for Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019–2020 #3 (“Proposed Initiative”) that reads, in pertinent part, “An amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning the repeal of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado constitution.” The Board also ultimately adopted an abstract that states, regarding the economic impact of the Proposed Initiative. A challenge to the Proposed Initiative was presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review, and after such, the Court concluded the title and abstract were clear and not misleading, and that the phrase “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights,” as used in the title, was not an impermissible catch phrase. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the decision of the Title Board. View "In re Proposed Ballot Initiative 2019" on Justia Law

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After Kirk Williams returned home from a trip to North Dakota, his wife went through his overnight travel bag and discovered what she believed to be drugs and paraphernalia. She took the contraband items, placed them inside a soap dish, and hid the soap dish in the garage of their home. Mrs. Williams later called the Police Department and met with one of its officers at her church. She told him that she wanted the police to collect the drugs and paraphernalia she had taken from her husband’s travel bag and stored in the garage. The officer requested assistance, and two more officers responded. The three officers then accompanied Mrs. Williams home. Upon arriving, Mrs. Williams provided consent and allowed the officers to enter so they could take possession of the drugs and paraphernalia. At Mrs. Williams’s request, one officer followed her through the house to the garage. There, Mrs. Williams retrieved the soap dish she had stashed away and handed it to him. Meanwhile, another officer continued walking down the entrance hallway for about ten feet, at which point he saw the kitchen, the living room, and an open space dividing the two. He headed toward the living room because he saw Mr. Williams there, sitting on a couch, eating a bowl of cereal, and watching television. When the officer entered the living room, he advised Mr. Williams that officers were conducting a “civil standby” and told him to remain seated. At some point, Mr. Williams told the officers to leave his home. At issue in this case was whether Mrs. Williams could offer consent to the officers to search her home while her husband was present. The Colorado Supreme Court determined that although Mr. Williams was physically present on the premises, he did not object as his wife allowed the officers inside. His subsequent objection, after the officers had already entered his home and were in the process of taking possession of the drugs and paraphernalia, could not vitiate her previously given consent. Therefore, the officers were not required to heed his request to leave, and thus the trial court did not err in refusing to suppress the evidence collected inside his home. View "Williams v. Colorado" on Justia Law