February 19, 2017

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 Court of Appeals: Sentence Enhancement Based on Victims’ Ages Not Structural Error

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

Leon Ewing was accused in March 2013 of sexually assaulting two brothers, M.B. and J.B., during the summer of 2008 while he was living in their family’s home. The boys were around 11 and 13 at the time of the assaults. The allegations arose in May 2011, and although they were investigated, Detective Nicholas Kundert could not locate Ewing until December 2012. After Ewing was located, he was charged with nine class 3 felony counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust—eight pertaining to the crimes against J.B. and one pertaining to the crimes against M.B. For the eight charges concerning J.B., Ewing was charged with one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust (pattern of abuse), and one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust (victim under 15 years old) for each of four separate incidents. The charge pertaining to M.B. was one count of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust (victim under fifteen 15 old). The complaint also included three crime of violence counts.

The jury convicted Ewing of two counts of sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust — one against J.B. and one against M.B. It specifically found that the assault against J.B. was not committed as part of a pattern of abuse. The jury made no findings regarding J.B.’s and M.B.’s ages at the time of the assaults. At sentencing, the court entered convictions and sentences for two counts of class 3 felony sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust (victim under 15 years old). Sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust is typically a class 4 felony. However, the offense is elevated to a class 3 felony if the victim is less than 15 years of age.

On appeal, Ewing contended that because the jury made no finding as to the ages of the victims at the time of the assaults, the district court erred in entering convictions and sentences for a class 3 felony. The court of appeals characterized the elevation of the offense to a class 3 felony as a sentence enhancer. The court held that although the district court erred in enhancing Ewing’s sentence without submitting the question to the jury, the error was harmless. The court found no reasonable possibility that the jury could have concluded that the victims were 15 or older at the time of the offenses. The information alleged that the offenses occurred between May 1, 2008, and August 31, 2008. Because each victim testified to his birthday, the jury was presented with undisputed evidence that the boys were not yet 15 years old at the time of the assaults. The Colorado Court of Appeals found no plain error in the district court’s sentence enhancement.

Ewing also argued that his recross-examination of Detective Kundert was impermissibly limited by the trial court. During Detective Kundert’s testimony, defense counsel asked to recross the detective “on biases,” arguing that the prosecution brought up “witness bias and/or interviewer/interrogative bias,” which had not been previously raised on direct or cross-examination. Defense counsel did not, however, raise a Confrontation Clause issue. The court denied the request, stating that the issue was extrinsic and had already been addressed. Because Ewing did not raise the Confrontation Clause issue in the trial court, the court of appeals reviewed for plain error and found none. The court found that the trial court’s decision to deny the recross was not in error because any information that could potentially have been elicited was only marginally relevant. Even assuming error, the court of appeals did not find that it rose to the level of plain error.

The court of appeals affirmed Ewing’s convictions and sentences.

HB 17-1040: Adding Human Trafficking to List of Crimes for Which Interception of Communications Authorized

On January 11, 2017, Reps. Paul Lundeen & Mike Foote and Sens. Cheri Jahn & Kevin Priola introduced HB 17-1040, “Concerning Authorizing the Interception of Communication Relating to a Crime of Human Trafficking.”

Under current law, a judge may issue an ex parte order authorizing the interception of certain communications if there is probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime that is on the statutory list will be obtained. The bill adds to the list of crimes human trafficking for involuntary servitude and for sexual servitude.

The bill was introduced in the House and assigned to the Judiciary Committee. It is scheduled to be heard in committee on January 24, 2017, at 1:30 p.m.

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.

HB 17-1013: Concerning the Free Exercise of Religion

On January 11, 2017, Reps. Stephen Humphrey & Dave Williams and Sens. Tim Neville & Vicki Marble introduced HB 17-1013, “Concerning a Person’s Free Exercise of Religion.”

The bill:

  • Specifies that no state action may burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying the burden to a person’s exercise of religion is essential to further a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest;
  • Defines ‘exercise of religion’ as the practice or observance of religion. The bill specifies that exercise of religion includes the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by a person’s sincerely held religious beliefs, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief; except that it does not include the ability to act or refuse to act based on race or ethnicity.
  • Provides a claim or defense to a person whose exercise of religion is burdened by state action; and
  • Specifies that nothing in the bill creates any rights by an employee against an employer unless the employer is a government employer.

The bill was introduced in the House and assigned to the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. It is scheduled to be heard in committee on January 25, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Exigent Circumstances Justified Warrantless Search of Suspect’s Mouth

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Carr on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Vehicle—Probable Cause—Non-Consensual Search—Mouth—Unlawful Drugs—Evidence—Suppression—Fourth Amendment.

A police surveillance team identified the vehicle Carr was riding in as possibly being involved in drug sales. Officers observed the vehicle speeding and weaving into another lane and pulled it over. The officer who approached the driver’s side of the vehicle smelled alcohol and marijuana. The officers noticed that Carr was making chewing motions with his jaw and had a golf-ball sized bulge in his cheek. He refused the officers’ commands to spit out the contents of his mouth. The officers forced open Carr’s mouth and removed ten bags of drugs, which later tested positive for cocaine. Carr was charged with various crimes. He moved to suppress all evidence resulting from the search of his mouth. The court denied his motion, and he was ultimately convicted.

On appeal, Carr argued that the nonconsensual search of his mouth violated the Fourth Amendment and the court thus erred in failing to suppress the evidence obtained during that search. In addition to probable cause for the arrest of a suspect, which was not at issue in this case, the Fourth Amendment requires the state to prove three factors to render a warrantless internal body search constitutional: (1) a clear indication that incriminating evidence will be found; (2) exigent circumstances that justify the intrusion and make it impractical to obtain a search warrant; and (3) extraction of the evidence in a reasonable manner and by a reasonable method. Here, there was a clear indication that evidence would be found because the officers believed that Carr was in a vehicle that was suspected to be involved in drug dealing; they saw a large bulge in his mouth; he refused to speak to the officers or reveal what was in his mouth and was trying to chew or swallow what was in his mouth; and the officers had experience or training that indicated that suspects would attempt to swallow drugs. Exigent circumstance justified the search because Carr was attempting to chew and swallow, and it was imperative for the officers to retrieve whatever was in Carr’s mouth to preserve evidence and keep Carr from harming himself. Finally, extraction of the evidence was reasonable. Although the officers used physical force to search Carr’s mouth, they did not force him to undergo any invasive medical procedure or apply force to his throat. The minimal risk to Carr’s health and safety and the intrusion on his privacy and dignity did not outweigh the community’s interest in retrieving the bags of drugs. Therefore, the search of Carr’s mouth did not violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Warrant Establishes Long String of Criminal History Despite Lack of Specific Dates

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Cooper on Monday, November 21, 2016.

In September 2015, officers requested and obtained a search warrant for Lonnie Cooper’s residence and vehicles based for illegal drugs. The affidavit supporting the warrant contained information from a confidential informant about the drug activity, but did not contain any specific dates when the activity occurred. An Alamosa County magistrate signed the warrant the day it was presented, and police searched Cooper’s home, finding controlled substances, drug paraphernalia, and weapons. Cooper was charged with multiple counts.

Cooper moved to suppress the results of the search warrant, arguing that the supporting affidavit was so lacking in indicia of probable cause that no reasonable officer could, in good faith, rely on it. The trial court granted the motion. The trial court was particularly concerned about the affidavit’s “staleness,” or the lack of exact dates. The State filed an interlocutory appeal, and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the suppression order.

The State argued that even if the warrant was stale and issued in error, the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply. The supreme court agreed. The court focused on the “bare bones” situation where the good faith exception would not apply, namely “where the warrant is based on an affidavit so lacking in indicia of probable cause as to render official belief in its existence entirely unreasonable.” Because in this case there was considerable evidence of ongoing drug trafficking activity, an officer could have a reasonable, good faith belief that the warrant was proper.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s suppression order. Justice Hood concurred, and Justice Marquez joined in the concurrence.

Tenth Circuit: Isolated Mishap with Execution Does Not Give Rise to Eighth Amendment Violation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of Lockett v. Governor Mary Fallin on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

In 1999, Clayton Lockett kidnapped, raped, sodomized, and shot 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman and then had an accomplice bury her alive. He was found guilty of 19 felonies arising from the incident and was sentenced to death. He was executed in Oklahoma in 2014, using a combination of three drugs—midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The doctor and EMT had trouble starting an IV and ultimately inserted the IV into a vein in his groin area. They covered the area with a cloth so that the observers would not see Lockett’s intimate parts. Ten minutes after administering the first drug, midazolam, Lockett was declared unconscious. The executioners then administered the second and third drugs. Unexpectedly, about 15 minutes after the first drug was administered, Lockett began twitching and writhing, tried to rise from the table, uttered some words, and was grimacing in pain. The doctor checked the IV site, which had been covered so as to protect Lockett’s privacy, and discovered the IV had infiltrated so the drugs were not getting to Lockett’s veins. The doctor advised Oklahoma DOC Director Robert Patton that he believed insufficient drugs had entered Lockett’s system to cause his death. The execution was halted 33 minutes after the first drug was administered. However, 43 minutes after administering the first drug, Lockett was pronounced dead.

The Estate of Lockett filed seven claims: (1) “Eighth Amendment violation—Torture,” as to all defendants; (2) “Eighth Amendment—Using Untested Drugs and Human Medical Experimentation,” against all defendants; (3) “Eighth Amendment—Use of Compounded Drugs in Human Medical Experimentation,” against all defendants; (4) “Eighth Amendment—Human Medical Experimentation on Unwilling Prisoners,” against all defendants; (5) “Eighth Amendment—Failure to Train and Supervise,” against Warden Trammell and Director Patton; (6) Fourteenth Amendment—“Failure to Protect State-Created Rights Procedural Due Process Violation,” against all defendants; and (7) “Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel and First Amendment Access to the Court Violation,” against Warden Trammell and Director Patton. Governor Fallin, Director Patton, and Warden Trammell filed a motion to dismiss under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), as did Dr. Doe. Both motions asserted qualified immunity among other defenses. The district court granted both motions to dismiss on qualified-immunity grounds and sua sponte dismissed the claims against the other Doe defendants. The district court found the Estate had failed to prove defendants violated clearly established law.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, based on whether the Estate asserted facts sufficient to show a violation of a clearly established right. As to Dr. Doe, since he was a private party, the Tenth Circuit also had to find that he was entitled to government qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit found that he was. A government employee in the same position as Dr. Doe would have been entitled to qualified immunity, and the Tenth Circuit found that Dr. Doe was, too, finding “Dr. Doe is entitled to assert qualified immunity because the purposes of qualified immunity support its application here: carrying out criminal penalties is unquestionably a traditional function of government, exactly the sort of activities that Richardson reasoned qualified immunity was meant to protect.”

Turning to the Estate’s claims, the Tenth Circuit first addressed its claims of torture and deliberate indifference. The Tenth Circuit noted a single reference in the torture claim to “deliberate indifference,” although there were several references to torture. Although the Tenth Circuit would generally find that the deliberate indifference claim was waived, it addressed the claim because Appellees suffered no prejudice from the claim. The Tenth Circuit noted a deficiency in that the Estate did not account for how cruel and unusual punishment claims operate in the death penalty context. Because the Supreme Court has found capital punishment constitutional, and some pain and suffering is inherent in capital punishment, there must be an additional showing of torture or needless addition of pain in order for an Eighth Amendment violation to stand. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court’s death penalty opinions recognize that executions can go awry, and that an isolated mishap will not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. The Tenth Circuit found that Lockett’s infiltrated vein, coupled with the unusual difficulty securing an IV site, constituted precisely the sort of “isolated mishap” contemplated by the Supreme Court. Although the infiltrated IV could have been discovered sooner had the IV site not been covered, the covering was done to protect Lockett’s privacy, not in an attempt to cause pain and suffering.

The Estate also asked the Tenth Circuit to take judicial notice of news articles about Lockett’s botched execution, as well as Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Glossip v. Gross, in which she discussed Lockett’s execution. The Tenth Circuit declined to take judicial notice of the news articles or the dissent. The Circuit found it inappropriate to take judicial notice of the opinions contained in the news articles, noting that judicial notice is reserved for facts beyond debate. The Tenth Circuit also declined to take judicial notice of Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, because it may only take judicial notice of the fact of the opinion and not its contents.

The Estate also claimed that the defendants violated Lockett’s Eighth Amendment rights by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need to die as quickly as possible. The Tenth Circuit noted that, at the same time, the Estate acknowledged that the EMT and doctor had difficulty placing an IV, and did not have alternative veinous access. The Estate argued that the appellees had no plan to respond to or prevent Lockett from suffering a prolonged death. The Tenth Circuit did not find deliberate indifference on the part of the appellees. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that there was no violation of a clearly established right. The Tenth Circuit further found the appellees violated no clearly established law despite Lockett suffering pain during his execution. The IV infiltration was an “isolated mishap,” not something designed to cause additional pain. The Tenth Circuit noted that Oklahoma has changed its execution procedures to conform to the Supreme Court’s approved procedure in Baze, so the situation is unlikely to arise again in another execution.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the Estate’s claims that Defendants Patton and Trammell failed to promulgate policies that would prevent Lockett’s execution from violating the Eighth Amendment. The Tenth Circuit found that the Estate’s reliance on the requirements enumerated in Baze was misplaced; because some of the procedural safeguards were in place, and because Oklahoma adopted more procedural safeguards after Lockett’s execution, the Tenth Circuit found no error. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Estate’s claims contained only a high level of generality, which was impermissible.

The Tenth Circuit also dismissed the Estate’s aggregation claim. Because the Estate did not set forth clearly established law to support its aggregation claim, the Tenth Circuit dismissed it. The Tenth Circuit also found no procedural due process violation because Lockett had an opportunity to challenge the drug protocol and failed to do so. Similarly, the Tenth Circuit found that Lockett had no right to counsel during the execution.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. Judge Moritz wrote a separate concurrence; she would have declined to reach the constitutional issues as to any of the Estate’s questions.

Tenth Circuit: Facts Existed to Support District Court’s Denial of Qualified Immunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Durkee v. Minor on Monday, November 14, 2016.

James Durkee was an inmate at the Summit County Corrections Center in Colorado. After being threatened by a notoriously violent inmate, Ricky Michael Ray Ramos, Durkee expressed concern about Ramos’ aggression and a deputy issued an incident report stating that Durkee and Ramos were not allowed to attend any programs together, be in the hallways together or in passing, or be in the booking area together. The report was signed by the jail staff, including Defendant Hochmuth. On December 28, 2012, Plaintiff Durkee was in the jail’s professional visitation room, when Ramos was escorted into the booking area by Hochmuth. Plaintiff saw both Defendant and Ramos, and Ramos saw plaintiff, but Hochmuth reported that he did not see plaintiff despite the large glass window between the rooms. When defendant removed Ramos’ shackles, he ran into the visitation room and attacked plaintiff, leaving him with severe facial fractures.

Plaintiff sued Hochmuth and the Summit County Sheriff, Defendant Minor, in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. Both defendants moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court denied summary judgment and the defendants appealed.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the district court found facts sufficient to support plaintiff’s claim that the defendants violated clearly established law. The Tenth Circuit found that, as to Hochmuth, the plaintiff had to prove sufficient facts that the defendant knew of and disregarded a substantial risk to plaintiff. Hochmuth does not dispute that he knew Ramos posed a substantial risk of harm to plaintiff “generally,” but argued he did not know plaintiff was in the unlocked room adjacent to the booking room. The Tenth Circuit noted that the success of the defendant’s defense may turn on whether the jury finds his testimony credible that he did not see plaintiff in the next room.

As to Minor, the Tenth Circuit did not find facts sufficient to prove that in his individual capacity as the director of the jail he knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of harm to plaintiff. The Tenth Circuit found that plaintiff could not show Minor’s direct personal responsibility for the harm suffered by plaintiff. The Tenth Circuit could not find a policy dilemma, since unshackling inmates in the booking area had not been a problem for anyone prior to the incident with plaintiff.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Impoundment of Vehicle Unlawful Where Driver Was Not Arrested

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Brown on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

Carl Brown was pulled over for failing to make a complete stop at a stop sign. The officer who pulled him over discovered Mr. Brown was driving with a suspended license. The officer decided to issue Mr. Brown a summons, but not arrest him. The officer then impounded Mr. Brown’s car and conducted an inventory search, which revealed drugs. At that time, Mr. Brown was arrested, charged with, and ultimately convicted of possession of a controlled substance (over two grams) and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

On appeal, Mr. Brown argued that the inventory search violated the Fourth Amendment, and the contents of that search should therefore have been suppressed. Mr. Brown argued several other points of error, but because the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with him that the initial search was illegal, it did not address his remaining contentions.

The court evaluated the impoundment statute, which allows for police to impound a vehicle when the impoundment occurs to further public safety, community caretaking functions, or to remove disabled or damaged vehicles. The officer who pulled Mr. Brown over testified that Mr. Brown’s vehicle was off the road, not blocking traffic. He testified that he impounded the vehicle because Mr. Brown’s license was suspended. The court found this insufficient to survive a Fourth Amendment analysis. The court noted that because the officer decided not to arrest Mr. Brown, there was no reason why Mr. Brown could not have stayed with his vehicle and either called a friend to drive the car or called a tow truck himself. Because the officer did not give Mr. Brown the choice of whether to take care of the vehicle himself or have the police impound it, the seizure was unlawful in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded with orders for the trial court to grant the motion to suppress and for proceedings consistent with their opinion.