May 29, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Statutory Enforcement Mechanism Exists for Respondent Fee Awards

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in McGihon v. Cave on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

Defendant Thomas Cave filed a complaint with the Secretary of State, alleging that plaintiff Anne McGihon, a lobbyist, violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act by allowing her name to be placed on an event invitation on behalf of a candidate for the Colorado House of Representatives. Following a hearing, an ALJ dismissed Cave’s claims and awarded McGihon attorney fees jointly against Cave and his attorney, Jessica Peck. The ALJ found that Cave’s claims were substantially groundless, frivolous, and vexatious.

McGihon filed an enforcement action in district court. Cave and Peck filed separate motions to dismiss, arguing the district court lacked jurisdiction over the enforcement action. The district court granted the motions and McGihon appealed.

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals found that although fee awards are contemplated by both C.R.S. § 1-45-111.5(2) and Colo. Const. art. XVIII, § 9(2)(a), there is no enforcement mechanism available for prevailing respondents. Because McGihon did not raise equal protection and due process arguments in district court, the court of appeals declined to consider them.

The court affirmed the district court’s dismissal.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Confrontation Rights Violated when Defendant Not Allowed to Ask Victim About Impairment

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Dunham on Thursday, May 19, 2016.

The victim and his friend were involved in a confrontation in an apartment complex parking lot in the early morning hours of July 8, 2012. At some point, Defendant pointed a gun at the victim and his friend. The confrontation ended when Defendant pointed his gun into the air and fired. After leaving the parking lot, the victim was shot several times at a nearby intersection. The only witnesses besides Victim and Defendant were a husband and wife who saw a man running from the scene of the shooting but could not identify the shooter.

Defendant was charged with attempted first degree murder after deliberation, attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, and a crime of violence sentence enhancer. At trial, defense counsel sought to admit evidence that Victim had consumed methamphetamine the night of the shooting as res gestae evidence under CRE 404(b). The issue arose several times during trial and each time the trial court denied the defense’s request. Defendant was acquitted of the first degree murder charge but convicted on the other charges and sentence enhancer. He appealed, contending the trial court committed constitutional error by denying his requests to question the victim about his methamphetamine use.

The Colorado Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in finding the evidence was insufficient to allow the jury to consider the matter, and further found that CRE 104(a) governed the relevance of the evidence. The court of appeals found that the evidence was sufficient to allow a jury to consider the statements made by Victim to police and hospital staff regarding his methamphetamine use. The court further found that the error was constitutional because Defendant’s Confrontation Clause rights were violated.

The court reversed and remanded for a new trial on the charges on which Defendant was convicted.

Tenth Circuit: “Arguable” Reasonable Suspicion Enough to Support Qualified Immunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Shimomura v. Carlson on Tuesday, December 29, 2015.

Tsutomu Shimomura was at a security checkpoint at DIA when a TSA agent tested his medicine with a test strip. Mr. Shimomura expressed concern about the sterility of the test strips and asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor, TSA Agent Kendra Carlson, engaged in a heated exchange with Mr. Shimomura while Denver Police Officer Wade Davis watched. Agent Carlson eventually ordered Mr. Shimomura to “get the hell out of here,” and he turned to leave. As he was leaving, his roller bag may have struck Agent Carlson. Officer Davis immediately arrested Mr. Shimomura. He was detained for approximately 9o minutes, then was issued a summons and complaint, charging him with assault for pushing his roller bag into Agent Carlson. The prosecutor dismissed the criminal complaint after reviewing the charges.

Mr. Shimomura brought suit against Agent Carlson and Officer Davis, alleging 42 U.S.C. § 1983 violations of his Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court granted summary judgment based on qualified immunity to Officer Davis on the Fourth Amendment claims and dismissed the claims against Agent Carlson based on failure to state a claim. The court also dismissed the causes of action based on violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments for failure to state a claim. Mr. Shimomura appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first determined that Officer Davis was entitled to qualified immunity because he had at least a modicum of reasonable suspicion that Mr. Shimomura had committed a crime. The majority panel determined that probable cause was at least “arguable” as to Officer Davis. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the crime of which Mr. Shimomura was charged, third-degree assault, which requires reckless or intentional commission of assault, which is separately defined as bodily injury, including pain. The majority panel determined that Officer Davis had at least arguable suspicion that Agent Carlson experienced pain, however minor or fleeting, from her contact with the roller bag, and therefore he was entitled to qualified immunity. Chief Judge Tymkovich dissented; he opined that the majority panel disregarded its role by impermissibly finding facts instead of questioning whether a reasonable jury could have taken Mr. Shimomura’s version of the events as true. Judge Tymkovich did not believe Officer Davis was entitled to qualified immunity.

The Tenth Circuit next evaluated the district court’s dismissal of Mr. Shimomura’s claims against Agent Carlson. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal, finding that even if Agent Carlson fabricated her version of the events, she did so after Mr. Shimomura’s arrest. Because Mr. Shimomura was arrested as a matter of law in the moments after his roller bag may have struck Agent Carlson, any withholding and fabrication of evidence took place after that moment. The Tenth Circuit found Mr. Shimomura’s Fourth Amendment claims against Agent Carlson failed.

The Tenth Circuit then turned to Mr. Shimomura’s conspiracy claims and disregarded them for the same reason. The Tenth Circuit determined that, because any conspiracy would have occurred after Mr. Shimomura’s arrest, his claims could not stand. The Tenth Circuit similarly disposed of Mr. Shimomura’s due process claims, finding that any due process issues related to unlawful arrest must be decided under the Fourth Amendment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. Chief Judge Tymkovich dissented as to the claims against Officer Davis.

Colorado Supreme Court: Privilege Against Self-Incrimination Precludes Revocation of Probation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Roberson on Monday, May 16, 2016.

Fifth Amendment—Probation Revocation.

The Supreme Court concluded that on the facts presented here, defendant’s Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination precluded the district court from revoking his sex offender intensive supervision probation based on his refusal to answer a polygraph examiner’s question regarding his use or viewing of child pornography while he was on probation. On the record before the Court, however, the Court was unable to determine whether defendant’s privilege against self-incrimination precluded the district court from revoking defendant’s probation based on his refusal to answer questions concerning any post-trial sexual fantasies involving minors that he might have had within the six months immediately preceding the polygraph examination. Accordingly, the Court made its rule to show cause absolute and remanded the case to the district court with directions that the court conduct further proceedings as more fully set forth in this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Total Refusal of Sex Offender Treatment Based on Fifth Amendment is Prohibited

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Ruch on Monday, May 16, 2016.

Fifth Amendment—Probation Revocation.

This case required the Supreme Court to determine whether the trial court properly revoked defendant’s probation for, among other things, refusing to enroll or participate in sex offender treatment based on his concern that in the course of such treatment, he would have been compelled to incriminate himself in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Court perceived no Fifth Amendment violation here, where the trial court revoked defendant’s probation based on his total refusal to attend treatment. In these circumstances, defendant’s purported invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights was premature and amounted to a prohibited blanket assertion of the privilege. Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court properly revoked Ruch’s probation based on his refusal to attend treatment.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Non-Disclosure of Victim’s Juvenile Adjudication Did Not Render Plea Ineffective

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Corson on Monday, May 16, 2016.

Guilty Pleas—Voluntariness—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Crim. P. 16.

Respondent Corson pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child, position of trust. Corson sought to overturn his conviction because the prosecutor, who had previously obtained a juvenile adjudication against the victim for falsely reporting a sexual assault in another case, did not disclose the victim’s prior false-reporting adjudication. The Supreme Court held that the prosecution’s non-disclosure did not render Corson’s guilty plea involuntary or his plea counsel ineffective. The Court also held that juvenile adjudications are not criminal convictions and therefore are not subject to automatic disclosure under Crim. P. 16(I)(a)(1)(V).

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Officer Had Probable Cause to Arrest Person Filming Security Checkpoint at Airport

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mocek v. City of Albuquerque on Tuesday, December 22, 2015.

Phillip Mocek was arrested in a security checkpoint of the Albuquerque Sunport airport for concealing his identity after filming airport security procedures and being questioned on suspicion of disorderly conduct. Mocek was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct, concealing name or identity, resisting an officer’s lawful command, and criminal trespass. At trial, Mocek introduced the video footage taken prior to the arrest, and was acquitted on all counts. Mocek then brought this action in the district court alleging First and Fourth Amendment violations and seeking damages under 42 U.S.C § 1983, as well as declaratory relief. Mocek also sued the officers and City of Albuquerque for malicious abuse of process under New Mexico tort law. The district court granted the defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for all claims, Mocek appealed, and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of all claims.

First, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the constitutional claims against the individual police officers (including the arresting officer, Officer Dilley) and TSA agents, holding the individual defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because their actions were reasonable and in compliance with the Fourth and First Amendments. With respect to the Fourth Amendment claims against the individual defendants, the Tenth Circuit reasoned Officer Dilley possessed reasonable suspicion that justified stopping Mocek and asking him to identify himself, considering the fact that an airport security checkpoint is a location where “order was paramount.” Further, it was reasonable for Officer Dilley to believe that an investigative stop for disorderly conduct at an airport security checkpoint required production of some physical proof of identity, and given Mocek’s continued refusal to show identification, it was reasonable for Officer Dilley to believe he had probable cause to arrest Mocek for violating a New Mexico criminal statute that prohibits the obstruction of a public officer’s legal performance of his duty. In short, Officer Dilley’s interpretation of the aforementioned New Mexico statute in establishing probable cause to arrest Mocek was reasonable, and therefore, Officer Dilley and the other individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Mocek’s Fourth Amendment claims.

In rejecting Mocek’s claim that the individual defendants unconstitutionally retaliated against the exercise of his First Amendment right to film at the security checkpoint, the Tenth Circuit determined Mocek could not satisfy the third prong of a retaliation claim: that the government’s actions were substantially motivated in response to his protected speech. The Tenth Circuit reasoned when Mocek was arrested, it was not clearly established that Mocek could show the requisite motive where his arrest was arguably supported by probable cause, and therefore, the individual defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on Mocek’s First Amendment retaliation claim.

Second, with respect to Mocek’s claims for declaratory relief against the defendants in their official capacities, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claim against the TSA defendants for lack of jurisdiction because Mocek’s pleadings never identified a federal waiver of sovereign immunity (which is required because a suit against a government agent is treated as a suit against the government, and the federal government may only be sued where it has waived sovereign immunity). As for the claim for declaratory relief against the police defendants in their official capacities, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district courts dismissal, reasoning Mocek had not sufficiently alleged that his past injury resulted in continuing, present adverse effects, and because Mocek had not alleged any injury beyond a subjective chilling effect.

Third, in affirming the district court’s dismissal of Mocek’s claim that the City of Albuquerque is liable under § 1983 because it caused his injuries through unconstitutional policies and practices, the Tenth Circuit held the complaint, aside from conclusory statements, contained no allegations giving rise to an inference that the municipality itself established a deliberate policy or custom that caused Mocek’s injuries.

Fourth, considering Mocek’s claims that the arrest and subsequent filing of a criminal complaint against him constituted a malicious abuse of process, the Tenth Circuit first determined the claims were property before it through either diversity jurisdiction or through the district court’s unchallenged exercise of supplemental jurisdiction. With respect the merits of the claims, the Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s dismal, finding Mocek was unable to satisfy either the absence of probable cause or the procedural impropriety theories of liability. Under the absence of probable cause theory, the Tenth Circuit found there was at least arguable probable cause to arrest him for concealing identity, and even if there was no probable cause for the other three charges, Mocek nowhere argues that they rendered the complaint as a whole obviously devoid of probable cause. Under the procedural impropriety theory, the Tenth Circuit found Mocek’s brief does not point to anything procedurally improper surrounding his arrest. Therefore, in determining Mocek failed to establish liability under either theory, the Tenth Circuit held Mocek had not established that the arrest and subsequent filing of a criminal complaint against him constituted a malicious abuse of process, thereby affirming the district court’s dismissal of said claims.

Max Montag is a 2016 J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Must Personally Waive Presence During Crucial Times of Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Janis on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Erin Janis stabbed Farest Logan outside a bar on Colfax. Janis, who was quickly apprehended by police, admitted to stabbing Logan, but asserted she did it in self-defense because he had helped someone else rape her and had assaulted her previously that day. Logan said he was just standing outside the bar when Janis stabbed him. Janis was charged with first degree assault.

At trial, defense counsel approached the bench during Logan’s testimony and informed the court that Janis was suffering ill effects from her psychiatric diagnoses and needed to leave the courtroom. The court granted defense counsel’s request without questioning Janis. She was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison, and appealed her sentence and conviction.

The court of appeals addressed whether a defendant in custody can waive appearance through counsel, and determined that it could not. Janis was in custody during the trial and was available for the court to question her regarding whether waiving her right to confront Logan was voluntary. Because the right to confront adverse witnesses is grounded in the Sixth Amendment and is fundamental, Janis was deprived of her right to a fair trial by not personally waiving her appearance.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Colorado Supreme Court: Constitutional Inalienable Rights Provision Does Not Save Fracking Ban from Preemption

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in City of Longmont v. Colorado Oil and Gas Association on Monday, May 2, 2016.

Preemption—Inalienable Rights Provision.

Applying well-established preemption principles, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the City of Longmont’s ban on fracking and the storage and disposal of fracking wastes within its city limits operationally conflicts with applicable state law. Accordingly, the court held that Longmont’s fracking ban is preempted by state law and, therefore, is invalid and unenforceable. The court further held that the inalienable rights provision of the Colorado Constitution does not save the fracking ban from preemption by state law. The court thus affirmed the district court’s order enjoining Longmont from enforcing the fracking ban and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Jurisdiction Lacking Where Denial of Summary Judgment Based on Genuine Issues of Material Facts

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Henderson v. Glanz on Monday, December 28, 2015.

Aleshia Henderson was an inmate at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was in a holding cell of the medical unit in handcuffs and leg restraints awaiting medical treatment when Detention Officer (DO) Johnson unlocked the door in view of Inmate Jessie Earl Johnson, a violent offender who was considered extremely high risk for escape and required “extreme caution.” DO Thomas, unaware that the holding cell door was unlocked, left the medical unit to respond to a medical emergency. When a nurse returned with another emergency patient, DO Johnson left the medical unit to assist the nurses.

During this time, Inmate Johnson reported to Inmate Williams that he was going to make sexual contact with Henderson. He left his unlocked holding cell and entered Inmate Henderson’s unlocked holding cell, exiting about 10 minutes later. Both DO Johnson and DO Thomas observed Inmate Johnson leaving Henderson’s cell. DO Johnson immediately confronted Inmate Johnson, who denied being in Henderson’s cell. DO Johnson then interviewed Inmate Henderson, who would not speak but nodded when asked if Inmate Johnson had sexually assaulted her. She was taken to a hospital, where an examination showed bruising, swelling, and a midline vaginal tear consistent with forcible sexual conduct. Inmate Johnson was subsequently charged with rape, though the charge was dismissed when Henderson briefly recanted out of fear for her mother’s safety.

DO Johnson and Thomas told their immediate supervisor, Sergeant Pirtle, about the incident, and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) conducted an investigation. TCSO determined that department policy was violated when the DOs left their posts, failing to maintain the required two officers in the medical unit, and when they failed to maintain the log book. When asked later how she could have been unaware of the risk to Henderson, DO Johnson stated, “I don’t know how to answer that.”

Henderson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against DO Johnson, DO Thomas, and Tulsa County Sheriff Glanz, asserting violations of her Eighth Amendment rights. Defendants moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity because Henderson could not show a constitutional violation. The district court denied summary judgment as to DO Johnson and DO Thomas, concluding there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether DO Johnson and DO Thomas were aware of the risk of assault. The district court denied summary judgment to Sheriff Glanz because there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether he was aware of the risk of assault to Henderson. Defendants appealed.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider DO Johnson’s and Sheriff Glanz’s appeals. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court’s denial of summary judgment was not ripe for interlocutory appeal because it was not a final order and did not fall into any of the exceptions allowing interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit also noted that the district court found facts sufficient to support its denial of summary judgment, concluding that by viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Henderson, a reasonable jury could find a constitutional violation.

As to DO Thomas, the Tenth Circuit found it had jurisdiction to assess the district court’s denial of summary judgment. Because DO Thomas did not know DO Johnson had unlocked Henderson’s cell door and was not there when DO Johnson left the unit, he was not subjectively aware of a substantial risk of bodily harm to Henderson. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to DO Thomas.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeals of DO Johnson and Sheriff Glanz for lack of jurisdiction, and reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment to DO Thomas.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutorial Misconduct Not Intended to Provoke Mistrial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. August on Thursday, April 21, 2016.

Double Jeopardy—Prosecution Intentionally Seeking a Mistrial.

Defendant was tried twice on charges of kidnapping and sexual assault of his former wife. The first trial was declared a mistrial and the charges were dismissed on federal double jeopardy grounds based on a finding that the prosecution had willfully violated a court order. On appeal, a division of the court of appeals concluded that the reprosecution would only be barred if the prosecutor had acted with the intent to provoke a mistrial, and the case was remanded with directions to make findings on this issue. On remand, the trial court found that the prosecutor had not intended to provoke defendant into moving for a mistrial, denied defendant’s motion to dismiss the charges, and held a second trial.

At the second trial the defense objected to the prosecution’s closing statement referencing a prior assault and remark that “history repeats itself” as an impermissible reference to propensity. The court agreed with the defense, declared a mistrial, and heard argument as to whether the charges should be dismissed under the double jeopardy provisions of the U.S. and Colorado constitutions. The trial court dismissed the charges on double jeopardy grounds, finding that the prosecutor had willfully goaded the defense into asking for a mistrial in order to try the case a third time and benefit from the experience of the second trial’s weaknesses.

On appeal, the People argued that the trial court erred. The court agreed, finding that the state and federal standard on this issue is the same: a retrial is barred only if prosecutorial misconduct giving rise to the mistrial was intended to provoke the defense into moving for a mistrial. Double jeopardy bars retrial in the mistrial context only where the prosecutor’s intent is to avoid a jury verdict. In evaluating the prosecutor’s conduct, the trial court used an improper legal standard and may not have considered the totality of the circumstances surrounding the prosecutor’s conduct.

The order of dismissal was vacated and the case was remanded to the trial court for reconsideration of its ruling and further findings of fact consistent with the court’s opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Legislature Lacks Authority to Regulate IEC Dismissals Based on Frivolity

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Colorado Ethics Watch v. Independent Ethics Commission on Monday, April 25, 2016.

Constitutional Interpretation—Amendment 41—CRS § 24-18.5-101(9)—Judicial Review.

In this original proceeding, the Supreme Court considered whether the Independent Ethics Commission’s (IEC) decision to dismiss a complaint against a public officer as frivolous is subject to judicial review. Plaintiff contended that the General Assembly authorized such review when it enacted CRS § 24-18.5-101(9), which provides that “[a]ny final action of the commission concerning a 18 complaint shall be subject to judicial review.” The Supreme Court concluded that, while the General Assembly may authorize judicial review of IEC’s enforcement decisions, it may not encroach on the IEC’s decisions not to enforce. Therefore, the Court held that the General Assembly’s “judicial review” provision does not apply to frivolity dismissals. Accordingly, the Court made its rule to show cause absolute and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.