October 31, 2014

Tenth Circuit: No Reasonable Jurist Could Have Found Trial Counsel’s Performance Deficient

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Rodriguez on Wednesday, October 15, 2014.

Samuel Rodriguez pleaded guilty to the distribution of five grams or more of methamphetamine, and the district court sentenced him. The district court applied a career offender sentence enhancement based on Rodriguez’s two prior felony convictions involving crimes of violence or controlled substances. One of Rodriguez’s prior convictions was for simple assault under the Texas Penal Code. The parties disagree on whether the assault conviction constitutes a crime of violence. In an earlier appeal, Rodriguez’s attorney argued unsuccessfully that the conviction should not be considered a crime of violence. Rodriguez then sought collateral relief on a theory that his attorney had mishandled the issue. The district court recharacterized the request as a motion to vacate the sentence and denied it. Rodriguez then sought a Certificate of Appealability (COA), along with leave to amend his motion and a request to file in forma pauperis. The Tenth Circuit denied the COA and mooted the related requests.

The Tenth Circuit first noted that its prior ruling was the law of the case, and even if the current panel disagreed with the finding of the prior panel, it could not overturn that decision. Nevertheless, analyzing Rodriguez’s claim about the requisite mental state underlying his Texas assault offense, the Tenth Circuit found that the issue had been litigated in the prior ruling. The Tenth Circuit found that Rodriguez’s prior counsel advocated well for him, raising the claim that he did not have the requisite mental state, citing case law, and otherwise appropriately advocating, and declined to characterize Rodriguez’s appeal as anything other than an attempt to relitigate an already-decided issue.

The Tenth Circuit denied Rodriguez’s request for a COA and found moot his related requests to amend his motion and file in forma pauperis.

Tenth Circuit: Sex Offenders Have Continuing Duty to Keep Registration Information Up-to-Date

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Lewis on Tuesday, September 30, 2014.

Marcus Lewis pleaded guilty to statutory rape in Missouri in 1996 and was sentenced to five years’ probation. He later served prison time because of a probation violation. Under the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), Lewis was required for life to register as a sex offender. He last registered in Kansas in May 2011, and has not voluntarily registered in any state since then. SORNA requires sex offenders to register where they live, work, or attend school, and requires offenders to report any change in status to authorities.

In August 2011, a sheriff’s deputy in Kansas tried to locate Lewis for a warrant unrelated to his previous sex offense. The deputy used Lewis’s last known address from the sex offender registry, but learned that Lewis no longer lived there. Unable to find Lewis, the deputy alerted U.S. Marshals, who found a car associated with Lewis at the residence of his relatives in Missouri. Over a year later, Lewis was arrested in Atlanta on the Kansas warrant. In an interview with a U.S. Marshal, Lewis admitted that he had not registered because of the outstanding warrants. A federal grand jury indicted Lewis on one count of failing to register, and after a bench trial, Lewis was convicted. Following the conviction, Lewis filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, claiming improper venue and that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction. His motion was denied, and Lewis appealed.

Lewis contended that venue in Kansas was improper, because he abandoned his home in Kansas, traveled through Missouri, and eventually settled in Georgia. Lewis argued that any SORNA violation occurred outside Kansas. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding that under SORNA, Lewis was required to report within three days that he had abandoned his Kansas residence or register in a new location within three days, so venue was proper in the departure district. Lewis also argued that he had abandoned his Kansas residence before the date listed on the indictment, but the Tenth Circuit found this argument flawed, as Lewis had a continuing requirement to update his information. Lewis next argued that his next registration date had not occurred at the time the sheriff discovered his abandonment of the Kansas residence, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed with his reasoning, as the purpose of SORNA is to keep registrations current regardless of where the offender resides, not to maintain one registration and allow the offender to be transitory as long as that one registration is maintained. Finally, Lewis argued that the government’s theory of the case was inherently flawed because it required a sex offender to notify the departure state of any change in location. The Tenth Circuit, however, determined that this was only partially true — sex offenders have a continuing requirement to update their registration, and if the offender does not re-register within three days of departure, the offender has the duty to notify the departing location of his departure.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment.

Colorado Supreme Court: “Actual Notice” Means “Actual Knowledge” Under UMDDA

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. McKimmy on Monday, October 27, 2014.

Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act—Actual Notice.

The Supreme Court clarified the process for invoking one’s rights under the Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Act (UMDDA or Act), CRS §§ 16-14-101 to -108. Even when prisoners do not strictly comply with the UMDDA’s requirements, the Court previously determined that they invoke their rights under the Act if (1) their request substantially complies with the Act’s requirements, and (2) the prosecution receives “actual notice” of their request.

Here, the Court held that, for purposes of substantial compliance under the UMDDA, “actual notice” means “actual knowledge.” Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded the case with instructions to return the case to the trial court for further fact-finding. Specifically, the trial court should determine: (1) when the prosecution gained actual knowledge of defendant’s UMDDA requests in each of his cases, at which point defendant would have effectively invoked his rights under the Act; and (2) whether any UMDDA violations subsequently occurred.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Deported Defendant’s Appeal Not Moot Where He is Not Barred from Reentry

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Calderon on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Probation Revocation—Due Process.

In 2012, defendant pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree trespass of an automobile with the intent to commit a crime. He was sentenced to two years of intensive supervised probation, with ninety days in jail.

A few months later, defendant’s probation officer filed a probation revocation complaint. At the revocation hearing, the officer testified she had never met with defendant because he had been released to jail directly into the custody of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). The district court found that defendant had violated the terms of his probation and resentenced him to two years of intensive supervised probation. Defendant filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied.

On appeal, defendant argued that his due process rights were violated when his probation was revoked based on a violation of a condition of probation. He claimed he did not receive either notice of the probation conditions when he was sentenced to probation, or written notice of those conditions in the revocation complaint. It was undisputed that defendant did not receive written notice of his probation conditions, and there was no evidence that defendant had actual notice of the probation conditions. Therefore, the Court of Appeals reversed the order revoking probation.

The Court further held that defendant was deprived of his due process right to written notice in the revocation complaint of the condition of probation he allegedly violated. Defendant had a due process right and a statutory right to such notice. The orders were reversed and the case was remanded to the district court to reinstate defendant’s original sentence to probation.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Insufficient Findings on Batson Challenge Warranted Reversal

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Beauvais on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Jury Selection—Peremptory Challenge—Batson Challenge.

A jury found Beauvais guilty of one count of stalking under CRS § 18-3-602(1)(c) after she repeatedly called, e-mailed, and sent text messages to a man she met on the Internet. On appeal, she contended that the trial court committed reversible error in the jury selection process, and that CRS § 18-3-602)(1)(c) is unconstitutional.

Beauvais first contended that the trial court clearly erred by failing to sustain her Batson challenge to the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse potential jurors on account of their gender [Batson v. Kentucky, 476, U.S. 79 (1986)]. The record refutes several of the prosecutor’s explanations for excusing potential jurors. The prosecutor did not attempt to excuse several males on the panel that had the same characteristics for which the prosecutor claimed he excused the female jurors. However, the prosecutor also claimed that each of the potential jurors he had excused was either young, sick, or a college student. These justifications are objectively verifiable and could potentially form the basis of a legitimate peremptory challenge. However, the trial court made no findings regarding the potential jurors’ ages or health, and there is nothing in the record to show whether the trial court believed that the prosecutor sought to excuse any of them because they were college students. Because the record was insufficient to determine whether the trial court’s ruling was clearly erroneous, the matter was remanded to the trial court for additional findings.

Beauvais next contended that, on its face, CRS § 18-3-602(1)(c) (the stalking statute)is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. The Colorado Supreme Court and a division of the Court of Appeals have both concluded that a prior substantially identical version of this statute was neither unconstitutionally vague nor overbroad. Therefore, Beauvais’s facial challenge was rejected.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Improper Jury Instruction Amounted to Directed Verdict for Prosecution

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Bertrand on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Sexual Assault—Evidence—CRS §18-3-402(1)(b)—Asleep—Jury Instruction.

Defendant is the cousin of K.B., the alleged victim. K.B. suffered from developmental disabilities, and lived with her parents because she was unable to care for herself. On several occasions while defendant lived with K.B. and her family, defendant got into bed with K.B. and had sexual intercourse with her. K.B. later told her mother that defendant had had sex with her, but that she did not want to have sex with him. The family made a report to police, and a jury ultimately convicted defendant of two counts of sexual assault.

On appeal, defendant contended that there was insufficient evidence to show that K.B. was incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct as required by CRS § 18-3-402(1)(b). K.B. suffered from cognitive difficulties, and she took medication before bedtime that made her groggy and sleepy. The jury could have reasonably inferred from this evidence that she was incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct when defendant was having sex with her. The jury could also have reasonably concluded that defendant knew that K.B. was unable to appraise the nature of her conduct. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient to sustain defendant’s conviction under CRS § 18-3-402(1)(b).

Defendant also contended that one of the jury instructions improperly directed a verdict in favor of the prosecution. The jury instruction stated that “[a] person is incapable of appraising the nature of her conduct when she is asleep or partially asleep during an assault.” The instruction should have stated that a person “may be” incapable.Because the error was not harmless, the conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Two Convictions for Same Incident Violated Rights Against Double Jeopardy

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Frye on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Miranda Rights—Suppression—Jury Question—Double Jeopardy—Controlled Substances—CRS § 18-8-203(1).

Defendant was arrested on outstanding warrants. While she was being booked into the Jefferson County jail, drugs were found on her person. A jury convicted her of multiple charges related to the drugs.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in refusing to suppress her statement that she did not possess any drugs, which she made at the jail before having been advised of her right to remain silent. Although the trial court erred, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt; evidence of defendant’s guilt was overwhelming.

Defendant also contended that the trial court erred in responding to a jury question dealing with an officer’s right to request identification from a passenger during a routine traffic stop. However, there was no reasonable probability that the error contributed to defendant’s conviction, because (1) the evidence of defendant’s guilt was overwhelming; (2) the court instructed the jury that it was not an issue for them to determine; and (3) it did not bolster the officer’s credibility regarding any material issue.

Defendant further contended that one conviction for introducing contraband into a detention facility must be vacated or merged because she could not be convicted twice for introducing two types of drugs at the same time. The search of defendant at the jail revealed methamphetamine, cocaine, and oxycodone. The jury convicted her on two of these counts and acquitted her on one of them, and the trial court imposed concurrent sentences on the two convictions. Because defendant’s entry into the jail occurred at the same time and place, without the influence of any intervening events, her convictions were a violation of her rights against double jeopardy. The case was remanded to vacate one of the convictions.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor’s Improper Statements Did Not Constitute Error

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Castillo on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Initial Aggressor—Self Defense—Jury Instructions—Burden of Proof—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Defendant went to a club in downtown Denver. After leaving the club, he engaged in a confrontation with an unidentified male in a busy parking lot, and police were called. Defendant began driving out of the parking lot, stopped his car, and got a shotgun out of his trunk. He began firing at the unidentified male and shot one of the officers, who had been returning fire at defendant. A jury convicted defendant of two counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of second-degree assault.

Defendant argued that because no evidence supported an initial aggressor instruction, the trial court erred by instructing the jury that he was not entitled to self-defense if he was the initial aggressor. There was conflicting testimony from witnesses as to whether defendant was the initial aggressor. Based on these facts and because the prosecution needed to make only a minimal showing to support an instruction on an exception to self-defense, the trial court did not err in giving the initial aggressor instruction to the jury. Further, the jury instructions as a whole informed the jury that the prosecution had the burden of proving this exception to self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendant argued that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that self-defense is not an affirmative defense if defendant, “with intent to cause bodily injury or death to another person, provoked the use of unlawful physical force by that person.” This instruction should not have been given because there was no evidence to support it. There was no evidence that the error misled the jury, however, so the error was harmless.

Defendant contended that numerous statements made by the prosecutor in closing argument were misleading as to both the facts of this case and the law of self-defense. Some of the prosecutor’s statements regarding the facts and law were improper, but the statements did not constitute reversible error. Moreover, the court instructed the jury that the prosecutor’s arguments were not evidence and that the jury should follow the jury instructions regarding the applicable law. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Applying Novotny to Case Pending on Appeal Not a Retroactive Application

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Maestas on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

Challenge for Cause—Peremptory Challenge—Constitutional Right to Impartial Jury.

A jury found defendant guilty of aggravated robbery, menacing, and eluding police. A division of the Court of Appeals overturned defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial after determining the trial court had erred by denying one of defendant’s for-cause challenges. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for reconsideration in light of its recent decision in People v. Novotny, 2014 CO 18, which held that, where a district court erroneously deprives a defendant of a peremptory challenge, reversal is warranted only where the error was not “harmless under the proper outcome-determinative test.”

The Court first rejected defendant’s contention that applying Novotny retroactively to his case would violate federal and state due process guarantees. Applying Novotny to a case pending on appeal is not a retroactive application of the law and does not offend due process.

The Court agreed with defendant that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his challenges for cause to two prospective jurors, Juror F and Juror H, who indicated they would hold it against defendant if he refused to testify. The trial court denied defendant’s challenges for cause as to Jurors F and H, and defendant used a peremptory challenge to remove Juror H from the jury. Defendant had exhausted his peremptory challenges, so Juror F ultimately served on the jury. Because Juror F, a biased juror, sat on the panel, defendant’s constitutional right to an impartial jury was implicated, and reversal was required. The case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Error in Admission of Other Bad Act Evidence to Prove Intent, Motive, and Opportunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Nance on Tuesday, September 23, 2014.

Jory Nance used peer-to-peer file sharing software to send images of child pornography to an Oklahoma detective. The detective reported Nance to the FBI, who began surveillance on the house where Nance lived with his wife and two young children. When Nance noticed one of the agents, he began deleting files from his laptop and stopped downloading files. He also researched how to reformat his computer. Shortly thereafter, FBI agents seized his computer, which Nance admitted was solely his but falsely claimed had been inoperable for several months.

The FBI conducted a forensic analysis of Nance’s computer and was able to recover over 1,000 deleted images of child pornography. Additionally, the FBI was able to recover names of files with images that were not recoverable, and found that Nance had used his laptop during the period he claimed it was inoperable to access a nudism website. The United States charged Nance with multiple counts of receiving or attempting to receive child pornography. Nance claimed at trial he did not know the images were on his computer, but the jury rejected his defense and convicted him of eight counts of transporting child pornography (related to the files he shared with the detective) and 49 counts of receiving or attempting to receive child pornography. He was sentenced to 64 months in prison followed by five years’ supervised release. He appeals his convictions, arguing (1) the district court erred in admitting evidence of his other bad acts in violation of FRE 404(b)(2); and (2) the evidence was insufficient to prove he attempted to receive child pornography.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed the other bad act evidence. The district court allowed admission of the evidence to prove motive, intent, and opportunity. In making this determination, the district court concluded the probative value of the evidence outweighed the potential for unfair prejudice. The trial court provided a limiting instruction when it was requested. The Tenth Circuit found no error, because the limiting instruction was available and could have been used each time potentially prejudicial evidence was admitted had it been requested. Because defense counsel did not object to the form or content of the limiting instruction, and did not request it each time potentially prejudicial evidence was introduced, the Tenth Circuit found no error.

As to the second claim, Nance asserted the jury could not prove he attempted to receive child pornography because the charges were based on recovered file names without accompanying images. However, the jury did not need to find Nance actually received child pornography — all the jury needed was to find that Nance believed he would receive child pornography. The graphic nature of the file names was enough to prove Nance’s intent.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed all of Nance’s convictions.

Tenth Circuit: Forged Check is Not “Of” Bank Into Which it is Eventually Deposited

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Powell on Monday, September 22, 2014.

Crosby Powell attracted the attention of federal authorities in 2006 when he deposited stolen checks into his accounts at UMB Bank, Wells Fargo, and TCF Bank. An investigation revealed he had altered payee information or forged endorsements on some of the checks. He was subsequently charged with 11 counts of uttering or possessing forged checks and 17 counts of possessing stolen mail. Powell appealed only the 11 counts of uttering or possessing forged checks, arguing for the first time on appeal that the government’s position that the checks were “of” the bank into which they were deposited was a faulty reading of the statute.

The Tenth Circuit agreed with Powell that the checks were not “of” the depositing organization, but his claims were subject to plain error review since they were not raised in district court. Of the 11 counts, 8 were plainly erroneous, since the checks involved in those counts were not issued by federally insured banks operating in interstate commerce. The Tenth Circuit reversed the convictions regarding these 8 checks.

For two of the remaining three counts, the checks were issued by Wells Fargo, which is a federally insured bank operating in interstate commerce, so the Tenth Circuit found no error in Powell’s convictions and affirmed. The final count was based on two checks, one of which was issued by Wells Fargo and one of which was a U.S. Treasury check. Because one of the checks supporting the count was “of” a federally insured bank, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Powell’s conviction on this count.

The case was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Tenth Circuit opinion.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Involuntary Medication Administration Necessary to Render Defendant Competent to Stand Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of Hardesty on Thursday, October 9, 2014.

Involuntary Administration of Medication to Render Defendant Competent to Stand Trial.

Hardesty was sent to the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo (CMHIP) after he was found incompetent to proceed in two criminal cases filed against him. While at CMHIP, Hardesty refused to take antipsychotic medications. The People petitioned to have the medications involuntarily administered to render him competent to proceed in the criminal cases. The district court granted the People’s petition following a hearing in which it made a number of findings by clear and convincing evidence.

On appeal, Hardesty argued that the People failed to establish the legal requirements for administration of medications under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003).The Court of Appeals disagreed.

Under Sell, a court must find the defendant: (1) is facing “serious criminal charges”; (2) the involuntary medication will significantly further the state’s interest in prosecution; (3) administration of the drugs is substantially likely to render the defendant competent to stand trial; (4) administration of the drugs is substantially unlikely to have side effects that will interfere significantly with the defendant’s ability to assist counsel in conducting a trial defense; (5) involuntary medication is necessary to further the identified governmental interests; (6) less intrusive means for administering the drugs must be considered; (7) any alternative, less intrusive treatments are unlikely to achieve substantially the same results; and (8) administration of the drugs is medically appropriate.

Hardesty challenged the first, second, and fifth factors listed above. On the first issue, Hardesty was charged with “[s]hoplifting that resulted in an assault and as a result then [became] a [r]obbery.” The Court held that robbery, as charged here, was a “serious” crime. The Court further concluded that, given the seriousness of the robbery charge, the government had a significant interest in restoring Hardesty to competency so that he could be tried.

Hardesty also argued that no evidence was presented to prove that ordering involuntary medication was necessary to further the state’s interest in prosecution. The lower court found by clear and convincing evidence that Hardesty was unlikely to be restored to competency without the medications. This finding was not clearly erroneous. The order was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.