Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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Petitioner-Appellee Scott Diehl pleaded guilty to three drug offenses in 2005. For each offense, he received a sentence that required him to serve a designated number of years in prison as well as a period of mandatory parole. He began serving his term of imprisonment for those sentences, which ran concurrently, on September 6, 2005. Diehl was released from prison at the discretion of the state board of parole in 2011, and he immediately began serving a five-year period of mandatory parole. Diehl absconded from parole from February 14 to March 28, 2013. He was arrested and returned to prison to serve the remainder of his mandatory parole term incarcerated. During this period of reincarceration, Diehl pleaded guilty in three additional cases arising from the time when he was on parole. He received new sentences that were to run concurrently with his outstanding sentences. In 2016, Diehl filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with the district court arguing the DOC erred in using August 6, 2011, the date on which he was first released to mandatory parole, rather than September 6, 2005, the date on which he was first sentenced to prison, to calculate his parole eligibility date. The district court agreed with Diehl, rejecting the DOC’s argument that Diehl’s “sentence to imprisonment” on his original convictions had been discharged when he began serving his mandatory period of parole and was thus no longer relevant to his new parole eligibility date. The district court concluded that a sentence, for purposes of Colorado’s “one-continuous-sentence” rule, was comprised of two components: (1) a period of incarceration and (2) a period of mandatory parole. Although the imprisonment component of the sentence was statutorily discharged when Diehl began serving his period of mandatory parole, the district court noted that the statutory scheme provided Diehl’s overall sentence was not “deemed to have [been] fully discharged” until Diehl “either completed or [had] been discharged by the state board of parole from the mandatory period of parole imposed pursuant to” C.R.S. 18-1.3-401(1)(a)(V). Therefore, the district court concluded the DOC was required to calculate Diehl’s parole eligibility date using his first date of incarceration, September 6, 2005. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court was whether the offender’s original prison sentences should have been included in the newly calculated continuous sentence for purposes of determining a new parole eligibility date. The Court responded in the negative. View "Diehl v. Weiser" on Justia Law

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Two men, one carrying what seemed to be a gun, broke into an unoccupied Colorado Springs home and stole roughly $8,000 in cash and other valuables from a safe in a bedroom closet. As it happened, the homeowner had a motion-activated camera in his alarm clock. The camera captured the burglary, albeit on grainy footage. The homeowner, who owned a video-editing business, enhanced that footage and then shared it with local television news stations, along with an offer of a reward for the “conviction” of the burglars. When the video aired on the news, someone identified the man carrying the gun in the video as the defendant, Kyree Howard-Walker. Howard-Walker was ultimately convicted of first degree burglary and conspiracy to commit first degree burglary, after a two-day trial. On appeal, he argued that his relatively brief trial was riddled with errors that, at the very least, collectively warranted reversal. The court of appeal concluded that those errors did not warrant reversal individually or collectively. In reaching this conclusion, the division adopted a new approach to cumulative error review. The appellate court sought more guideposts and, in so doing, crafted a two-step, multi-factor test based on precedent from federal circuit courts. After applying this new cumulative error analysis, the division determined that Howard-Walker received a fair trial despite the eight errors. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded the appellate court erred by supplementing the Oaks v. People, 371 P.2d 443 (Colo. 1962) standard. And under Oaks, the Supreme Court reversed because the cumulative effect of these errors deprived Howard-Walker of a fair trial. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded for a new trial. View "Howard-Walker v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a trial court abused its discretion in permitting a police officer to testify regarding the results of a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (“HGN”) test without first qualifying that officer as an expert witness under CRE 702 and Venalonzo v. Colorado, 388 P.3d 868 (2017). After review, the Supreme Court concluded that, on the facts of this case, the officer’s testimony concerning the HGN test was expert testimony under CRE 702 and that the district court therefore erred in holding otherwise. However, the Court concluded that on the facts presented here, the court’s error in admitting the testimony was harmless. View "Campbell v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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While on patrol, a police officer heard a man and woman arguing behind the gate of a storage facility. When the officer called dispatch to report the disturbance, he was informed that a call had just come in regarding a possible domestic disturbance involving a man named Alexis Brown at that same location. Seconds later, the yelling stopped, and the officer saw a man walking away from the storage facility; the man was the only visible person in the area. The officer stopped the man and asked his name. When the man gave his name as Alexis Brown, the officer realized that it matched the name given for the possible domestic disturbance. The officer then ran a records check on Brown’s name and found that there was an active warrant for his arrest, at which point Brown was taken into custody; a subsequent search revealed methamphetamine in his pocket. Brown was charged for the methamphetamine possession, not the domestic disturbance. Prior to trial, the court concluded that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to initially stop Brown, and it thus suppressed all evidence arising from the encounter. The State filed an interlocutory appeal. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed: the officer had reasonable articulable suspicion that Brown was involved in an act of domestic violence. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Colorado v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Defendant Juvenal Onel Garcia was subject to a restraining order from contacting C.G. Almost two years after the issuance of the restraining order, Garcia allegedly attempted to sexually assault C.G. Based on events related to that criminal episode, a jury convicted Garcia of first degree burglary, attempted sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, third degree assault, violation of a protection order, and obstruction of telephone service. Garcia appealed, raising two unpreserved claims: (1) the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding the sexual assault charge; and (2) the trial court improperly instructed the jury regarding the force sentence enhancer related to his attempted sexual assault conviction. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the appeals court that any error regarding the sexual assault instruction did not require reversal, because Garcia failed to show that any error so undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial itself as to cast serious doubt on the reliability of Garcia’s convictions. Because the Supreme Court resolved this issue based on lack of prejudice, it did not reach the question of whether the obviousness of an error should have been assessed at the time of trial or at the time of direct appeal. The Court also concluded the force sentence enhancer did not include a mens rea requirement, and, therefore, there was no error with respect to that instruction. View "Garcia v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Richard Jones filed a habeas corpus petition in the district court challenging the Department of Corrections’ (“DOC”) calculation of his parole eligibility date (“PED”). Jones asserted that the DOC used only his latest 2008 conviction to calculate his PED, but, to correctly calculate his PED, he believed that the DOC’s calculation should include two earlier convictions from 1991. If his PED was calculated utilizing the 1991 convictions, Jones argued that he had passed his PED and was being unlawfully denied consideration for parole. His habeas petition included the mittimus for the 2008 conviction but did not include the mittimuses for the two 1991 convictions. In response to Jones’s petition, the DOC moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. The DOC characterized Jones’s failure to include all three of his mittimuses as a “jurisdictional failure which requires dismissal.” The district court granted the DOC’s motion and dismissed the petition. The Colorado Supreme Court found that noncompliance with the warrant requirement did not deprive courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus petitions. The Court overruled its prior cases holding that failing to provide a copy of the warrant of commitment was a jurisdictional defect, deprives the court of authority to act on a habeas petition, and requires summary dismissal. Accordingly, the Court reversed the district court’s order dismissing the habeas petition for lack of jurisdiction and remanded to the district court for further consideration. View "Jones v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Frederico Alvarado Hinojos, a citizen of Mexico, immigrated to the United States in 1991 with his wife and two daughters. Sixteen years later, in 2007, he pled guilty to felony menacing with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor third-degree assault. Alvarado Hinojos successfully completed both his deferred judgment and his probation sentence. Therefore, in 2009, the trial court dismissed the guilty plea to the felony count and terminated the probation sentence on the misdemeanor count. In July 2015, Alvarado Hinojos filed a motion for postconviction relief in which he collaterally attacked his third-degree assault conviction under Crim. P. 35(c). The question Alvarado Hinojos' appeal raised for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether, as a noncitizen, Alvarado Hinojos was entitled to a hearing on the timeliness of his Crim. P. 35(c) postconviction motion when he invoked the justifiable excuse or excusable neglect exception and alleged that plea counsel provided him no advice regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. The Supreme Court held that when the plea agreement or the plea hearing transcript is submitted, the trial court should consider it in conjunction with the allegations advanced. In this case, the Court held Alvarado Hinojos was not entitled to a hearing. The factual allegations in his motion (which were assumed to be true), when considered in conjunction with the plea agreement, were insufficient to establish justifiable excuse or excusable neglect for failing to collaterally attack the validity of his misdemeanor conviction within the applicable eighteen-month limitations period. The immigration advisement contained in the plea agreement, at a minimum, gave Alvarado Hinojos reason to question the accuracy of his plea counsel’s advice regarding the immigration consequences of the plea. "Thus, even taking at face value the allegations in his motion, he was on notice at the time of his plea that he needed to diligently investigate his counsel’s advice and, if appropriate, file a timely motion challenging the validity of his conviction." View "People v. Alvarado Hinojos" on Justia Law

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Israel Chavez-Torres was born in Mexico who immigrated to the United States with his mother and three sisters in 1991 when he was thirteen years old. In August 1996, while in high school, Chavez-Torres pled guilty to first-degree felony criminal trespass. He received probation, which he completed successfully. In 2013, seventeen years after his conviction, the United States Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) notified Chavez-Torres that it had initiated removal proceedings against him based on his conviction. Chavez-Torres promptly consulted an immigration attorney who advised him that his conviction made him ineligible for cancellation of removal proceedings. The immigration attorney thus opined that plea counsel may have provided Chavez-Torres ineffective assistance by failing to provide an advisement about the immigration consequences of the plea. The question Chavez-Torres' appeal raised for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether, as a noncitizen, Chavez-Torres was entitled to a hearing on the timeliness of his Crim. P. 35(c) postconviction motion when he invoked the justifiable excuse or excusable neglect exception and alleged that plea counsel provided him no advice regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. The Supreme Court held that when the plea agreement or the plea hearing transcript is submitted, the trial court should consider it in conjunction with the allegations advanced. In this case, Chavez-Torres was entitled to a hearing. "Chavez-Torres alleged that he had no reason to question or investigate his plea counsel’s failure to advise him regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. Further, although he was not required to do so, Chavez-Torres submitted the plea agreement and the plea hearing transcript with his motion, and neither references the immigration consequences of his plea." View "Colorado v. Chavez-Torres" on Justia Law

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William Kutzly was charged with several crimes involving sexual assault on a child. During his trial, the court qualified a social worker as an expert witness in child sexual assault and victim dynamics; the witness then testified. Prior to trial, Kutzly moved the trial court to hold a Shreck hearing to determine the reliability of the social worker’s proposed testimony. The trial court held a hearing on that motion, determined that the testimony was reliable, and ultimately denied the motion to hold a full evidentiary Shreck hearing on that issue. Kutzly argued on appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court that this was error. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court made specific findings of reliability such that its decision not to hold a Shreck hearing was not an abuse of discretion. The Court therefore affirmed the court of appeals’ decision. View "Kutzly v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In this case, a juvenile, "T.B." texted a picture of his erect penis to two underage girls and then repeatedly asked the girls to text him naked pictures of themselves. After initially resisting, both girls eventually complied and texted nude selfies to the juvenile. T.B. kept these sexts on his cell phone, where they were discovered by law enforcement in 2013. The question this case presented was whether T.B. could be adjudicated delinquent for sexual exploitation of a child under section 18-6-403(3), C.R.S. (2018), for possessing these images. At a bench trial, T.B. argued that the prosecution failed to prove that he knowingly possessed erotic nudity for the purpose of the overt sexual gratification of a “person involved.” The court rejected this argument and adjudicated T.B. delinquent on both counts. A split court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court granted review to determine the proper standard of review for an unpreserved sufficiency of the evidence claim and to review whether the court of appeals misconstrued section 18-6-403(3)(b.5) in holding the evidence was sufficient to support T.B.’s adjudication for sexual exploitation of a child. The Court was satisfied that the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's conclusion that the images constituted “erotic nudity” (and therefore “sexually exploitative material”) for purposes of the sexual exploitation of a child statute. View "Colorado in the Interest of T.B." on Justia Law