June 24, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Nontestimonial Hearsay Statements do Not Implicate Defendant’s Right to Confrontation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Nicholls v. People on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Criminal Trials—Right of Accused to Confront Witnesses—Exceptions to Hearsay Rule—Statements Against Interest.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), the Colorado Supreme Court held that nontestimonial hearsay statements do not implicate a defendant’s state constitutional right to confrontation, overruling Compan v. People, 121 P.3d 876 (Colo. 2005), which held otherwise. Because the hearsay statements at issue in this case were nontestimonial, they did not implicate Colorado’s Confrontation Clause, and the court of appeals did not err in concluding that defendant’s confrontation right was not violated. The court further held that the third requirement for the admission of inculpatory hearsay statements against interest, announced in People v. Newton, 966 P.2d 563, 576 (Colo. 1998) (requiring corroborating circumstances to demonstrate the statement’s trustworthiness), is not constitutionally required for nontestimonial statements against interest. To admit a third party’s nontestimonial statements against interest under the version of CRE 804(b)(3) that existed at the time of defendant’s 2008 trial, only two conditions needed to be satisfied: (1) the witness must have been unavailable, and (2) the statement must have tended to subject the declarant to criminal liability. The court concluded that the third party’s nontestimonial statements against interest satisfied these two requirements, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting these statements as a statement against interest under CRE 804(b)(3), as that rule existed at the time of defendant’s trial. Finally, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting testimony about defendant’s response to the death of her second child because the testimony was relevant and not unduly prejudicial; nor did the trial court plainly err in admitting testimony about the cause of the second child’s death because the brief, isolated statements did not so undermine the trial’s fairness as to cast serious doubt on the reliability of defendant’s conviction. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Encounter with Police Deemed Consensual Under Totality of Circumstances

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Shoen on Monday, June 5, 2017.

Fourth Amendment—Consensual Encounters.

In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether defendant’s encounter with

police, during which he confessed to possessing a controlled substance, was consensual or whether it constituted an impermissible seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The Court concluded that under the totality of the circumstances, the encounter was consensual. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s order suppressing evidence from the encounter, and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy ofThe Colorado Lawyer .

Colorado Court of Appeals: Aggravated Incest Statute Constitutional As Applied to Stepchildren of Common Law Marriages

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Perez-Rodriguez on Thursday, June 1, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Minor—Aggravated Incest Statute—Common Law Marriage—Stepchildren—Unconstitutionally Vague as Applied—Jury Instruction—Mens Rea—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Due Process—Admission—Involuntary.

Defendant and A.S. lived together, and though they were never formally married, they publicly referred to each other as husband and wife. J.H-S. was one of A.S.’s children from a previous marriage, and while defendant never formally adopted her, they referred to each other as father and daughter. When J.H-S. was 15 years old, defendant forced her to have sexual intercourse with him on two separate occasions and impregnated her. When defendant was taken into custody, a detective questioned him for about 40 minutes. He was advised of his Miranda rights and signed a waiver. Defendant initially denied having had sexual intercourse with J.H.-S., but after about 15 more minutes, he confessed. Defendant was convicted of two counts each of aggravated incest, sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust as a pattern of conduct, and sexual assault with the actor 10 years older than the victim.

On appeal, defendant first contended that the aggravated incest statute is unconstitutionally vague as applied to stepchildren of common law marriages. However, there is sufficient guidance through statute, case law, and the plain meaning of “stepchild” that a person in a common law marriage has sufficient notice as to the prohibited conduct of aggravated incest.

Defendant next contended that the trial court’s elemental instruction on aggravated incest failed to properly instruct the jury on the scope of the mens rea required to sustain a conviction. Specifically, defendant claimed that the way the jury instruction was written, the “knowingly” mens rea applied only to his act of subjecting J.H-S. to sexual penetration or sexual intrusion, and not to whether he knew she was his stepchild. Regardless of whether the instruction was erroneous, however, the evidence that defendant knew J.H-S. was his stepdaughter was overwhelming. Therefore, any error was not plain error.

Defendant then argued that the prosecution misstated the law on common law marriage during rebuttal closing argument, thereby committing reversible misconduct. The court’s instruction properly defined common law marriage and cohabitation. Although the prosecutor’s simple reference to “cohabitation,” viewed in isolation, may have misstated the law, when viewed in context as rebuttal to defendant’s arguments, there was no plain error.

Finally, defendant asserted that his confession was involuntary and that its admission violated his state and federal due process rights. Based on the totality of the circumstances, defendant’s admission was voluntary and the trial court did not err in admitting it into evidence.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Aggregate Sentences Amounting to Life for Juvenile Not Unconstitutional

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucero v. People on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without Parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment—Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure 35(b) and 35(c).

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. Graham holds that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the sentence of life without parole for a juvenile non-homicide offender. Miller bars mandatory life without parole for any juvenile offender. Because life without parole is a specific sentence imposed for a single offense, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court thus held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Lucero’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. The court also considered whether the court of appeals erred by treating Lucero’s Rule 35(b) motion for sentence reduction as a Rule 35(c) motion challenging the constitutionality of his sentence. Because a court may properly characterize a mischaracterized issue, and Lucero argued that his sentence must be reduced under Graham to meet constitutional standards, the court held that the court of appeals did not err. Accordingly, the supreme court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentences for Juvenile Held Constitutional

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Rainer on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without Parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Rainer’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Graham and Miller Do Not Apply to Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentences

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Armstrong v. People on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

Life without parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Armstrong’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Constitutional Violation for Juvenile’s Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentence for Multiple Violations

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Estrada-Huerta v. People on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The Court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Estrada-Huerta’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Statements to Military Investigator Considered Voluntary

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People in Interest of Z.T.T. on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Criminal Law—Evidence Suppression.

This interlocutory appeal required the Colorado Supreme Court to determine whether a defendant’s confession to an Army investigator during basic training was the product of coercion. The court held that, where a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his Miranda rights, knew he was free to leave an interview, and confessed to committing a crime during the course of a conversational, friendly interview devoid of coercive promises or threats, he gave his statements voluntarily. The court therefore reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Constitutional Violation by Using ALJs in Workers’ Compensation Proceedings

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Sanchez v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado—Constitutionality—Separation of Powers—Equal Protection.

Claimant sustained a back injury at work lifting a hydraulic unit from his truck. Within two months he was back to work and placed at maximum medical improvement. Soon thereafter he complained of excruciating lower back pain, but both his original doctor and a specialist concluded that this new lumbar strain was not work-related but related to normal age-related degenerative changes.

Claimant sought temporary partial disability (TPD) benefits from the date of his injury and temporary total disability (TTD) benefits from when his low back pain flared up. An  administrative law judge (ALJ) rejected the request for benefits, finding that (1) his lower back pain was unrelated to his work injury, and (2) because he had continued working, claimant had not suffered a wage loss and was not entitled to either TPD or TTD benefits. The ALJ dismissed his requests. The Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) affirmed but remanded the case to the ALJ to determine whether claimant was entitled to change his physician.

On appeal, claimant argued the separation of powers doctrine is violated by having workers’ compensation cases heard in the executive branch. In rejecting this argument, the court of appeals followed Dee Enterprises v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, which held that the statutory scheme for deciding workers’ compensation cases does not violate the separation of powers doctrine.

Claimant then argued his equal protection claims should be analyzed under the strict scrutiny standard. The court held that the rational basis test applies to equal protection challenges in the workers’ compensation context. Under that test, “a statutory classification is presumed constitutional and does not violate equal protection unless it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the classification does not bear a rational relationship to a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Claimant argued that his and other workers’ compensation litigants’ rights to equal protection were violated because workers’ compensation cases are not heard by judges. The court concluded that legitimate governmental goals provide a rational basis for employing executive branch ALJs and the Panel to decide workers’ compensation cases. The court rejected claimant’s contention that his right to equal protection was violated because his claim was heard by an ALJ and the Panel.

Claimant then contended that the Panel’s dual role as decision-maker and then-named litigant if a case is appealed “reeks of impropriety.” The requirement that the Panel be added as a party is not arbitrary and serves the purpose of the Workers’ Compensation Act of ensuring thorough and expeditious review and enforcement of ALJ and Panel orders.

Claimant also challenged on equal protection grounds C.R.S. § 8-43-404(5)(a)(II)(A), which exempts governmental entities and health care providers from providing an injured worker with a list of four physicians from whom the worker may seek medical care for his injury. The court concluded that a rational basis exists for excluding employees of those two types of employers from the four-physician referral requirement. Thus, there was no equal protection violation.

The court rejected claimant’s three non-constitutional arguments, which were that: (1) the exemption from the four-physician referral requirement did not apply because claimant’s employer did not meet the requirements of C.R.S. § 8-43-404(5)(a)(II)(A); (2) substantial evidence did not support the ALJ’s factual findings; and (3) the ALJ made numerous evidentiary errors.

The Panel’s order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Use of Refusal to Consent as Evidence of Guilt Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Sewick on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Searches and Seizures—Refusal to Submit to Blood-Alcohol Testing—Admission of Refusal Evidence.

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court considered whether the prosecution’s use of a defendant’s refusal to consent to blood-alcohol testing as evidence of guilt at trial for a drunk-driving offense, in accordance with C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(6)(d), violates his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Because the court recently held in Fitzgerald v. People, 2017 CO 26, that the use of such refusal evidence does not violate the Fourth Amendment, that holding controls here, and defendant’s challenge to C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(6)(d) fails. The court therefore reversed the trial court’s order.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: DUI Suspect’s Refusal to Consent to Blood Test May Be Used as Evidence of Guilt

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Maxwell on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Searches and Seizures—Refusal to Submit to Blood-Alcohol Testing—Admission of Refusal Evidence.

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court considered whether the prosecution’s use of a defendant’s refusal to consent to blood-alcohol testing as evidence of guilt at trial for a drunk-driving offense, in accordance with C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(6)(d), violates his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Because the court recently held in Fitzgerald v. People, 2017 CO 26, P.3d, that the use of such refusal evidence does not violate the Fourth Amendment, that holding controls here, and defendant’s challenge to C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(6)(d) fails. The court therefore reversed the trial court’s order.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Use of Blood Test Refusal in DUI Case Does Not Violate Fourth Amendment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. King on Monday, May 15, 2017.

Searches and Seizures—Refusal to Submit to Blood-Alcohol Testing—Admission of Refusal Evidence.

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court considered whether the prosecution’s use of a defendant’s refusal to consent to blood-alcohol testing as evidence of guilt at trial for a drunk-driving offense, in accordance with C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(6)(d), violates his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Because the court recently held in Fitzgerald v. People, 2017 CO 26, that the use of such refusal evidence does not violate the Fourth Amendment, that holding controls here, and defendant’s challenge to C.R.S. § 42-4-1301(6)(d) fails. The court therefore reversed the trial court’s order.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.