August 22, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Petition for Mandamus Relief Should Have Been Transferred to Executive Director

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gandy v. Raemisch on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

C.R.C.P. 106—Dismissal—Transfer of Canadian Prisoner to Canada to Serve Life Sentence—Mandamus Relief.

Gandy is a Canadian citizen serving a habitual criminal life sentence in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC). Gandy applied numerous times to DOC to be transferred to serve the remainder of his sentence in the Canadian penal system. In 2016, the DOC prisons director (director) denied Gandy’s 2015 application in writing. The director stated that under DOC Administrative Regulation 550-05, Gandy would be eligible to reapply in two years. The director did not forward Gandy’s application to DOC’s executive director.

Gandy filed a complaint in district court seeking mandamus relief under C.R.C.P. 106, requesting the court to direct DOC to “process and submit” his application for transfer to the U.S. Department of Justice and asking for nominal punitive damages for alleged violations of his constitutional rights. The court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.

On appeal, Gandy contended he was entitled to mandamus relief, arguing that he was entitled to final review of and decision on his transfer application by the executive director.  DOC’s transfer application process imposed a duty on the director to process Gandy’s application and then send it to the executive director for his final review and decision. Because this duty is clear, mandamus relief was appropriate.

Gandy also argued that the two-year reapplication waiting period was improperly imposed. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, finding that DOC regulations do not require or provide for the imposition of a two-year waiting period before permitting an offender to reapply.

Gandy further argued that the district court erred when it dismissed his constitutional claims for failure to state a claim because the regulation conflicts with federal treaties and thus violates the Supremacy Clause. However, the court found no conflict between DOC regulations and international treaties.

Gandy next argued that defendants discriminated against him by refusing to process his transfer request due to his national origin. The court agreed with the district court that Gandy did not plead any facts supporting this allegation.

The judgment dismissing Gandy’s constitutional claims was affirmed. The judgment dismissing the complaint seeking mandamus relief was reversed, and the case was remanded with directions to enter an order directing the director to forward the transfer application and recommendations to the executive director for final review and decision.

Summary available courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sexually Violent Predator Designation Can Be Challenged in Crim. P. 35 Motion

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

Sexually Violent Predator Designation—Illegal Sentence—Correction—Crim. P. 35—Timeliness.

Baker pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust and was designated a sexually violent predator (SVP). He was sentenced in 2012. Baker’s counsel did not file an objection to the SVP designation and Baker did not file a direct appeal challenging any aspect of the judgment, including the SVP designation. About a year later, Baker’s counsel filed a Crim. P. 35(b) motion to reconsider Baker’s sentence, which was denied. In 2015, Baker filed a pro se Crim. P. 35(a) motion to correct an illegal sentence, claiming that he was entitled to an additional 19 days of presentence confinement credit (PSCC). The prosecution conceded that Baker was entitled to an additional 18 days of PSCC and the court issued an amended mittimus that included the additional 18 days. In early 2016, defendant filed a motion to vacate his SVP status. The prosecution argued that the court could not reconsider the SVP designation under Crim. P. 35(b) because it is not part of a criminal sentence. The motion was denied.

On appeal, Baker contended that his 2016 motion to vacate his SVP status was cognizable under Crim. P. 35.  It was not cognizable under 35(a) or (b) because an SVP designation is not part of a criminal sentence. However, it was cognizable under Crim. P. 35(c), because Crim. P. 35(c) allows a collateral attack on a conviction or sentence and also on any part of the judgment in a criminal case. A criminal “judgment” includes “findings” made by the district court and any statement that the defendant is required to register as a sex offender. An SVP designation is a finding and part of a criminal “judgment” under Crim. P. 35(c)(2)(VI). And Baker’s postconviction motion can be properly characterized as a collateral attack on the SVP designation. Although Baker did not file a direct appeal challenging his SVP designation, under Crim. P. 35(2)(c) he is not foreclosed from challenging the designation in a postconviction proceeding. Further, Baker’s motion was not time barred because the three-year deadline for collaterally attacking the original judgment of conviction pursuant to Crim. P. 35(c) is renewed when an illegal sentence is corrected pursuant to Crim. P. 35(a), which was done in Baker’s case in 2015. Therefore, the district court erred by denying Baker’s postconviction motion without considering whether the motion was cognizable under Crim. P. 35(c).

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to reconsider Baker’s SVP designation.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Defendant’s Appeal of Motion to Reconsider Untimely Where Not Appeal of Qualified Immunity Denial

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Powell v. Miller on March 7, 2017.

Powell was released from death row and sued the prosecutor responsible for his overturned conviction, Miller. Powell charged that Miller had suborned perjury from a key witness at his trial, Derrick Smith, and had hidden from the defense evidence of Miller’s agreement to help Smith with his own criminal charges. Miller filed a motion to dismiss. The district court granted the motion in part, but denied qualified immunity on certain claims. Miller did not appeal the ruling.

Three years later, Miller filed a motion to reconsider the denial of qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion because Miller did not present a substantive basis for the court to change its opinion. Miller appealed the denial of his motion to reconsider.

The Tenth Circuit held that a district court’s pretrial denial of a qualified immunity defense, to the extent it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable final decision. But here, the Tenth Circuit held that Miller did not appeal from the district court’s order denying his qualified immunity defense. Instead, Miller appealed from the district court’s order denying reconsideration of that ruling almost three years later. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the district court’s order denying Miller’s motion to reconsider. It held that Miller could not use his motion for reconsideration to resurrect his right to appeal the district court’s order denying him qualified immunity.

Therefore, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Miller’s appeal due to lack of jurisdiction.

Tenth Circuit: No Appellate Jurisdiction Where Qualified Immunity Denial Not Timely Appealed

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Powell v. Miller on March 7, 2017.

Powell was released from death row and sued the prosecutor responsible for his overturned conviction, Miller. Powell charged that Miller had suborned perjury from a key witness at his trial, Derrick Smith, and had hidden from the defense evidence of Miller’s agreement to help Smith with his own criminal charges. Miller filed a motion to dismiss. The district court granted the motion in part, but denied qualified immunity on certain claims. Miller did not appeal the ruling.

Three years later, Miller filed a motion to reconsider the denial of qualified immunity. The district court denied that motion because Miller did not present a substantive basis for the court to change its opinion. Miller appealed the denial of his motion to reconsider.

The Tenth Circuit held that a district court’s pretrial denial of a qualified immunity defense, to the extent it turns on an issue of law, is an appealable final decision. But here, the Tenth Circuit held that Miller did not appeal from the district court’s order denying his qualified immunity defense. Instead, Miller appealed from the district court’s order denying reconsideration of that ruling almost three years later. Therefore, the Tenth Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the district court’s order denying Miller’s motion to reconsider. It held that Miller could not use his motion for reconsideration to resurrect his right to appeal the district court’s order denying him qualified immunity.

Therefore, the Tenth Circuit dismissed Miller’s appeal due to lack of jurisdiction.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Crim. P. 35 Requires Court to Allow Public Defender’s Office to Respond to Motion Requesting Counsel

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Higgins on Thursday, May 4, 2017.

Crim. P. 35(c)—Notice—Public Defender.

Higgins pleaded guilty to felony menacing, and the court sentenced him to 18 months in prison. Higgins thereafter filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion and requested counsel to represent him on his motion. The district court sent a copy of Higgins’s motion to the prosecution and, after receiving the prosecution’s response, denied the motion without a hearing and without hearing from the public defender’s office.

On appeal, Higgins contended that the district court erred by departing from the procedure outlined in Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(IV) and (V) and that the court’s error required reversal. The court has the authority to summarily deny a Crim. P. 35(c) motion without a hearing if the motion, files, and the record clearly show the defendant is not entitled to relief. However, if the court does not summarily deny the motion, the court is required to send a copy of the motion to the prosecutor and, if defendant has requested counsel, to the public defender’s office, who are given an opportunity to respond to the motion. Here, the court failed to send a copy of the motion to the public defender’s office. Thus, the court erred by departing from the Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(IV) and (V) mandatory procedure. The error was not harmless because it affected the fairness of the proceedings.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Appellate Courts May Rely on Comparative Juror Analyses in Reviewing Batson Rulings

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Beauvais on Monday, April 24, 2017.

Juries and Jury Selection—Peremptory Challenges—Batson Challenges.

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a trial court must make express findings about the credibility of a party’s reasons for exercising a peremptory challenge when the other party has challenged that strike under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The court also considered when two or more jurors are similarly situated for comparison under Batson such that the dismissal of one but not the other indicates impermissible discrimination. The court held that although express credibility findings significantly aid appellate review, they are not strictly necessary if the trial court’s ultimate Batson ruling is otherwise reviewable on the record. The court also held that appellate courts may rely on comparative juror analyses in reviewing Batson rulings, but only where the record facilitates comparison of the jurors in all respects that reportedly motivated the peremptory strike. The court concluded that the record here supports the trial court’s Batson ruling and that the trial court did not clearly err in denying defendant’s Batson challenges. The court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals in its entirety.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Certification of One Claim in Multiple Claim Suit was Abuse of Discretion

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Allison v. Engel on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

Landowners—Default Judgment—Finality—C.R.C.P. 54(b) —Jurisdiction—Certification.

The parties own adjacent parcels of property and for a number of years have had disagreements about the precise boundaries of their neighboring parcels. The Allisons filed a complaint asserting two trespass claims and a claim for declaratory relief. The Engels filed various counterclaims. Numerous motions were filed, and the district court ultimately certified a default judgment on the counterclaim for unjust enrichment as final under C.R.C.P. 54(b). The Colorado Court of Appeals ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs as to whether the unjust enrichment counterclaim is a separate claim for purposes of C.R.C.P. 54(b) and whether there is no just reason for delay of an appeal pertaining solely to that counterclaim.

Generally speaking, the court of appeals has jurisdiction only over appeals from final judgments. Thus, jurisdiction over an appeal from an order the district court has certified as final under Rule 54(b) depends on the correctness of that certification. Here, the district court gave two reasons for concluding that there was no just reason for delay: (1) “avoid[ing] duplicative efforts” and (2) obtaining “a clear sense of direction in terms of the issues to be considered” at trial. The first reason is plainly insufficient to justify certification because the same could be said about any case involving multiple claims or parties as to which a dispositive ruling is entered on one claim, or as to one party, before trial. The second reason is also insufficient to justify certification because it is not a proper function of Rule 54(b) certification to assuage a district court’s doubts about its decision or to provide “guidance” in the resolution of claims. The district court’s reasons do not show that any party will suffer hardship or injustice unless an immediate appeal of the default judgment on the single counterclaim is allowed. The district court abused its discretion, and the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction.

The appeal and cross-appeal were dismissed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Complaint Filed After Denial of Motion to Reconsider was Untimely

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sterling Ethanol, LLC v. Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Interlocutory Appeal—Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

Sterling Ethanol, LLC and Yuma Ethanol, LLC (collectively, Companies) are ethanol manufacturing plants that are sources of air pollution in northeastern Colorado. They are required to operate in accordance with air permits issued by the Colorado Air and Pollution Control Division (Division). After the Division issued two compliance orders addressing the Companies’ alleged violations of their air permits, Companies sought timely administrative review from the Air Quality Control Commission (Commission), which operates pursuant to the Colorado Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act (APPCA). Following an evidentiary hearing, the Commission issued a final order affirming the Division’s orders.

Companies filed a motion to reconsider, which the Commission denied. Companies then filed a complaint in the district court 69 days after the Commission issued its final order and 35 days after the Commission denied its motion to reconsider. The Commission filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the complaint was untimely filed. The district court denied the motion. The district court, on the Commission’s request, certified for review the question whether the State Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the APPCA, and the Commission’s procedural rules, read together, compel the conclusion that the complaint was untimely filed, thus depriving the court of appeals of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court held that the district court erred in denying the motion to dismiss because Companies’ complaint was untimely. The party seeking judicial review must file a complaint within 35 days of the effective date of the Commission’s final order, even if that party first filed a motion to reconsider, and the Commission declined to reconsider its order. The plain language of the APPCA, the APA, and the Commission’s procedural rules required such a conclusion.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for entry of an order dismissing the action.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

SB 17-036: Limiting Evidence Presented in District Court on Appeal from Agency Groundwater Decisions

On January 11, 2017, Sen. Ray Scott and Reps. Jon Becker & Jeni Arndt introduced SB 17-036, “Concerning the Appellate Process Governing a District Court’s Review of Final Agency Actions Concerning Groundwater.”

Under current law, the decisions or actions of the ground water commission (commission) or the state engineer regarding groundwater are appealed to a district court, and the evidence that the district court may consider is not limited to the evidence that was presented to the commission or state engineer. Therefore, unlike appeals from other state agencies’ decisions or actions under the ‘State Administrative Procedure Act’, a party appealing a decision or action of the commission or state engineer may present new evidence on appeal that was never considered by the commission or state engineer.

The bill limits the evidence that a district court may consider, when reviewing a decision or action of the commission or state engineer on appeal, to the evidence presented to the commission or state engineer.

The bill was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy Committee.

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.