May 22, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Obvious Error in Trial Court’s Restitution Calculation Did Not Seriously Affect Fairness or Integrity of Judicial Proceeding

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Butcher on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Restitution—Post-Judgment Interest—Crim. P. 52(b)—Plain Error.

A jury convicted Butcher of two counts of securities fraud and two counts of theft from at-risk adults, and he was ordered to pay restitution.

On appeal, Butcher argued that the trial court erred in its award of prejudgment and post-judgment interest in its amended restitution order. The court of appeals reviewed the appeal for plain error and found that the trial court erred by calculating post-judgment interest from the date of conviction rather than from the date of the operative restitution order. However, although this error was obvious, it did not seriously affect the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

The court exercised its discretion under Crim. P. 52(b) and affirmed the order.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant May Challenge Unrevoked Deferred Judgment under Crim. P. 32(d)

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Figueroa-Lemus on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Deferred Judgment—Crim. P. 32(d)—Jurisdiction—Immigration Consequences—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Withdrawal of Plea.

As relevant to this appeal, defendant pleaded guilty to possession of a schedule II controlled substance. The parties stipulated to a two-year deferred judgment. The court accepted the deferred judgment and sentenced defendant to two years of probation. About five months later, defendant filed a Crim. P. 32(d) motion to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that his counsel failed to advise him of the clear immigration consequences of the plea and claiming that if he had been properly advised, he would have rejected the offer. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion.

On appeal, the People argued that the court of appeals did not have jurisdiction to review the trial court’s order because the motion challenged a non-final judgment. Although a deferred judgment may not be subjected to either Crim. P. 35 or direct review while it is still in effect, a defendant may challenge an unrevoked deferred judgment under Crim. P. 32(d). Further, the Court had jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea because that motion challenged a deferred judgment still in effect.

Defendant argued that his guilty plea was not made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently because his counsel never informed him of the clear immigration consequences of the plea. Here, the record supports the district court’s finding that defendant’s criminal attorney and immigration attorney both told defendant on multiple occasions that a guilty plea to a drug felony would result in deportation. Because counsel’s performance was not deficient, the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the Crim. P. 32(d) motion.

Defendant also argued that counsel should have advised him that he would be held in custody during the removal proceeding. The court found no authority that would require counsel to give this advice, and defendant failed to explain how such an advisement would have affected his decision to accept the plea offer.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Amendment to Information Narrowing Date Range Did Not Affect Defendant’s Substantial Rights

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Washam on Monday, March 19, 2018.

Crim. P. 7(e)—Time-Allegation Amendments.

In this case, the supreme court considered whether an amendment to an information narrowing the date range after trial began was permissible under Crim. P. 7(e). To do so, as required under Rule 7(e), the court analyzed whether the amendment was one of form or substance and whether it prejudiced defendant’s substantial rights. Because the amendment simply narrowed the date range in the information and did not prejudice defendant’s substantial rights, the court concluded that the amendment was one of form and was permissible after trial began. Hence, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting the amendment to the information.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Must be Prosecuted Under Specific Statute for Theft of Food Stamps

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Rojas on Thursday, February 22, 2018.

Criminal Law—Theft—Colorado Public Assistance Act—Food Stamps—Fraudulent Acts.

Rojas received food stamps. When requesting an extension of food stamp benefits, Rojas reported that she had no employment income, although she had been hired as a restaurant manager. While continuing to work as a restaurant manager, Rojas received $5,632 worth of food stamps to which she was not entitled. Rojas was found guilty of two counts under the general theft statute, CRS 18-4-401, and one count under CRS 26-2-305(1)(a), which criminalizes failing to report a change in financial circumstances that affects that participant’s eligibility for food stamps.

On appeal, Rojas challenged the trial court’s denial of her motion to dismiss the general theft counts. She argued that the trial court erred in finding that she could be prosecuted for theft of food stamps under the general theft statute. The prosecution is barred from prosecuting under a general criminal statute when the legislature evinces a clear intent to limit prosecution to a more specific statute. CRS 26-2-305(1)(a) creates a more specific criminal offense, theft of food stamps by a fraudulent act, than the general theft statute, and the General Assembly intended it to supplant the general theft statute.

The convictions under the general theft statute were vacated.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Prosecution’s Withholding of Evidence was Brady Violation and Sanctions Warranted

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Bueno on Monday, January 22, 2018.

Motion for New Trial—Evidence.

In this case, the Colorado Supreme Court considered two questions. The first is whether a Crim. P. 33(c) motion for a new trial is time-barred because it was filed more than one year after the defendant’s conviction, and thus arguably more than one year after “entry of judgment.” The second is whether the trial court erred in granting a new trial after concluding that the prosecution violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to provide to the defense evidence that the prosecution had obtained at the outset of the investigation until after defendant’s conviction. The court held that “entry of judgment,” for the purposes of Rule 33(c), does not occur until both a verdict or finding of guilt and the imposition of a sentence. The court concluded that, applying Brady’s disclosure requirements, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in granting a motion for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Parties Cannot Waive Statutory Time Period for Record Sealing

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

Plea Agreement—Menacing—Consumption of Marijuana—Possession of Drug Paraphernalia—Consumption of Alcohol—Deferred Judgment—Petition to Seal—Statutory Waiting Period.

In 2014, Robertson was charged in three separate cases with (1) misdemeanor menacing; (2) consumption of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia; and (3) consumption and possession of alcohol by a person under 21. Robertson entered into a global plea agreement whereby he pleaded guilty to the menacing charge and received a deferred judgment lasting one year, the drug and alcohol cases were dismissed, and Robertson was permitted to seal the records of all three cases. After Robertson completed the deferred judgment, his guilty plea was withdrawn and the case was dismissed. He petitioned the court to seal the records in all three cases, which the court granted.

On appeal, the prosecution contended that the district court erred by granting Robertson’s petitions to seal the records in the drug and alcohol cases because C.R.S. § 24-72-702(1)(a)(III)(A) prohibits such sealing until at least 10 years have passed. Where a statute prohibits a court from sealing criminal records until 10 years have passed since the disposition of the criminal proceedings, as in this case, the parties may not waive this requirement and authorize the court to seal the records earlier. Therefore, the district court lacked authority to seal the criminal records in the drug and alcohol cases. The records in the menacing case, however, were eligible for sealing because that case was completely dismissed after Robertson completed the deferred judgment. However, the existing record in the menacing case was not sufficient to support the order.

The orders in the drug and alcohol cases were vacated. The order in the menacing case was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Surety Erroneously Required to Return Part of Bond

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

Bond—Refund—C.R.S. §16-4-110(1)(d).

Defendant was charged with and arrested for allegedly murdering his wife. The district court set a $500,000 bond. Defendant posted bond through Perna by paying a $25,000 premium. Thereafter, defendant cooperated with all court orders and appeared at all hearings. Fourteen months later, just before defendant’s trial was to begin, Perna moved to surrender defendant back into the custody of the court. The court granted the motion. Defendant spent several days in jail while his family secured a second bond and paid another $25,000 premium to a different surety to secure defendant’s release. Defendant was ultimately acquitted. Defendant moved for return of the premium he had paid to Perna, which the court partially granted, ordering Perna to return $11,031.25 to defendant.

On appeal, Perna contended that the district court erred by ordering that he refund a portion of the bond premium to defendant. Under C.R.S. § 16-4-110(1)(d), a court may order return of all or part of the premium defendant paid to prevent unjust enrichment only if the surrender occurred before the defendant’s initial appearance. Here, Perna surrendered defendant to the court 14 months after the court process began, well after defendant’s initial appearance. Accordingly, the court was without the authority to order Perna to refund all or part of defendant’s premium.

The order was vacated.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Predicate Offense Must Be Felony at Time of Current Offense for Habitual Offender Designation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Kadell on Thursday, October 5, 2017.

Habitual Criminal—Sufficiency of Evidence—Prior Felony Conviction—Collateral Attack—Excusable Neglect—Extended Proportionality Review.

A jury convicted Kadell of six counts of robbery and one count of aggravated motor vehicle theft, each of which is a class 4 felony. The prosecution filed habitual criminal counts, and Kadell moved to suppress his prior felony convictions as a way to collaterally attack those convictions. The motion was untimely, but Kadell argued that his failure to timely file was the result of excusable neglect. The trial court did not rule on the excusable neglect claim. Before sentencing, the trial court adjudicated Kadell a habitual criminal based on three prior felony convictions, including, as relevant here, one in 1997 for attempted cultivation of marijuana. In accordance with the habitual criminal statute, the trial court imposed a 24-year sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections, four times the presumptive maximum sentence for a class 4 felony.

On appeal, Kadell contended that the trial court erred in imposing a sentence under the habitual criminal statute because there was insufficient evidence that he was convicted of three qualifying felonies before his current convictions. He argued that his 1997 conviction for attempted cultivation of marijuana did not count as a felony under the habitual criminal statute because when he committed his offenses in this case, attempted cultivation of marijuana was no longer a felony in Colorado unless the defendant possessed more than six plants, and the trial court had no evidence of how many plants were involved in the 1997 conviction. As a matter of first impression, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that for a prior drug felony conviction to qualify as a predicate offense under the habitual criminal statute, the prosecution must prove that the prior offense of conviction remained a felony under Colorado law at the time the defendant committed the new offense, even when the prior conviction was entered in Colorado. The prosecution did not present sufficient evidence of this fact at Kadell’s sentencing hearing.

Kadell next argued that the trial court erred by finding that his failure to timely file a collateral attack on his prior convictions was not the result of excusable neglect. The issue of excusable neglect is a question of fact to be resolved first by the trial court. The record does not reflect that the trial court ruled on Kadell’s excusable neglect claim.

Kadell further sought an extended proportionality review of his sentence. This argument is moot at this juncture.

The sentence was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: District Court Erred in Calculating Defendant’s Presentence Confinement Credit

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Jim on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Sentencing—Presentence Confinement Credit—Residential Community Corrections Placement.

Defendant was sentenced to 18 months in community corrections. He escaped two months after reporting to community corrections. Following his arrest, the district court resentenced him to 18 months in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC), and he was given 67 days of presentence confinement credit (PSCC) for the time he was confined in the county jail before his initial sentencing and 23 days of PSCC for the time he spent in jail between his arrest and resentencing. The court denied defendant’s request for PSCC related to the time he spent in community corrections because he had escaped.

On appeal, defendant contended and the People conceded that the court erred by not awarding him PSCC for the time he spent in the residential community corrections program. Time spent by a defendant in jail, in a DOC facility, or as a resident in a community corrections facility constitutes confinement under C.R.S. § 18-1.3-405, because those facilities limit an individual’s liberty. Thus, when a defendant is resentenced to DOC custody after revocation of a direct sentence to community corrections, he is entitled to credit for time served in a residential community corrections placement. Here, defendant is entitled to 62 days of PSCC for the 62 days he spent in a residential community correction placement. Further, his escape from community corrections did not negate his right to PSCC because C.R.S. §18-1.3-301(1)(k) does not apply to PSCC awards.

The order was reversed and the was case remanded for the district court to correct the mittimus to reflect that defendant is entitled to a total of 152 days of PSCC.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Not Required to Impose Consecutive Sentences for Attempted Murder Counts

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Espinoza on Thursday, September 21, 2017.

Arson—Attempted Murder—Custody—Motion to Suppress—Consecutive Sentences—Identical Evidence—Crime of Violence—Concurrent Sentences—Discretion.

Espinoza set fire to an apartment complex. As part of the investigation, police transported Espinoza to the police station, where he waited for several hours before being interviewed. Police ended the interview when Espinoza invoked his right to counsel. Espinoza filed a motion to suppress his statements from the videotaped interview with police, alleging that he was in custody and police failed to give him Miranda warnings. The trial court denied the motion. A jury found Espinoza guilty of 10 counts of attempted murder, 23 counts of first degree arson, 10 crime of violence counts, and multiple misdemeanors.

On appeal, Espinoza contended that the trial court failed to consider several factors in finding that he was not in custody at the police station, including the several-hour wait in the interview room, the presence of two armed detectives during the interview, and the confrontational question near the end of the interview. The record showed that Espinoza agreed to speak with the detectives, consented to a pat-down search, and rode unrestrained to the police station. The detectives told Espinoza that he was not under arrest and was free to leave, Espinoza was not physically restrained, and the tone of the interview was conversational. The trial court’s detailed factual findings, supported by the record, show that Espinoza was not in custody when interviewed by the detectives.

Espinoza next contended that the trial court misapprehended the applicable law when it ruled that it was required to impose consecutive sentences for his attempted first degree murder convictions. Despite naming different victims, Espinoza’s 10 attempted murder convictions were supported by identical evidence because the same evidence (the single act of fire-setting) formed the basis of each conviction. The court of appeals held that separately named victims do not create separate crimes of violence under C.R.S. § 18-1.3-406(1)(a) when identical evidence supports each conviction, and in such circumstances, a court has discretion to impose concurrent sentences under C.R.S. § 18-1-408(3). Here, the trial court imposed consecutive sentences under the mistaken belief that it had no discretion to impose concurrent sentences.

The judgments of conviction were affirmed. The sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded for resentencing.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Statute of Limitations Tolled While Defendant Incarcerated in Minnesota

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

Sexual Assault—Child—Statute of Limitations—Tolling—Out-of-State.

In 1995, Butler was convicted in Colorado and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for sexually assaulting a child. In 1999, the Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) placed Butler in a Minnesota prison, where he served the remainder of his Colorado sentence until he was released in 2006. A month after his release, Butler attempted to contact L.W., prompting L.W. to report abuse he had allegedly suffered as a child between January 1992 and May 1995. Charges were then brought against Butler in the present case based on L.W.’s allegations of sexual assault, and he was convicted. Butler filed a Crim. P. 35(c) motion asserting that the charges were barred by the applicable 10-year statute of limitations. The postconviction court denied Butler’s motion based on tolling of Colorado’s limitations period while Butler was incarcerated and thus “absent from the state of Colorado.” Butler did not raise the statute of limitations argument on direct appeal.

The people initially contended that Butler was barred from pursuing his statute of limitations claim in a postconviction proceeding under the abuse of process rule. However, under an exception to the abuse of process rule, any claim that the sentencing court lacked subject matter jurisdiction may be pursued in a postconviction proceeding. Consequently, Butler’s claim was not barred.

On appeal, Butler contended that the postconviction court erred in ruling that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction for purposes of the statute of limitations’ tolling provision because he was absent from Colorado while he was incarcerated in Minnesota for his prior Colorado convictions. The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that a defendant is “absent” from Colorado for statute of limitations purposes when he has been transferred by the DOC to an out-of-state facility to serve out the remainder of a Colorado sentence. Consequently, the applicable 10-year limitations period was tolled while Butler was in Minnesota. Additionally, under the circumstances here, the prosecution’s failure to plead Butler’s absence from the state did not deprive the court of jurisdiction to proceed.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Criminal Mischief is Not Lesser Included Offense of First Degree Arson

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Welborne on Thursday, August 10, 2017.

First Degree Arson—Criminal Mischief—Lesser Included Offense—Res Gestae Evidence—Impeachment—CRE 608(b)—Witness Disclosure.

Welborne and his mother set fire to the house in which they lived and filed false insurance claims based on the fire. Welborne was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for arson, six years for criminal mischief, six years for attempted theft, and eight years for theft—all to be served concurrently.

On appeal, Welborne contended that the trial court erred by admitting evidence of his earlier insurance claims to the same company. The prior false insurance claims involved the same company, related to a material fact, and were logically relevant to the charges. Evidence of Welborne’s false but fruitful insurance claims was highly probative of whether he acted to deceive the same insurance company with the intent to permanently deprive it of money. The trial court instructed the jury on the limited purposes of the evidence. The evidence was properly admitted under CRE 404(b) and as res gestae evidence.

Welborne further contended that the trial court committed reversible error by permitting the prosecutor to impeach him with his California theft conviction. The trial court acted within its discretion in admitting evidence of Welborne’s prior theft offense under Rule 608(b) as probative of truthfulness or dishonesty. Although the prosecutor presented evidence of the conviction rather than the underlying facts, any error was harmless.

Welborne also argued that the trial court erred by barring him from calling a witness to impeach the testimony of his former girlfriend. Disclosure of this witness was not timely, and Welborne’s offer of proof did not show that the testimony was admissible or that the witness would impeach the girlfriend’s testimony that Welborne had started the fire.

Finally, Welborne contended that criminal mischief is an included offense of first degree arson and, therefore, those convictions must merge. Because criminal mischief requires proof that the acts were committed in a single criminal episode, while first degree arson does not, criminal mischief is not an included offense of first degree arson.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.