February 19, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: “Possession” of Child Pornography Occurs When Computer User Views Files on Internet

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Marsh v. People on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Child Pornography—Criminal Trials—Evidence.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered the meaning of “possession” in  Colorado’s child pornography statute and held that when a computer user seeks out and views child pornography on the Internet, he possesses the images he views. Accordingly, the court concluded that because the evidence presented at trial established that petitioner’s cache contained images that a computer user had previously viewed on the web browser, the Internet cache images qualified as relevant evidence that the petitioner had previously viewed, and thus possessed, those images. Therefore, the court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment in its entirety.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Totality of Circumstances Informs Probable Cause Determination

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Cox on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Fourth Amendment—Probable Cause—Totality of the Circumstances—Canine Alerts.

Several factors led the trooper, who had stopped defendant’s vehicle for a traffic infraction, to suspect that there might be evidence of illegal activity in the vehicle’s trunk, including defendant’s unusual nervousness, an inconsistency in his account of his travels, the fact that he had two cell phones on the passenger seat of his vehicle, and the fact that the trooper’s canine alerted to the trunk for the presence of  drugs. The trooper searched the trunk over defendant’s objection and found  multiple sealed packages of marijuana. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence found in the trunk, which the trial court granted. The trial court concluded that the canine alert could not be considered under the totality of the circumstances because the canine would alert to both legal and illegal amounts of marijuana. The trial court ultimately held that the trooper did not have probable cause to search the trunk.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. Under People v. Zuniga, 2016 CO 52, issued before the trial court issued its order in this case, the canine alert should be considered as a part of the totality of the circumstances. Considering the totality of the circumstances, including the canine alert, defendant’s unusual nervousness, an inconsistency in his account of his travels, and the fact that he had two cell phones on the passenger seat of his vehicle, there was probable cause to search the vehicle’s trunk.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: In Identity Theft Case, People Must Show Knowledge of Theft

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Molina on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Criminal Law—Identity Theft.

This case came to the Colorado Supreme Court on certiorari review of the court of appeals’ unpublished opinion, People v. Molina, No. 11CA1650 (Colo. App. June 19, 2014). A jury convicted Daniela Molina of two counts of identity theft and three counts of forgery. The court granted certiorari to resolve three issues: (1) whether the People must show that Molina knew she stole another person’s information; (2) whether there was sufficient evidence that Molina knew she stole a real person’s information; and (3) whether an apartment lease and employment qualify under the identity theft statute as “thing[s] of value.” The court answered all three questions in the affirmative. Therefore, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Testimony that Could Not Be Offered Without Specialized Knowledge is Expert Testimony

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Venalonzo v. People on Monday, February 6, 2017.

 Criminal Trials—Evidence.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered the admissibility of testimony under  CRE 701 and 702. The court held that in determining whether  testimony is lay testimony under CRE 701 or expert testimony under CRE 702, trial  courts must look to the basis for the opinion. If the witness provides testimony that could be expected to be based on an ordinary person’s experiences or knowledge, then the witness is offering lay testimony. If, on the other hand, the witness provides testimony that could not be offered without specialized experiences, knowledge, or training, then the witness is offering expert testimony. Applying that rule in this case, the court concluded that some portions of a forensic interviewer’s testimony were admissible as lay opinion but that others were inadmissible expert testimony in the guise of lay opinion. The court also addressed the admissibility of testimony under CRE 608(a) and concluded that some of the interviewer’s and the victim’s mother’s testimony was inadmissible under CRE 608(a) as it improperly bolstered the credibility of the child victims.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Officer who Testified About Blood Transfer Should Have Been Qualified as Expert

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Ramos on Monday, February 6, 2017.

Criminal Law—Expert Testimony.

This case, like the recently announced case Venalonzo v. People, 2016 CO 9, required the Supreme Court to address the difference between lay and expert testimony. Specifically, it required the court to resolve one issue—whether an ordinary person would be able to differentiate reliably between blood castoff (i.e., blood droplets from waving a hand around) and blood transfer (i.e., blood transferred by physical contact). Applying the test announced in Venalonzo, the court held that an ordinary person would not be able to testify reliably about the difference between blood cast-off and blood transfer. Therefore, the court affirmed the court of appeals’ holding that the trial court abused its discretion by not qualifying the police detective’s blood testimony as expert testimony.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Victim Intimidation Statute Applies only to Criminal Cases, not Civil Actions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Johnson on Thursday, January 26, 2017.

RetaliationWitnessCivilOther Bad ActsJury DeliberationsLimiting Instruction.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (DHS) took custody of Johnson’s two children based on information from Ranals. Later, Johnson and his girlfriend drove to a DHS office, but the office was closed. Before leaving, Johnson fired shots into a vehicle in the parking lot that appeared similar to the vehicle driven by the DHS employees who had removed the children. Johnson then drove to Ranals’s home and fired several shots into her house.

At trial, Johnson moved for a mistrial and later a new trial, based on Ranals’s testimony. Both motions were denied. A jury convicted Johnson of several counts, including retaliation against a witness or victim. The prosecution’s theory in support of the witness retaliation charge was that Johnson shot into Ranals’s home because she had reported him to DHS and he believed she might be a witness in the dependency and neglect proceedings against him.

On appeal, Johnson contended that the C.R.S. § 18-8-706 offense of retaliation against a witness applies only to retaliation against a witness because of the witness’s relationship to a criminal proceeding. The Colorado Court of Appeals examined the statute and its legislative history and concluded that C.R.S. § 18-8-706 applies only to retaliation against witnesses or victims because of their relationship to criminal, and not civil, proceedings. Because the prosecution only presented evidence regarding Ranals’s perceived involvement in a dependency and neglect proceeding, Johnson’s conduct could not have constituted witness retaliation under this statute.

Johnson also contended that the trial court erroneously denied his motion for a mistrial and erroneously denied his post-verdict motion for a new trial. At trial, Ranals made a statement referencing Johnson’s acts of domestic violence, despite the trial court’s prior ruling that evidence of Johnson’s other bad acts was inadmissible. The court properly exercised its discretion by directing the jury to disregard Ranals’s statement to ensure that Johnson would not be unfairly prejudiced. Further, Ranals’s statement was part of her trial testimony; the jury was not exposed to information or influences outside of the trial process. Thus, it was not extraneous information as contemplated by CRE 606(b).

The witness retaliation conviction was vacated and the judgment of conviction on the remaining convictions was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Denial of Crim. P. 35 Motion Without Hearing was In Error

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Smith on Thursday, January 27, 2017.

Crim. P. 35(c)Post-Conviction ReliefPlea AgreementIneffective Assistance of CounselHearing—Sentencing.

Smith was charged with three sexual offenses. As the result of an unwritten plea agreement, Smith pleaded guilty to added counts of first degree assault with a deadly weapon and attempted sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust. The original charges were dismissed, and Smith was sentenced to a determinate 28-year term in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

Acting pro se, Smith timely moved for post-conviction relief under Crim. P. 35(c). The district court appointed counsel to expound on Smith’s claims in a supplemental motion. The court sought and received a response from the prosecution, which attached a report authored by the prosecution’s investigator. Smith filed a reply that did not specifically challenge the investigator’s report but rather identified contested issues of fact and requested an evidentiary hearing. In a written order, the district court denied Smith’s motion without holding a hearing.

On appeal, Smith contended that the district court erred in denying his motion without a hearing because he asserted sufficient facts to support his claim that plea counsel was ineffective. Under certain circumstances, a trial court may deny a post-conviction motion without conducting an evidentiary hearing if the motion, the files, and the record show the defendant is not entitled to relief, and where the court refers the matter for additional briefing, as it did here, it may enter a ruling based on the pleadings if it finds it appropriate to do so. Here, the district court relied, in part, on the report authored by the prosecution’s investigator in determining that Smith was not entitled to relief. Because the attachment was not part of the file and record of the case, and did not qualify as a pleading, the district court’s reliance on that document was error. It was also error for the court to rely on Smith’s plea colloquy in denying his claims related to that phase of the proceedings because Smith alleged sufficient facts to warrant a hearing on his claim of ineffective assistance related to his plea.

Smith also claimed ineffective assistance of counsel at his sentencing. The Colorado Court of Appeals determined that this claim was conclusory, vague, and lacking in detail, and that it failed to adequately allege the required prejudice.

The district court’s order on Smith’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel at sentencing was affirmed. The district court’s order on Smith’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel related to his plea was reversed and the case was remanded for a hearing solely on that claim.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Amendment 64 Applies to Sentences for Crimes Being Appealed at Effective Date

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Boyd on Tuesday, January 17, 2017.

Amendment 64—Marijuana Legalization—Constitutional Amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Amendment 64 deprived the state of the power to continue to prosecute cases where there was a non-final conviction for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana and where there was a pending right to appeal when Amendment 64 became effective. The court concluded that Amendment 64 nullified the state’s authority to continue to prosecute respondent on appeal because the amendment superseded the underlying statutory authority for the prosecution. The court contemplated United States v. Chambers, 291 U.S. 217 (1934), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that when a statute is rendered inoperative, no further proceedings can be had to enforce it in pending prosecution. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Colorado Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing respondent’s conviction.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Amendment 64 Deprives State of Power to Prosecute Crimes of Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Russell v. People on Tuesday, January 17, 2017.

Expert Testimony—Amendment 64—Marijuana Legalization—Constitutional Amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a police officer’s testimony that defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine was properly admitted as lay testimony or should have been qualified as expert testimony. Because any error in admitting the officer’s testimony as lay testimony was harmless given the otherwise overwhelming evidence, the court declined to answer whether the trial court erred in admitting the testimony. The court also considered whether Amendment 64 deprived the state of the power to continue to prosecute cases where there was a conviction for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana pending on direct appeal when the amendment became effective. The court concluded that under People v. Boyd, 2017 CO 2, Amendment 64 nullified the state’s authority to continue to prosecute petitioner/cross-respondent during her appeal because Amendment 64 superseded the underlying statutory authority for the prosecution. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Colorado Court of Appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Amendment 64 Deprived State of Power to Continue Prosecutions of Small Amount Marijuana Offenses

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Wolf on Tuesday, January 17, 2017.

Amendment 64—Marijuana Legalization—Constitutional Amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Amendment 64 deprived the state of the power to continue to prosecute individuals for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana after Amendment 64 became effective. The court concluded that under People v. Boyd, 2017 CO 2, Amendment 64 nullified the state’s authority to continue to prosecute respondent at his jury trial because Amendment 64 superseded the underlying statutory authority for the prosecution. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Colorado Court of Appeals’ judgment vacating respondent’s conviction and sentence.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Probate Court Had Jurisdiction to Appoint Temporary Co-Guardians

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In the Interest of L.B. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Probate—Child—Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Guardianship—Home State.

L.B.’s mother died and her father, Berzins, hired Dusalijeva as L.B.’s nanny. Later, they developed a romantic relationship. Berzins had and L.B. has dual citizenship in the United States and Latvia. Berzins died in 2015 in Denver. He had two wills: a 2012 Will executed in Latvia, and a 2014 Will executed in Denver. The 2014 Will expressly revoked all prior wills and left the residuary estate in trust for the benefit of L.B. and Blumberg (Berzins’s other daughter) or Blumberg’s descendants.

In March, May, and July 2015, the court appointed Dusalijeva and Blumberg as temporary co-guardians, initially at their request. In April 2015, without informing the Denver Probate Court, Dusalijeva moved for sole guardianship of L.B. in Latvia. After a four-day hearing, the Denver probate court appointed Blumberg and a Latvian couple, the Carlins, as permanent co-guardians of L.B. in August 2015. Ultimately, the Latvian appellate court found that Dusalijeva and her attorney had attempted to deceive the Latvian orphan’s court by relying on the superseded 2012 Will and failing to inform the court of the 2014 Will, and it concluded that matters regarding L.B. should be determined by a U.S. court.

On appeal, Dusalijeva primarily contended that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. First, she contended that the court lacked jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 15-14-204(5) and (1) on the three occasions it temporarily appointed her and Blumberg as co-guardians. Based on the Colorado Court of Appeals’ review of the record, the court had jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 15-14-204(5). The probate court also had jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 14-13-204(1) because L.B. had been “abandoned” within the meaning of the statute.

Dusalijeva next contended that the probate court lacked permanent subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to C.R.S. § 14-13-204(2). Subsection (2) is arguably inapplicable in this case because the court did not say that its temporary orders appointing co-guardians would become permanent. Instead, the court held a hearing in August 2015 to determine independently who should be L.B.’s permanent guardian. The court did not decide this issue because it found the probate court had jurisdiction under C.R.S. § 14-13-201.

Dusalijeva also appeared to contend that the probate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine permanent guardianship under C.R.S. § 14-13-201(1). The probate court properly exercised subject matter jurisdiction because Colorado was found to be L.B.’s home state. Further, even if Latvia had adopted a provision in substantial conformity with C.R.S. § 14-13-201(1)(a), the Latvian courts declined to exercise jurisdiction, ruling that Colorado was a more appropriate forum.

The court also considered and rejected six other alleged errors by the probate court and declined to address several arguments that Dusalijeva raised for the first time in her reply brief.

The orders were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Tractor is Motor Vehicle for Underinsured Motorist Coverage Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Smith v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on Thursday, January 12, 2017.

Insurance—Covered Motor Vehicle—Underinsured Motorist Provision—Farm Tractor.

Bunker was driving a farm tractor when he collided with Smith’s truck. The hay spears attached to the tractor pierced the truck and impaled Smith, leaving him severely injured. Bunker pleaded guilty to careless driving, and Smith settled his claim against Bunker for Bunker’s liability policy limits. Because this settlement did not fully compensate Smith for his injuries, he filed a claim for underinsured motorist benefits (UIM) with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm). State Farm denied coverage on the basis that a farm tractor is not a motor vehicle. Smith sued and the district court dismissed the complaint, finding that the tractor was not a covered motor vehicle for purposes of the UIM coverage policy.

On appeal, Smith contended that his policy’s property damage coverage section definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” is included in the UIM coverage provision. The Colorado Court of Appeals declined to extend the “uninsured motor vehicle” definition found only in the property damage coverage provision beyond that provision.

Smith next contended that the plain and ordinary meaning of “motor vehicle” includes the tractor. The court determined that the plain and ordinary meaning is an automotive vehicle not operated on rails and one with rubber tires for use on highways. Applying this definition, the court found that the tractor had wheels and its own motor, was not operated on rails, and was designed for use on streets and highways. Therefore, it was a covered motor vehicle under Smith’s UIM coverage provision.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.