December 17, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Heat of Passion Jury Instruction Impermissibly Lowered Prosecution’s Burden of Proof

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Tardif on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Jury InstructionsBurden of ProofHeat of Passion ProvocationAttempted Second Degree MurderFirst Degree AssaultMitigating FactorEvidenceDue ProcessSelf-DefenseDeadly Physical ForceSlow Motion VideoUnfair Prejudice—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Tardif’s friend Soto was at a skate park and got into an argument with the victim. Tardif and Soto were members of the same gang, and the victim was wearing the colors of a rival gang. Soto called Tardif, and when Tardif arrived, Tardif and Soto walked up to the victim and Tardif shot him once in the abdomen. The victim fled and survived. Other people in the skate park recorded video of part of the initial argument between Soto and the victim as well as the shooting. A jury found Tardif guilty of attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and three crime of violence counts.

On appeal, Tardif argued that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury that the prosecution had the burden to prove the absence of heat of passion provocation beyond a reasonable doubt. Heat of passion provocation is a mitigating factor for attempted second degree murder and first degree assault. Here, the heat of passion provocation instructions failed to inform the jury that the prosecution had to prove the absence of heat of passion provocation beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, the instructions, considered together, failed to properly instruct the jury on the prosecution’s burden of proof. Because Tardif presented sufficient evidence for a heat of passion provocation instruction, the error lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof and violated Tardif’s constitutional right to due process. Tardif also argued that the trial court’s self-defense instructions included several reversible errors. Self-defense is not an affirmative defense to conspiracy to commit first degree assault, and therefore, the court did not err in failing to instruct the jury that it was. But the trial court erred by instructing the jury on when deadly physical force may be used in self-defense because deadly physical force requires death, and here the victim did not die.

Tardif additionally argued that the trial court erred by admitting slow motion video recordings of the shooting. Although this evidence was relevant to explain the events around the shooting and to determine whether defendant acted with aggression or in self-defense, the probative value of the slow motion recordings was very low. This evidence was also cumulative of the real-time recording that was also admitted. Further, because Tardif’s state of mind at the time of the shooting was a disputed issue, the slow motion recordings’ low probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The slow motion recordings may have portrayed Tardif’s actions as more premeditated than they actually were. The trial court abused its discretion by failing to weigh the slow motion recordings’ probative value against their danger of unfair prejudice.

Tardif further argued that two statements by the prosecutor during closing argument constituted misconduct and required reversal. The court of appeals did not doubt the reliability of Tardif’s conspiracy conviction and concluded that the prosecutor’s allegedly improper statements did not constitute plain error.

The conspiracy to commit first degree assault conviction was affirmed. The remaining convictions were reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Corporation with No Property or Payroll of Its Own Need Not Be Included on Tax Return

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Agilent Technologies, Inc. v. Colorado Department of Revenue on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Holding CompanyPropertyCorporate Income Tax ReturnsCombined Returns.

Agilent Technologies, Inc. (Agilent) is incorporated in Delaware, but during the years at issue (tax years 2000 to 2007), it maintained research and development and manufacturing sites in Colorado. Agilent timely filed corporate income tax returns for these years. Agilent Technologies World Trade, Inc. (WT) is a subsidiary of Agilent and is incorporated in Delaware. It was formed as a holding company to own foreign entities operating solely outside the United States. As a holding company, WT does not own or rent property, has no payroll, and does not advertise or sell products or services of its own.

For federal tax purposes, WT and the foreign entities elected to be taxed as a single corporation. Agilent did not include WT in its corporate tax returns for the years at issue. The Department of Revenue (Department) issued notices of corporate income tax deficiency requiring that Agilent include WT in its Colorado combined returns for the years at issue and assessed tax, interest, and penalties. Agilent contested the Department’s adjustments, and the director upheld the notices. Agilent sought review in the district court. The district court concluded that the Department was prohibited from requiring Agilent to include WT in its Colorado combined corporate income tax returns and entered summary judgment for Agilent.

On appeal, the Department contended that the district court erred when it held that WT was not an includible C corporation under C.R.S. § 39-22- 303(12)(c). Conversely, Agilent argued that C.R.S. § 39-22-303(8) required exclusion of WT from its combined return. C.R.S. § 39-22-303(12)(c) requires inclusion of a corporation in a combined report if “more than twenty percent of the C corporation’s property and payroll” is assigned to locations inside the United States. Because WT had no property factors, although it wasn’t prohibited from including WT, Agilent was not required to include WT in its Colorado combined tax return.

The Department also contended that the district court erred when it ruled that, as a matter of law, C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) could not be applied as an alternative basis for including WT in Agilent’s tax return. It also contended that the economic substance doctrine should be applied to permit taxation of WT even in the absence of specific statutory authorization. C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) authorizes the Department to allocate income and deductions among corporations that are owned or controlled by the same interests on a fair and impartial basis to clearly reflect income and avoid abuse. However, C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) cannot be applied to allocate income among affiliated corporations that were not otherwise includible under C.R.S. § 39-22-303(8) to (12). Accordingly, the district court did not err in concluding that C.R.S. § 39-22-303(6) did not provide a basis for including WT in Agilent’s tax return. Further, it was not alleged that WT lacks a business purpose apart from reducing tax liability. Therefore, the economic substance doctrine does not provide an independent basis in this case for including WT in Agilent’s combined return.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Expert Witness Need Not Recite Exact Statutory Language for ICWA Finding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of D.B. on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Indian Child Welfare Act—Termination—Expert Witness—Hearsay.

This dependency and neglect proceeding was governed by the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Mother’s parental rights were terminated after the trial court determined that continued custody of the child by one of the parents would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child due to the parents’ extensive substance abuse, extensive domestic violence, lack of housing, and lack of income to meet the child’s needs.

On appeal, mother contended that the trial court erred in terminating her parental rights without testimony from a qualified expert witness that her continued custody of the child would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child, as required by the ICWA. The ICWA provides that a court may only terminate parental rights if it determines that there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the child is likely to suffer serious emotional or physical damage if the child remains in the parent’s care. Such determination must be supported by evidence that includes testimony from qualified expert witnesses. The statute does not mandate, however, that an expert witness specifically opine that the child is likely to suffer emotional or physical damage in the parent’s custody. Rather, the expert testimony must constitute some of the evidence that supports the court’s finding of the likelihood of serious emotional or physical damage to the child. Here, although the expert witness’s testimony did not track the ICWA language, the record as a whole contains sufficient evidence, including testimony from a qualified expert witness, to support the trial court’s determination that the child would likely suffer serious emotional or physical damage if placed in mother’s care.

Mother also contended that the trial court erred in relying on inadmissible hearsay statements in the termination report to conclude that she had failed to maintain sobriety and that the child would thus likely suffer serious emotional or physical damage if he remained in her custody. The trial court, however, had access to other admissible evidence to support its determination that mother had failed to maintain sobriety. Further, this was not the sole basis to terminate mother’s parental rights.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor’s Comment on Witness’s Credibility Did Not Constitute Plain Error

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of T.C.C. on Thursday, November 2, 2017.

JuvenileDelinquentRobberyAssaultProsecutorial MisconductSentenceFeesWaiverIndigence.

After T.C.C. removed a package from the front step of Ipson’s neighbor’s house, Ipson confronted T.C.C. and told him to return the package. T.C.C. then slapped, punched, and swore at Ipson. A judgment was entered adjudicating T.C.C. delinquent of an act that would constitute robbery and third degree assault if committed by an adult. At sentencing, T.C.C. asked the court to waive all mandatory fees based on his indigence. Instead of ruling on the motion, the court deferred this decision to probation.

On appeal, T.C.C. contended that the prosecutor improperly vouched for Ipson’s credibility and truthfulness when he argued, “Certainly Mr. Ipson has no reason to make up that he got struck numerous times from [T.C.C.]” The prosecutor’s argument was a reasonable inference from the record and not improper.

T.C.C. also contended that the trial court erred in delegating the waiver decision to probation and in permitting a waiver of fees based on “good behavior.” The plain language of the statutes permits only the court to waive fees and surcharges based solely on a finding of indigence, not based on good behavior. Therefore, the court erred by not ruling on T.C.C.’s motion.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed, and the case was remanded for the trial court to rule on T.C.C.’s motion for waiver of fees and costs based on indigence.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 11/2/2017

On Thursday, November 2, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and 18 unpublished opinions.

People v. Tardif

Agilent Technologies, Inc. v. Colorado Department of Revenue

People in Interest of T.C.C.

People in Interest of D.B.

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Must Make Inquiry Into Whether Indian Child Welfare Act Applies in Dependency and Neglect Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of C.A. on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Dependency and Neglect—Termination of Parental Rights—Indian Child Welfare Act Inquiry Provisions.

The Montrose Department of Health and Human Services (Department) initiated a dependency and neglect petition on behalf of C.A. At the initial hearing, the trial court asked the parties generally if the child was a Native American and if the child had any Native American heritage. Father said he did not, and mother offered no response. Father and mother were not represented by counsel at this time. The Department ultimately moved to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights. The Department’s motion did not state the efforts the Department made to determine if C.A. is an Indian child and the trial court did not inquire on the record whether the child is an Indian child. Following a contested hearing, the trial court terminated parental rights and determined that the child was not subject to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

On appeal, mother contended that the trial court did not comply with the ICWA’s inquiry provisions. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that when a trial court inquires at an initial temporary custody hearing at the commencement of a dependency and neglect proceeding whether there is a reason to know that a child is an Indian child, it must make another inquiry when termination is sought, at least when the court has not already identified the child as an Indian child and the petitioning party has not disclosed what efforts it has made to determine if the child is an Indian child.

Because the record did not show that the trial court made the proper inquiry at the termination proceeding, the case was remanded for the limited purpose of making the ICWA inquiry. The trial court was further directed to make appropriate findings and proceed accordingly with any actions necessary to comply with ICWA. In addition, court of appeals gave the parties detailed directions to take further actions, based on the trial court’s determination, within a specified timeframe.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Hunting and Fishing Club, Not Individual Members, is True Landowner and Bears Tax Burden

The Colorado Court of Appeals issue its opinion in HDH Partnership v. Hinsdale County Board of Equalization on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Taxation of Hunting and Fishing Memberships—County Assessment—Real Property Taxes.

Owners of fishing and hunting memberships (petitioners) were taxed on the parcels of real estate allocated to them in their membership agreements. The parcels are part of a larger tract of land used as a hunting and fishing club (club). Membership in the club is granted to those who hold a deed to one of the parcels that collectively comprise the club grounds. Members cannot make improvements on their parcels or exclude other club members. The club retains control over the grounds and grants all members equal access, regardless of the parcel to which they hold title. A member’s right to access the grounds can be revoked if the member owes money or violates club rules.

Petitioners initiated this action after they disagreed with the county’s assessment of their parcels. The Hinsdale County Board of Equalization (BOE) affirmed the assessor’s valuation. Petitioners appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA), which affirmed the BOE’s decision.

On appeal, petitioners argued that the law permits the court to look beyond the title to the substance of the parties’ rights when determining ownership. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that the club was the true property owner because it enjoyed the most significant incidents of ownership. The members effectively had a license to use club grounds, even though they held bare legal title to the parcels. Therefore it was the club, and not the members, that had to bear the real property tax burden. Further, the BAA erred in affirming the assessor’s valuation because it was based on the personal property value of petitioners’ licenses to use club grounds rather than the value of the parcels as real property.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: C.R.C.P. 106 Time Limit for Filing is Constitutional As Applied

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Adams v. Sagee on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Citizen Right of Initiative—Filing Deadline.

Plaintiffs petitioned to present a ballot initiative to the residents of Sheridan. Sheridan’s City Clerk, Sagee, rejected some of the signatures plaintiffs had collected, leaving them short of the number required for the initiative to be considered. Plaintiffs contested the decision, and the City Clerk upheld it after a protest hearing. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in district court 35 days later pursuant to C.R.S. § 31-11-110(3). The district court dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiffs failed to file within the C.R.C.P. 106 28-day time limit.

On appeal, plaintiffs conceded that the 28-day jurisdictional bar applied and they filed 35 days after the relevant final decision. They argued that strict application of the time limit to them as pro se parties deprived them of their constitutional right of initiative. The Colorado Court of Appeals construed plaintiffs’ argument to be an as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of the statutory time bar. The court found plaintiffs pro se status irrelevant; pro se parties must comply with procedural rules to the same extent as parties represented by attorneys. The court concluded that applying C.R.C.P. 106(b)’s jurisdictional deadline to plaintiffs’ Rule 106(a)(4) petition does not deprive them of or unduly burden their constitutional right of initiative.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Announcement Sheet, 10/26/2017

On Thursday, October 26, 2017, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and 17 unpublished opinions.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Clerk Should Have Omitted Mental Health Respondent’s Name from Filing System

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of T.T. on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Index of Cases—Involuntary Mental Health Treatment—C.R.S. § 27-65-107(7).

T.T. accepted voluntary mental health treatment, but the physician did not believe T.T. would remain in a voluntary program and filed a certification for short-term treatment pursuant to C.R.S. § 27-65-107. The district court issued a notice of certification for short-term treatment. Six days later the physician filed a notice of termination of involuntary treatment.

Two years later T.T. learned that his name still appeared on the court’s index of cases. The clerk refused T.T.’s request to remove his name. T.T. filed a pro se motion requesting that his name be omitted from the court’s index in accordance with C.R.S. § 27-65-107(7). The district court denied the motion without making any factual findings or legal conclusions.

A division of the court of appeals issued an order remanding the case for the district court to hold a hearing and make findings of fact and conclusions of law. The district court granted in part T.T.’s motion to omit his name from the index by directing the Arapahoe County Clerk to omit his name from “any list generated or produced, even for the purpose of storage.” The court also denied in part, stating that T.T’s name will “remain in the [Eclipse] database for the purposes of the Clerk of Court’s maintenance of records and to comply with Section 27-65-107(7).”

On appeal, T.T. argued that the district court erred in denying his motion because based on the plain language of the statute and the stipulated facts, his name should also have been omitted from the Eclipse system when he was released from treatment. The public’s right to access to official records is not absolute. Court records for mental health cases, including indices, are not open to public access. The plain language of C.R.S. § 27-65-107(7) requires the clerk to omit a respondent’s name from the index of cases after the clerk is notified of a respondent’s release from involuntary treatment. Finding the phrase “omit the name of the respondent from the index of cases in such court” to be ambiguous, the court of appeals liberally construed this language in light of the General Assembly’s stated objective to “provide the fullest possible measure of privacy, dignity, and other rights to persons undergoing care and treatment for a mental health disorder.” The court concluded that the index of cases in this instance referred to the Eclipse system.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for the district court to order T.T’s name be omitted from the Eclipse system and lists generated from that system.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Surety Erroneously Required to Return Part of Bond

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Fallis on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Bond—Refund—C.R.S. §16-4-110(1)(d).

Defendant was charged with and arrested for allegedly murdering his wife. The district court set a $500,000 bond. Defendant posted bond through Perna by paying a $25,000 premium. Thereafter, defendant cooperated with all court orders and appeared at all hearings. Fourteen months later, just before defendant’s trial was to begin, Perna moved to surrender defendant back into the custody of the court. The court granted the motion. Defendant spent several days in jail while his family secured a second bond and paid another $25,000 premium to a different surety to secure defendant’s release. Defendant was ultimately acquitted. Defendant moved for return of the premium he had paid to Perna, which the court partially granted, ordering Perna to return $11,031.25 to defendant.

On appeal, Perna contended that the district court erred by ordering that he refund a portion of the bond premium to defendant. Under C.R.S. § 16-4-110(1)(d), a court may order return of all or part of the premium defendant paid to prevent unjust enrichment only if the surrender occurred before the defendant’s initial appearance. Here, Perna surrendered defendant to the court 14 months after the court process began, well after defendant’s initial appearance. Accordingly, the court was without the authority to order Perna to refund all or part of defendant’s premium.

The order was vacated.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Expert Testimony that Child Did Not Seem to be Coached Proper Under Circumstances

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Heredia-Cobos on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Child—Forensic Interviewer—Expert Testimony—Credibility—Defendant’s Theory of the Case—Evidence—Prior Acts—CRE 404(b).

Defendant was convicted of sexual assault on his 9-year-old great niece, Y.P.

On appeal, defendant contended that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the forensic interviewer who had interviewed Y.P. to testify that Y.P. didn’t show any signs of having been coached. Although such testimony ordinarily is improper (because it’s tantamount to vouching for the child’s credibility), in this case the testimony was admissible to rebut defendant’s defense theory that Y.P. had made up the allegations. Because defendant opened the door to this testimony, it was not error to allow it.

Defendant also contended that the district court erred by allowing evidence of his prior acts of a sexual nature involving other relatives in violation of CRE 404(b). He argued that the prior acts were too dissimilar to his alleged assault of Y.P. to be admissible. Evidence that defendant physically assaulted two female relatives who lived with him was probative of defendant’s intent to sexually assault another female at his home and was relevant to refute his claim that Y.P. fabricated the allegation. Further, the other act evidence was especially relevant because Y.P.’s testimony was the only direct evidence of defendant’s guilt. Thus the potential for unfair prejudice did not outweigh the evidence’s probative value, and the district court did not err in admitting evidence of these acts. Additionally, evidence that defendant masturbated in front his 19-year old niece several times (although he did not physically assault her) was also relevant and no more potentially prejudicial than the evidence of the acts involving the other two relatives. But even assuming that allowing this evidence was error, any error was harmless.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.