June 19, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court: No Error in Court’s Refusal to Release Sealed Records to Newspaper

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People v. Owens on Monday, June 11, 2018.

Constitutional Law — Public Access to Court Records.

In this original proceeding, the supreme court considered and rejected a news organization’s contention that a trial court erred in refusing to grant public access to certain records maintained under seal in a capital murder case. The court emphasized that, while presumptive access to judicial proceedings is a right recognized under both the state and federal constitutions, neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Colorado Supreme Court has ever held that records filed with a court are treated the same way. The court thus declined the invitation to hold that unfettered access to criminal justice records is guaranteed by either the First Amendment or Article II, section 10 of the Colorado Constitution.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Three Stalking Convictions for Single Offense Must Be Merged

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wagner on Thursday, May 18, 2018.

Stalking—Merger—Evidence—Unanimity Jury Instruction—Double Jeopardy.

Wagner was arrested and charged with three counts of stalking his ex-wife. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 90 days in jail on each count with all jail terms to run consecutively, and six years of probation on each count with all probation terms to run consecutively.

On appeal, the People conceded that two of Wagner’s stalking convictions should have merged at sentencing. The court of appeals determined that the People did not prove factually distinct instances of conduct sufficient to support multiple stalking convictions. The Double Jeopardy Clauses of the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions required that defendant’s three stalking convictions merge. The court concluded that defendant was charged with and convicted of multiplicitous counts and it was plainly erroneous for the trial court to enter three stalking convictions.

Wagner argued that there was insufficient evidence to support all three of his convictions. However, the evidence was sufficient to show both that Wagner’s conduct would have caused a reasonable person serious emotional distress and that it caused the victim serious emotional distress. Additionally, the evidence was sufficient for the jury to find that Wagner made credible threats.

Wagner further contended that the trial court erred in rejecting a defense-tendered unanimity jury instruction or, in the alternative, failing to require the prosecution to elect between the alleged credible threats. The prosecution presented evidence of numerous occasions on which Wagner contacted and followed the victim, any number of which could have supported a stalking conviction. The defense did not argue that Wagner did not commit the acts about which the victim and witnesses testified, and the jury would be likely to agree either that all of the acts occurred or that none occurred. Therefore, the prosecution was not required to elect the acts on which it was relying to prove that Wagner had made a credible threat, nor was the trial court required to give a unanimity instruction.

Two of the counts were vacated. The case was remanded for the trial court to merge the convictions and correct the mittimus. The judgment was otherwise affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Water Court Lacked Subject Matter Jurisdiction Over Constitutionality of Groundwater Statute

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Jim Hutton Educational Foundation v. Rein on Monday, May 21, 2018.

Water Law—Jurisdiction.

The Jim Hutton Educational Foundation, a surface-water user, claimed that a statute prohibiting any challenge to a designated groundwater basin that would alter the basin’s boundaries to exclude a permitted well is unconstitutional. The water court dismissed that claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that the surface-water user had to first satisfy the Colorado Groundwater Commission that the water at issue was not designated groundwater. The supreme court concluded that, because jurisdiction vests in the water court only if the Colorado Groundwater Commission first concludes that the water at issue is designated groundwater, the water court properly dismissed the constitutional claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

The court affirmed the water court’s ruling.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Oil and Gas Commission’s Warrantless Inspections of Locations Does Not Violate Constitution

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Maralex Resources, Inc. v. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Administrative Law—Constitutional Law—Fourth Amendment—Search and Seizure—Warrantless Search—Administrative Search.

O’Hare was the president of Maralex, a Colorado corporation licensed to conduct oil and gas operations in the state. Maralex operated over 200 oil wells in Colorado. Maralex operated wells located on the O’Hares’ ranch. The O’Hares owned both the surface and mineral rights, but leased the mineral rights to Maralex. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) obtained an administrative search warrant authorizing entry and inspection of certain Maralex locations, and after conducting inspections, COGCC issued multiple notices of alleged violations to Maralex and O’Hare. After an administrative hearing, the COGCC issued an order finding violation (OFV), concluding that Maralex had violated several rules, and Maralex was assessed a penalty of $94,000. Maralex and the O’Hares sought judicial review of COGCC’s order. The district court denied their request for injunctive and declaratory relief and affirmed the OFV in full.

On appeal, Maralex and the O’Hares contended that COGCC Rule 204 permitting unannounced, warrantless searches of oil and gas locations violated the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. There are exceptions to the requirement that searches be conducted pursuant to a warrant issued upon probable cause. One exception is in the context of administrative searches made pursuant to a regulatory scheme of a closely regulated industry. A warrantless inspection conducted pursuant to a regulatory scheme of a closely regulated industry is reasonable if (1) the scheme is informed by a substantial government interest, (2) it is necessary to further that government interest, and (3) the scheme provides a “constitutionally adequate substitute” for a warrant. The Court of Appeals concluded that the oil and gas industry is closely regulated; the state has a substantial interest in regulating oil and gas operations; warrantless searches are necessary to further the state’s substantial interest in the safe and efficient operation of oil and gas facilities; and COGCC’s inspection regime provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant. Therefore, warrantless inspections made pursuant to Rule 204 do not violate either the Colorado or U.S. Constitution.

The O’Hares also raised constitutional challenges to Rule 204 in their capacity as surface owners of land including oil and gas locations subject to COGCC oversight. They first contended that Rule 204 is unconstitutional as applied to surface owners because, unlike operators of oil and gas locations, they have an expectation of privacy in the property searched. In this case, the O’Hares granted Maralex a very broad set of rights under the surface agreement. By granting the corporation an unlimited easement on the surface estate, the O’Hares substantially lessened any objective expectation of privacy in the property over which they willingly transferred access and control rights to Maralex. The Court also rejected the O’Hares’ broader challenge to the facial constitutionality of Rule 204 as to all surface owners, concluding that where a surface owner grants a mineral lessee a broad surface easement, warrantless entry of the surface estate would not necessarily violate the surface owner’s rights.

Maralex also challenged the COGCC’s order concluding that it violated multiple rules in relation to certain wells. The COGCC’s finding that Maralex violated Rule 204 on March 20, 2014 was arbitrary and capricious because the inspection supervisor agreed to delay the inspection until the next day. Thus, there was not substantial evidence to support COGCC’s determination that Maralex failed to provide access to its wells at all reasonable times. As to the remaining dates at issue, the evidence supports COGCC’s determination that Maralex violated Rule 204 for the duration of that six-day period.

The Court also found record support for COGCC’s determination that Maralex violated Rules 603.f, 905(a), and 907(a)(1).

The district court’s order affirming that part of the OFV concluding Maralex violated Rule 204 on March 20, 2014 and the corresponding penalty were reversed. In all other respects, the order was affirmed. The case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Did Not Abuse Discretion by Failing to Appoint GAL Sua Sponte

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Ybanez v. People on Monday, March 12, 2018.

Ybanez petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction of first degree murder and directing that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole be modified only to the extent of permitting the possibility of parole after forty years. See People v. Ybanez, No. 11CA0434 (Colo. App. Feb. 13, 2014). In an appeal of his conviction and sentence, combined with an appeal of the partial denial of his motion for postconviction relief, the intermediate appellate court rejected Ybanez’s assertions that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his constitutional rights by failing to sua sponte appoint a guardian ad litem; that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel both because his counsel’s performance was adversely affected by a non-waivable conflict of interest under which that counsel labored and because he was prejudiced by a deficient performance by his counsel; and that he was entitled to an individualized determination regarding the length of his sentence rather than merely the possibility of parole after forty years.

The supreme court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case with directions to return it to the trial court for resentencing consistent with the supreme court opinion, for the reasons that Ybanez lacked any constitutional right to a guardian ad litem and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in not appointing one as permitted by statute; that Ybanez failed to demonstrate either an adverse effect resulting from an actual conflict of interest, even if his counsel actually labored under a conflict, or that he was prejudiced by his counsel’s performance, even if it actually fell below the required standard of competent representation; and that Ybanez is constitutionally and statutorily entitled only to an individualized determination whether life without the possibility of parole or life with the possibility of parole after forty years is the appropriate sentence.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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.