February 22, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: GPS Data from Ankle Monitor Properly Admitted to Show Defendant’s Location at Time of Robbery

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Campbell on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

Constitutional Law—Fourth Amendment—Illegal Search and Seizure—Reasonable Suspicion—Reasonable Expectation of Privacy—GPS Data—Identification.

Campbell’s vehicle was pulled over and Campbell was arrested on suspicion of burglary. Officers searched Campbell and found he had on an ankle monitor, which he was wearing at the request of a private bail bondsman. A detective later requested and received the global positioning system (GPS) data from the company owning the ankle monitor. The GPS data revealed that, within the month before the victim’s home was broken into, Campbell had been at the location of two other homes when they were burglarized. The GPS data also placed Campbell at the victim’s house at the time of the break-in. Campbell was convicted of two counts of second degree burglary, one count of attempted second-degree burglary, and three counts of criminal mischief.

On appeal, Campbell contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of an illegal seizure and search of his person. The officers had reasonable suspicion to stop Campbell based on his violation of traffic laws. Further, the officers had probable cause to believe defendant was committing the felony of vehicular eluding, and therefore constitutionally arrested and searched him. The trial court did not err in denying Campbell’s motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of his seizure and search.

Campbell also contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress GPS data obtained from the ankle monitor. The court of appeals concluded, as a matter of first impression, that defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS location data generated by the ankle monitor under the U.S. or Colorado Constitutions. Defendant voluntarily disclosed the data, which was transmitted to and collected by a third party that voluntarily gave the data to law enforcement officials. Further, the trial court did not err in admitting the GPS evidence without first conducting a hearing pursuant to People v. Shreck, 22 P. 3d 68 (Colo. 2001), to assess its reliability, because GPS technology is prevalent and widely regarded as reliable.

Campbell additionally contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the victim’s identification because the identification was unduly suggestive and unreliable. The victim had the opportunity to see the intruder for one or two seconds in a well-lit area while the two men were approximately 10 feet apart before Campbell ran out of the house. Although the victim was not wearing contact lenses or eyeglasses, he felt he was able to see the intruder sufficiently to identify him. The victim immediately called 911 and described Campbell. The police brought Campbell to the scene handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle for a one-on-one identification. The identification occurred less than an hour after the victim saw the intruder. Although the lineup was suggestive, it was reliable under the totality of the circumstances.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Complaint Against Planned Parenthood Failed to State a Claim

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Norton v. Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, Inc. on Monday, January 22, 2018.

Constitutional Law—Colo. Const. Art. V, § 50—Motion to Dismiss.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether petitioner’s complaint alleged a violation of article V, section 50 of the Colorado Constitution sufficient to overcome a motion to dismiss. The court held that to state a claim for relief under section 50, a complaint must allege that the state made a payment to a person or entity—whether directly to that person or entity, or indirectly through an intermediary—for the purpose of compensating them for performing an abortion and that such an abortion was actually performed. Because petitioner’s complaint did not allege that the state made such a payment, the complaint failed to state a claim for relief under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Officers Acquired Reasonable Suspicion By the Time Stop Became Investigatory

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Fields and People v. Reed on Tuesday, January 16, 2018.

Contact-Short-of-a-Stop—Reasonable Articulable Suspicion—Probable Cause—Inevitable Discovery.

The People brought interlocutory appeals, as authorized by C.R.S. § 16-12-102(2) and C.A.R. 4.1, from the district court’s orders suppressing contraband and statements in the related prosecutions of defendants Fields and Reed. The district court found that the initial contact with both defendants in a parked car constituted an investigatory stop for which the police lacked reasonable articulable suspicion, and it suppressed all evidence acquired after the point of initial contact as the fruit of an unlawful stop.

The supreme court reversed the district court’s suppression orders and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that the district court failed to appreciate that the officers’ initial contact with defendants fell short of a stop. By the point at which the contact progressed to a seizure within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment, the officers had acquired the requisite reasonable articulable suspicion, and subsequently probable cause, to justify their investigative conduct, or inevitably would have lawfully arrested defendants and discovered the contraband.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Adverse Inference from Refusal to Testify Properly Applied at Administrative Hearing

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Romero v. Colorado Department of Human Services on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Colorado State Administrative Procedure Act—Sexual Abuse—Evidentiary Facts—Adverse Inference—Fifth Amendment.

In this administrative law case, the Larimer County Department of Human Services (DHS) made a finding confirming that Romero sexually abused his grandchildren and exposed one grandchild to an injurious environment, which required Romero to be listed in the statewide child abuse registry. Romero appealed DHS’s confirmations pursuant to Colorado’s State Administrative Procedure Act (APA). An administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded in an initial decision that the preponderance of the evidence did not support DHS’s confirmation decisions. DHS appealed, and the Colorado Department of Human Services (Department) reversed the ALJ’s initial decision, concluding that the evidentiary facts, including an adverse inference based on Romero’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, supported a finding that Romero sexually abused his grandchildren. Romero appealed to the district court, which reversed the Department’s final decision.

On appeal, the Department argued that the district court erred by overruling the Department’s final decision and by restricting the application of the adverse inference to situations where the Department provides an “adequate explanation” of why it has applied the inference. An agency’s determination in a final agency action to apply an adverse inference to a defendant’s invocation of his right to remain silent is an ultimate conclusion of fact under the APA. Consequently, the agency is required, as a matter of law, to make its own determination regarding the adverse inference and can substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative law judge regarding the inference and the weight to give the inference in light of the other evidence presented. To apply the adverse inference for invocation of the right against self-incrimination, a party in a civil case must have been asked questions the answers to which would have been potentially incriminating in a future criminal action, and the party must have invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. There must also have been probative evidence offered against the person claiming the privilege.

It is undisputed that during discovery for the ALJ hearing, DHS deposed Romero and asked him incriminating questions, including whether he touched his grandchildren for his own sexual gratification. It is also undisputed that Romero invoked his Fifth Amendment rights for the entire deposition except for the first few questions. Further, the record is clear that had Romero been called to testify at the ALJ hearing, he would have invoked his Fifth Amendment rights because of the ongoing criminal investigation into the allegations. Here, the Department’s application of the adverse inference was not arbitrary or capricious because it was supported by the record; it considered Romero’s constitutional rights; and it was not contrary to the law on Fifth Amendment adverse inference. Further, there is no authority that supports the district court’s imposition of a duty on the Department to provide an explanation for why it was applying the inference. Accordingly, the district court erred by effectively precluding the Department from making its own determination on the adverse inference.

Romero argued that the district court’s judgment should be upheld because the facts relied on by DHS to support findings of sexual abuse are speculative and do not support the ultimate findings. The Department’s view of the evidence was not speculative or contrary to the weight of the evidence presented to the ALJ.

The district court’s judgment overturning the Department’s final decision was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Warrantless Searches Justified by Probable Cause or Exigent Circumstances

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Ball on Monday, December 18, 2017.

Scope of an Investigatory Stop—Domestic Violence—Custodial Interrogation—Automobile Exception.

The People filed an interlocutory appeal, as authorized by C.R.S. § 16-12-102(2) and C.A.R. 4.1, from an order of the district court suppressing statements made by, and contraband seized from, Ball. Although the district court found her initial stop to be supported by reasonable articulable suspicion, it nevertheless found that before she made any inculpatory statements, the seizure of her person had exceeded the permissible scope of an investigatory stop; that she was already under arrest by the time she was interrogated without the benefit of Miranda warnings; and that her subsequent consent to search her purse and car was not voluntary.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the district court’s suppression order and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court held that the district court either misapprehended or misapplied the controlling legal standards governing investigatory stops, arrests, and custodial interrogations, and that the warrantless searches of defendant’s car and purse were justified on the basis of probable cause and exigent circumstances, without regard for the voluntariness of her consent or compliance with the dictates of C.R.S. § 16-1-301, the statute governing consensual vehicle searches in this jurisdiction.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Erred in Omitting Jury Instruction on Right Not to Testify, but Reversal Not Required

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Deleon on Thursday, November 16, 2017.

Sexual Assault—Child—Jury Instruction—Right Not to Testify—Hearsay.

Defendant was found guilty of two counts of sexual assault on a child.

On appeal, defendant contended that the district court erred by rejecting his tendered jury instruction on his right not to testify and by failing to instruct the jurors immediately before closing arguments of his constitutional right not to testify. The trial court did not err in choosing to give the jury the pattern jury instruction on defendant’s right not to testify because defendant’s proposed instruction went beyond the language of the pattern instruction. However, the trial court had an obligation to instruct jurors about defendant’s right not to testify before the attorneys made their closing arguments. Although the court violated Crim. P. 30 by not reading the instruction to the jury before closing argument, the court properly instructed jurors on defendant’s right not to testify during voir dire and reminded the sworn jurors of its earlier remarks. Reversal isn’t warranted because the error doesn’t cast serious doubt on the reliability of the judgment of conviction.

Defendant also argued that the district court erred by admitting into evidence the victim’s out-of-court statement to a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE nurse) that defendant had been “kicked out of the house.” Defendant argued that by saying he got kicked out of the house, the victim implied that her mother had kicked him out because of the victim’s allegations, which implied that the victim’s mother believed those allegations. Even assuming that the statement was inadmissible hearsay, any error in allowing it was harmless because any inferences defendant drew from the statement were speculative, and the victim’s mother testified that she did not believe the victim.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Plaintiff’s Request for Immediate Release from Federal Custody Denied Under ACCA’s Enumerated Clause

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Snyder on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

This case arose from Snyder’s request for immediate release from federal custody on the basis that he had already served more than the maximum sentence allowed by law. Snyder argues that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Johnson v. United States invalidates his sentence enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The district court denied Snyder’s motion, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the denial, concluding that Snyder was not sentenced based on the ACCA’s residual clause that was invalidated in Johnson.

In 2004, Snyder pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. A presentence report was prepared and concluded that Snyder was subject to an enhanced sentence as an armed career criminal because he had sustained two convictions for burglary of two residences, and had a conviction of a controlled substance offense. Snyder’s argument that his burglary convictions failed to constitute predicate offenses under the ACCA were rejected by the district court.

In 2015, the Supreme Court decided Johnson. Snyder subsequently filed a motion to vacate his sentence for immediate release, asserting that, following the Court’s decision in Johnson, his burglary convictions no longer qualify as predicate offenses under the ACCA, so he is not an armed career criminal, and his enhanced sentence exceeds the maximum authorized by law.

The Circuit first determined whether the district court erred in concluding that Snyder’s motion was not timely.  By the plain language of the statute in question, the statute allows a motion to be filed within one year of the date on which the rights asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court. The Circuit concluded that to be timely, a motion need only to invoke the newly recognized right, regardless of whether the facts of record ultimately support the claim, and found that Snyder’s motion did just that.

The court then discussed whether Snyder had overcome the procedural-default rule, which is a general rule that claims not raised on direct appeal may not be raised on collateral review unless the petitioner can show cause and prejudice.

Cause is shown if a claim is so novel that its legal basis was not reasonably available to counsel at the time of the direct appeal. The Supreme Court has stated that if one of its decisions explicitly overrides prior precedent, then, prior to that decision, the new constitutional principle was not reasonably available to counsel, and defendant has cause for failing to raise the issue. The Johnson claim was not reasonably available to Snyder at the time of his direct appeal, and the Circuit found this sufficient to establish cause.

To establish actual prejudice, the Circuit held that Snyder must show that the error of which he complains is an error of constitutional dimensions and worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage. The Circuit found that Snyder has shown actual prejudice through his argument that the ACCA sentence enhancement is invalid after Johnson. The court concluded this by acknowledging that if Snyder is correct, he should have been sentenced to only ten years maximum, not eighteen as he had been sentenced. The sentence of eighteen years would then be unauthorized under law, creating an actual and substantial disadvantage of constitutional dimensions.

The Circuit next discusses the merits of Snyder’s claim. Snyder alleged that the sentence was imposed under an invalid legal theory and that he was, therefore, sentenced in violation of the Constitution. In order to make a determination, the relevant background of the legal environment at the time of sentencing must be evaluated. The Circuit held that the actual facts of record in this matter offered no basis whatsoever for the notion that the sentence Snyder received was based on the ACCA’s residual clause, rather than its enumerated offenses clause. The Circuit found no mention of the residual clause in the presentence report or any other pleading or transcript. Further, given the relevant background legal environment that existed at the time of Snyder’s sentencing, there would have been no need for reliance on the residual clause. The Circuit concluded that Snyder’s claim failed because the court’s ACCA’s determination at the time of sentencing rested on the enumerated crimes clause rather than the residual clause.

The decision of the district court denying Snyder’s motion is AFFIRMED by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tenth Circuit: Social Worker Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity after Violating Defendant’s Constitutional Rights

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued is opinion in T.D. v. Patton on Monday, August 28, 2017.

Ms. Patton is a social worker for the Denver Department of Human Services (DDHS) and was responsible for removing T.D., a minor, from his mother’s home, and recommending T.D. remain in the temporary custody of his father, Duerson. T.D. was removed from Duerson’s home after DDHS made a determination that T.D. had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father. This case concerns Ms. Patton’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that she is entitled to qualified immunity.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Ms. Patton violated T.D.’s clearly established substantive due process constitutional right to be free of a state official’s creation of danger from a private actor under a danger-creation theory. The court found that Ms. Patton violated T.D.’s substantive due process right by knowingly placing T.D. in a position of danger by recommending that T.D. be placed in Duerson’s custody despite admitted concerns about T.D.’s safety, her knowledge of Duerson’s criminal history and conviction for attempted sexual assault against a minor, and failure to investigate whether Duerson was abusing T.D. despite her awareness of evidence of potential abuse. The court found that Ms. Patton acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of a known and substantial risk that T.D. would suffer serious, immediate, and proximate harm in his father’s home.

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a person acting under color of state law who subjects any citizen of the United States to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution shall be liable to the injured party. However, a defendant in an action may raise a defense of qualified immunity, which shields public officials from damages unless their conduct was unreasonable in light of law. Once a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff has the burden to show that the defendant’s actions violated a federal constitutional or statutory right and that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s unlawful conduct.

The court first evaluated whether the facts satisfied T.D.’s claim of danger-creation. The court considered whether Ms. Patton created or increased the danger posed to T.D. The court concluded that Ms. Patton’s actions amounted to a failure to investigate evidence that Duerson was abusing T.D., satisfying the first element. The second element is whether T.D. was a member of a limited and specifically definable group. The court held that because the state removed T.D. from his natural parent and took him into state custody, T.D. fell within a limited and specifically definable group of children.

Third, Ms. Patton’s conduct put T.D. at substantial risk of serious, immediate, and proximate harm. This is evidenced by Ms. Patton withholding relevant information and recommending T.D. be placed with his father, by failing to investigate evidence of potential abuse, and by continuing to recommend T.D. remain with his father.

The court discussed the fourth and fifth elements simultaneously. Ms. Patton acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of a risk (element 4) that was obvious or known (element 5). Ms. Patton knew of Duerson’s criminal history, but deleted those concerns for fear of being fired. She further withheld concerns of T.D.’s safety and concerns, stemming from her professional judgment, that T.D. should be removed from the home. Her intentional exclusion of her knowledge and concerns from her hearing report showed she acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of an obvious or known risk that Duerson posed to T.D.

The last element is satisfied by Ms. Patton’s conscience-shocking conduct. Ms. Patton’s conduct was held to significantly exceed ordinary negligence or permitting unreasonable risk and rose to a degree of outrageousness and a magnitude of potential or actual harm that is truly conscience shocking.

In sum, Ms. Patton’s conduct violated T.D.’s substantive due process right by creating or increasing T.D.’s vulnerability to the danger of private violence by Duerson.

The court found that the law was clearly established at the time of Ms. Patton’s misconduct. The court held that a reasonable official in Ms. Patton’s shoes would have understood that she was violating T.D.’s constitutional right by creating or increasing T.D.’s vulnerability to the danger posed by Duerson.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals AFFIRMED the district court’s DENIAL of summary judgment.

Tenth Circuit: Collection of Resource Data Considered Protected Speech Under the First Amendment

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Western Watersheds Project v. Michael on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

The State of Wyoming has enacted a pair of statutes imposing civil and criminal liability on individuals who enter open land for the purpose of collecting resource data without permission from the owner. “Resource data” was defined as data relating to land or land use. And the term “collect” was defined as requiring two elements: (1) taking a sample of material or a photograph, or otherwise preserving information in any form that is (2) submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government. Information obtained in violation of these provisions could not be used in any proceeding other than an action under the statutes themselves. The statutes also required government agencies to expunge data collected in violation of their provisions and forbade the agencies from considering such data in determining any agency action.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that the statutes regulate protected speech under the First Amendment and that they are not shielded from constitutional scrutiny merely because they touch upon access to private property. The statutes at issue target the creation of speech by imposing heightened penalties on those who collect resource data.

Plaintiffs in this case are advocacy organizations, arguing that the statutes violated Free Speech and Petition Clauses of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and they were preempted by federal law. After the district court’s holding that Plaintiffs have stated claims for free speech, petition, and equal protection, Wyoming amended the two statutes, although the statutes continue to impose heightened criminal punishment and civil liability. The amendments penalize any individual who without authorization: (1) enters private land for the purpose of resource data; (2) enters private land and collects resource data; or (3) crosses private land to access adjacent or proximate land where he collects resource data. Under the current version of the statutes, there is no requirement that resource data be submitted to, or intended to be submitted, to a government agency. Instead, the term “collect” now means: (1) to take a sample of material or acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form; and (2) to record a legal description or geographical coordinates of the location of the collection. The district court concluded that the revised version of the statutes did not implicate protected speech, Plaintiffs appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The Tenth Circuit found that Wyoming already prohibits trespass, thus the effect of the challenged provisions is to increase a pre-existing penalty for trespassing if an individual collects resource data from public lands. To determine if such provisions are subject to scrutiny under the First Amendment, the question is not whether trespassing is protected conduct, but whether the act of collecting resource data on public lands qualifies as protected speech.

The Circuit concluded that the Plaintiffs’ collection of resource data constitutes the protected creation of speech, as the Supreme Court has explained that the creation and dissemination of information are speech within the meaning of the First Amendment; however, the court did not discuss the level of scrutiny to be applied, as the district court did not conduct an analysis on this matter and, as a general rule, the court will not consider an issue not passed upon below.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals REVERSED the district court’s conclusion that the statutes are not entitled to First Amendment protection and REMANDED for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Video Recording by Confidential Informant Need Not Be Suppressed per Fourth Amendment

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

Confidential Informant—Audio Recording—Video Recording—Fourth Amendment—Discovery Violation—Remedy—Evidence—Non-Testimonial—Jury Deliberations.

A confidential informant (CI) approached a police investigator with a potential target for a controlled drug buy. The investigator arranged for the CI to purchase methamphetamine from Mendez in a controlled drug buy with concealed audio and video. After the buy, the People charged Mendez with distribution of a schedule II controlled substance. Mendez moved to suppress evidence obtained during the CI’s entry into his apartment. The district court denied the motion.

On appeal, Mendez contended that his conviction must be reversed because the video recording of the controlled buy should have been suppressed as the result of an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that the use of video surveillance by a CI in this case did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Mendez invited the CI into his apartment to engage in a drug transaction. Because Mendez consented to the CI’s presence in his home, he gave up any reasonable expectation of privacy in what the CI could observe or visually record. The district court properly denied the motion to suppress the resulting video recording.

Mendez next asserted that the district court abused its discretion by failing to provide an adequate remedy for a discovery violation. He argued that the prosecution’s failure to disclose a conversation between the CI and a police investigator about the Department of Homeland Security constituted a violation of his constitutional rights and the district court’s chosen remedy deprived him of a fair trial. As a sanction for the discovery violation, the district court ordered the investigator to make himself available for an interview with defense counsel to determine the scope of his representations to the CI. The district court denied defense counsel’s request that the CI be subject to recall for cross-examination. The district court’s discovery sanction was inadequate because Mendez was given no opportunity to cross-examine the CI about whether he believed he would receive immigration support from Homeland Security for his willingness to participate in the controlled buy. That belief could have been relevant to the CI’s motive, regardless of the investigator’s memory of the conversation. And the district court’s remedy did not cure that potential prejudice. Nevertheless, the district court’s error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and did not warrant reversal given the overwhelming evidence against Mendez at trial, and the fact that Mendez was able to successfully call the CI’s credibility into doubt by the end of trial.

Finally, Mendez argued that the district court abused its discretion in failing to limit the jury’s access to the video recording and transcript during deliberations. A district court need not limit juror access to non-testimonial evidence. It was not an abuse of discretion for the court to allow the jury unfettered access to the video recording and transcript.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant May Fire Retained Counsel for Any Reason but Must Face Consequences

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ronquillo v. People on Monday, October 16, 2017.

Criminal Law—Counsel—Choice of Counsel—Continuance.

The Colorado Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice includes the right to fire retained counsel without having to show good cause, even when the defendant wants appointed counsel. But defendants who fire retained counsel will not necessarily be allowed to proceed as they wish. Accordingly, trial courts must ensure that defendants understand the consequences of firing retained counsel. The court outlined the analysis that trial courts should conduct before releasing retained counsel from a case. Because the Colorado Court of Appeals erred by requiring Ronquillo to show good cause for firing retained counsel, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Findings of Inventory Search of Vehicle Need Not Be Suppressed Because Search Was Lawful

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Camarigg on Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol—Impound—Vehicle—Inventory Search—Warrant—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Burden of Proof—Beyond a Reasonable Doubt—Evidence—Intent to Manufacture Methamphetamine.

After defendant was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), officers impounded his vehicle because it was parked in front of a gas pump at a gas station. The officers conducted an inventory search of the vehicle and discovered a sealed box containing items commonly used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Based on those items, they obtained a warrant to search the vehicle and found additional items used to manufacture methamphetamine. Defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the search and warrant. The trial court denied the motion. A jury convicted defendant of DUI, careless driving, and possession of chemicals, supplies, or equipment with intent to manufacture methamphetamine.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court should have excluded evidence discovered in the inventory search of his vehicle and under the subsequently issued warrant. A vehicle is lawfully taken into custody if the seizure is authorized by law and department regulations and is reasonable. Inventory searches are an exception to the warrant requirement and are reasonable if (1) the vehicle was lawfully taken into custody; (2) the search was conducted according to “an established, standardized policy”; and (3) there is no showing that police acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation. Here, the decision to impound the vehicle was reasonable, and the inventory search was conducted according to standard policy and was constitutional. Because the inventory search was constitutional, evidence obtained under the subsequently issued warrant could not have been tainted.

Defendant next argued that the prosecutor improperly quantified the concept of reasonable doubt and lowered the burden of proof by using a puzzle analogy during closing argument. The prosecutor used a puzzle analogy to convey the difference between proof beyond a reasonable doubt and proof beyond all doubt, which other courts have found permissible. Further, the prosecutor used the analogy to rebut the defense argument that evidence of defendant’s guilt was speculative. The Court of Appeals concluded there was no reasonable possibility that the prosecutor’s analogy contributed to defendant’s conviction. Additionally, the jury was properly instructed on the reasonable doubt standard. Therefore, any impropriety in the prosecutor’s analogy was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lastly, defendant contended there was insufficient evidence that he intended to manufacture methamphetamine. There was sufficient circumstantial evidence from which a rational jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant intended to manufacture methamphetamine.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.