April 28, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Speedy Trial Deadlines Not Violated by Prosecution’s Requested Continuance

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Mosley v. People on Monday, April 10, 2017.

Criminal Trials—Speedy Trial—Continuances.

The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the Colorado Court of Appeals’ construction of Colorado’s speedy trial statute, C.R.S. § 18-1-405. The court rejected Mosley’s contention that the exclusions of time listed in subsection (6) of the statute apply only to the speedy trial calculation for an initial trial, and not for a new trial following reversal of a conviction on appeal under subsection (2). The court concluded that subsection (1) of the statute establishes the basic right to a speedy trial, and that subsection (2) clarifies that right by identifying the trial court’s receipt of the mandate as the event that triggers the six-month speedy trial period for a new trial following reversal of a conviction on appeal. Because a defendant’s speedy trial right—whether in an initial trial or on retrial—derives from subsection (1), the exclusions of time listed in subsection (6) apply to both an initial trial and a new trial following reversal of a conviction on appeal.

The court further rejected Mosley’s contention that the trial court erred in granting a continuance and extending the speedy trial deadline in this case. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court’s Grant of Continuance Did Not Violate Speedy Trial Act

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Delacruz v. People on Monday, April 10, 2017.

Criminal Trials—Speedy Trial—Continuances.

The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the Colorado Court of Appeals’ construction of Colorado’s speedy trial statute, C.R.S. § 18-1-405. Following Mosley v. People, 2017 15 CO 20, the court rejected Delacruz’s contention that the exclusions of time listed in subsection (6) of the statute apply only to the speedy trial calculation for an initial trial, and not for a new trial following reversal of a conviction on appeal. The court concluded that subsection (1) of the statute establishes the basic right to a speedy trial, and that subsection (2) clarifies that right by identifying the trial court’s receipt of the mandate as the event that triggers the six-month speedy trial period for a new trial following reversal of a conviction on appeal. Because a defendant’s speedy trial right—whether in an initial trial or on retrial—derives from subsection (1), the exclusions of time listed in subsection (6) apply to both an initial trial and a new trial following reversal of a conviction on appeal.

The court further rejected Delacruz’s contention that the trial court erred in granting a continuance and extending the speedy trial deadline in this case. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Competency Evaluation Properly Excluded from Speedy Trial Calculation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Nagi v. People on Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

Criminal Trials—Continuances—Speedy Trial.

Defendant sought review of the Colorado Court of Appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction and sentence for sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. See People v. Nagi, 2014 COA 12. In addition to rejecting his challenge to the legality of his sentence, the court of appeals rejected defendant’s assertion that he was denied his statutory right to a speedy trial, as prescribed by C.R.S. § 18-1-405. Defendant had argued that the district court lacked sufficient grounds to justify ordering a competency evaluation, and that the period during which defendant was under observation or examination was therefore not properly excluded from the calculation of the time within which trial was statutorily required. With one member of the panel dissenting, the appellate court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the evaluation, notwithstanding its reference to defendant’s choice to proceed pro se as at least one of the reasons for questioning his competency, and that the evaluation period was therefore properly excluded and defendant’s statutory speedy trial right was not violated.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lengthy Delay in Postconviction Proceedings Did Not Violate Due Process

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hardin on Thursday, December 1, 2016.

William Hardin was accused of robbing three men and killing two of them. When his 1988 trial concluded, Hardin was convicted of two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of felony murder, and two counts of murder after deliberation. He was sentenced to two consecutive 16-year sentences for the aggravated robbery convictions and two life sentences for the felony murder convictions. He was not sentenced for the murder after deliberation convictions. Hardin appealed and was also granted a limited remand to pursue a Crim. P. 35(c) ineffective assistance claim. Over the next six years, Hardin was appointed a series of private attorneys for his postconviction claim; Hardin repeatedly filed pro se motions expressing frustration with his legal representation and his appointed attorneys’ lack of action on the postconviction claim.

In 1997, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals vacated Hardin’s limited remand and decided his direct appeal. It affirmed Hardin’s convictions but remanded for sentencing on the murder after deliberation convictions and vacate one of the felony murder convictions. That division also concluded that Hardin’s ineffective assistance claims should be decided in a postconviction proceeding. Hardin filed a pro se postconviction proceeding in 1999, which the court denied without a hearing. Another division of the court of appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to hold further proceedings on the postconviction claims. After several more years, Hardin’s current attorney was appointed. Eight years after her appointment, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Hardin’s postconviction claims. The postconviction court denied Hardin’s motion after the hearing, and he appealed.

The court of appeals analyzed whether the excessively lengthy delay in the postconviction proceedings violated Hardin’s due process rights. Hardin argued that he should have been granted a new trial because the delay impaired his ability to present his claims for postconviction relief, as shown by the witnesses’ faded memories and the unavailability of certain records. The court of appeals disagreed with Hardin, but affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of his motion for relief. The court of appeals found that the length of the delay weighed in Hardin’s favor, the reason for the delay was mixed and therefore neutral, the defendant properly asserted his rights, and the delay did not prejudice Hardin. The court found that although some of the witnesses’ memories were dimmed, it was not so significant as to prejudice Hardin. The court emphasized that although it did not find prejudice, the lengthy delay is unacceptable in a legal system designed to provide speedy resolutions to criminal defendants.

The court of appeals next addressed Hardin’s contention that the postconviction court abused its discretion by not making findings of fact or conclusions of law as to whether his trial counsel was inefficient for failing to object to the trifurcation of the aggravated robbery charges. The court found that although the trial court did not directly address this issue, it made factual findings about Hardin’s lack of prejudice on all issues, therefore the trifurcation issue was presumably covered.

The court of appeals affirmed the postconviction court’s denial of Hardin’s motion for relief.

Tenth Circuit: Speedy Trial Objections Must Be Asserted Frequently and Forcefully

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Black on Monday, July 26, 2016.

The government charged multiple defendants, including James Black, with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in late 2007. After withdrawing and reasserting indictments, Black was eventually charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine, using a telephone in committing the conspiracy, and possessing with intent to distribute cocaine in the government’s Fifth Superseding Indictment. A jury convicted Black on all charges and he was sentenced to 360 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Black argued that the trial court plainly erred in calculating his Guidelines range at 360 months to life. The government conceded the error, and the Tenth Circuit agreed. Black should have been sentenced with a total offense level of 34, not 37, reducing his Guidelines range to 262 to 327 months’ imprisonment. The Tenth Circuit remanded for resentencing.

Black also argued that his Sixth Amendment speedy trial rights were violated. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the delays, finding a total delay of 23 and a half months. The Tenth Circuit considered the Barker factors, and found that the length of the delay weighed strongly in Black’s favor. The Tenth Circuit then dissected each delay, attributing portions to Black for the periods of time in which he filed motions or requested continuances and to the government for periods in which they did not vehemently prosecute Black. After carefully considering each time period, the Tenth Circuit determined that the government was responsible for about 7 months of the delay and Black was responsible for about 12 months. The Tenth Circuit next assessed whether the delays were purposeful attempts by the government to strategically position itself and agreed with Black’s concession that they were not. Next, the Tenth Circuit considered whether Black forcefully and frequently asserted his speedy trial rights, and found that only one of his speedy trial assertions was forceful. The Tenth Circuit noted that Black’s counsel’s speedy trial objections were especially weak when he remarked that he was only asserting speedy trial to preserve his previous motion. Finally, the Tenth Circuit found that Black could not show he was prejudiced by the delay. After balancing all the factors, the Tenth Circuit found that the majority weighed in favor of the government.

The Tenth Circuit remanded for resentencing but found no violation of Black’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Tenth Circuit: No Sixth Amendment Violation for Long Delay but Defendant’s Speedy Trial Act Rights were Violated

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Hicks on Friday, March 6, 2015.

Brian Hicks was arrested following a shooting in 2005, and at the time of arrest he was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a loaded .40 caliber Glock magazine. Because of his previous felony convictions, he was not allowed to possess these items, and was charged with one count each of possession of firearms and body armor by a convicted felon. More than a year later, Denver’s Metro Gang Task Force intercepted a call suggesting that Hicks was going to meet a drug dealer to purchase cocaine. After the meeting, police attempted a traffic stop, which turned into a chase. During the chase, Hicks threw a black bag from his car. Police later apprehended Hicks and recovered the bag, which contained several kilograms of cocaine. Hicks was indicted on multiple charges related to conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 2007. The government and Hicks engaged in a years-long period of motions and continuances, and finally on August 1, 2012, the district court ruled that all remaining issues had been resolved and the matter could be set for trial. On August 2, 2012, the government moved for the court to set a trial date. The district court ruled on this motion on September 27, 2012, when it scheduled a status conference and hearing on all pending motions for November 28, 2012. However, on November 15, Hicks filed two motions to dismiss on speedy trial grounds, one based on violation of his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial and one based on violations of the Speedy Trial Act. The district court denied both motions. Hicks eventually pleaded guilty in February 2014, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his speedy trial motions.

The Tenth Circuit first reviewed the denial of Hicks’ Sixth Amendment violation claims. The Tenth Circuit found the length of the delay, five and a half years, was presumptively prejudicial, and turned to the reason for the delay. Most of the delay was attributable to Hicks—he filed over forty unique motions, including several requesting deadline extensions or continuances; he changed counsel several times during the proceedings; and he requested that his federal prosecution be delayed until the conclusion of his state court proceedings. Although some of the delay was attributable to the prosecution, the majority of it was because of Hicks, and this factor weighed against him. Next, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether Hicks asserted his right to a speedy trial, and found that although he first asserted his right in January 2008, he did not renew his assertion until August 2011. This weighed against Hicks also. Finally, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the delay prejudiced Hicks. Because he was already serving a life sentence on different charges, the delay did not cause pre-trial confinement concerns. Hicks also failed to make a particularized showing of increased anxiety from the delay, leaving Hicks to show that the delay “fundamentally hampered his ability to assist in his defense.” Hicks did not make this showing; although he was housed in the administrative segregation unit of the prison, he was generally able to meet with his legal counsel at any time during business hours, and he made numerous motions for continuances and extensions of time. The Tenth Circuit found no Sixth Amendment violation and affirmed the district court’s denial of Hicks’ motion.

Turning next to the Speedy Trial Act claims, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the delay in setting Hicks’ hearing exceeded the Speedy Trial Act’s 70-day limit, and found that it did. The district court issued its order resolving all remaining issues on August 1, 2012, and the Speedy Trial clock started ticking then. It was tolled for thirty days by the prosecution’s motion to set the trial, but the 70 days expired on November 10, 2012, and Hicks’ Speedy Trial Act rights were therefore violated. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of Hicks’ Speedy Trial motion and remanded with orders to vacate his convictions and determine if they should be vacated with or without prejudice.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Speedy Trial Act Implicated when Charges Filed, Dropped, Then Filed Again

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Nelson on Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Rental Vehicle—Speedy Trial—Jury Instructions—Affirmative Defense—Consent—Mistake of Fact.

Defendant rented a vehicle from Mesa Motors, Inc. (Mesa). After using the vehicle for about two months, defendant told Mesa’s owner he wanted to buy the vehicle and agreed to pay any accrued rental charges up to the date of purchase; however, defendant did not pay the purchase price or the unpaid rental charges. Mesa’s owner went to the address defendant had provided him and discovered that defendant no longer lived there. He reported the vehicle stolen and left a message with defendant to that effect, at which point defendant surrendered the vehicle. A jury found defendant guilty of aggravated motor vehicle theft.

On appeal, defendant contended that his statutory right to a speedy trial was violated. The prosecutor dismissed the original charges against defendant and later refiled them. The district court found, with record support, that the prosecutor had not dismissed the charges and refiled them to avoid the statutory six-month deadline. Because defendant’s trial began within six months after he pleaded not guilty to the refiled charges, there was no violation of his statutory right to a speedy trial.

Defendant also contended that his right to a speedy trial under both the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions was violated. The period during which defendant originally faced the charges must be included in considering his constitutional speedy trial claim. Adding the period from the initial filing of the charges to the dismissal of the charges (229 days) to the period from the refiling of the charges to the beginning of trial (189 days) equals more than one year, a presumptively prejudicial length of time. However, because defendant failed to establish any significant prejudice by the delay, he was not denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial.

Defendant further argued that the court erred in denying his two jury instructions on purported affirmative defenses: consent and mistake of fact. Though consent and mistake of fact can be affirmative defenses (depending on the elements of the charged crime), they were not affirmative defenses in this case because defendant denied committing the crime. Therefore, although defendant was free to argue that the evidence of consent and mistake of fact showed that he had not deceived the victim, he was not entitled to separate instructions on those defenses characterizing them as affirmative defenses, which the prosecution was required to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt. The judgment was affirmed.

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

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.

Tenth Circuit: No Speedy Trial Violation for Continuances Requested by Defendants

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Banks on Monday, August 4, 2014.

Defendants Banks, Barnes, Harper, Stewart, Walker, and Zirpolo operated or were associated with the entities Leading Team, Inc. (LT) and DKH, Inc. (DKH). In 2003, Defendants stopped operating LT and began operating a third entity, IRP Solutions Corporation (IRP). IRP was formed to develop computer software, and one of its software offerings was purportedly designed for sale to law enforcement to develop a nationwide database for law enforcement.

Beginning in about October 2002, Defendants began contacting various staffing agencies and soliciting payrolling services, in which the staffing agency would hire and pay Defendant’s choice of employee and then Defendant would repay the staffing agencies, plus a small increase for profit for the staffing agency. In order to convince the staffing agencies to agree to the payrolling services, Defendants claimed that their law enforcement database software was on the verge of being sold to the Department of Justice and several law enforcement agencies. Over the course of several years, Defendants received over $5 million in staffing payments from 42 different staffing companies that they did not repay.

Defendants were indicted in June 2009, and in 2011 they were convicted after a jury trial of several counts of wire fraud and mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud, and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment ranging from 87 months to 135 months. They appealed, asserting four issues: (1) their speedy trial right was violated when the district court granted four continuances at Defendants’ request; (2) the district court compelled co-defendant Barnes to testify in violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination; (3) the district court abused its discretion by excluding the testimony of two of Defendants’ potential witnesses; and (4) the cumulative effect of the court’s otherwise harmless errors necessitated reversal.

The Tenth Circuit first examined the speedy trial claim. Four different times, Defendants requested continuances from the district court. Defendants asserted that, due to the prolonged investigation beginning in 2004, discovery in the case was voluminous (totaling over 20,000 pages of documents), and they would not be able to adequately prepare for trial without the continuances. Each time, the district court examined the circumstances and issued findings that the ends of justice served by granting the continuance outweighed the public’s and Defendants’ interest in the speedy trial. Although the total continuance time was quite long, the Tenth Circuit determined no error in the district court’s decisions, finding instead that the unique circumstances of this case, including the high volume of discovery materials and potential witnesses, supported the district court’s decisions to grant continuances. Further, the Tenth Circuit noted that each continuance was requested by Defendants, and they could not assert prejudice from delays they requested.

Next, the Tenth Circuit turned to Defendants’ claim that Barnes was compelled to testify in violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and the district court declined to give a curative instruction to satisfy the Sixth Amendment. The Tenth Circuit found that although the district court requested the defense to call a witness, Barnes was not the only witness available to testify at that time, and he testified voluntarily at the behest of his co-defendants. Further, when offered a curative instruction, Barnes declined. The Tenth Circuit found no error in the actions of the district court.

As to the third claim regarding the district court’s denial of testimony by the two defense witnesses, the Tenth Circuit again found no error. The district court denied the testimony because Defendants failed to disclose the witnesses in violation of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 and Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Although Defendants concede that they violated Rule 16 and FRE 702, they argue that the record reflects their efforts were made in good faith and the court’s chosen remedy of exclusion violated precedent. The Tenth Circuit rejected these claims. The district court had allowed testimony similar to that proffered from the two rejected witnesses, and concluded that the testimony of those two witnesses would be cumulative. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion in this action.

Finally, the Tenth Circuit addressed Defendants’ argument that the effect of the harmless errors in their case caused cumulative error requiring reversal. The Tenth Circuit rejected this claim, noting that Defendants failed to show any error, much less error requiring reversal.

The district court’s judgment was affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Time Spent in Interlocutory Appeal Properly Excluded from Speedy Trial Time Period

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Curren on Thursday, May 8, 2014.

Interlocutory Appeal—Speedy Trial—Attorney–Client Privilege—Waiver—Rebuttal Witness.

In 2002, defendant was charged with two counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of felony murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery, and two counts of aggravated robbery. The jury convicted defendant on the two felony murder counts and one count of aggravated robbery. However, defendant’s convictions were vacated, and he was granted a new trial because his trial attorney had represented him while having an actual conflict of interest. The prosecution filed an appeal to challenge this ruling, which tolled the speedy trial period. The appeal was denied, and the jury convicted defendant of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.

On appeal, defendant asserted that the trial court violated his statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial. For purposes of CRS § 18-1-405(6)(b), an appeal attacking a dismissal of one or more counts is considered interlocutory and the period of delay attributable to the appeal is properly excluded from the speedy trial period. Here, the prosecution’s appeal was not frivolous and addressed whether the post-conviction court properly vacated defendant’s convictions for first-degree murder and aggravated robbery. Further, nothing in Crim.P. 35(c)(3)(V) requires the prosecution to seek a stay to toll the speedy trial period. Finally, defendant suffered no prejudice from the delay. Therefore, the speedy trial period was tolled during the prosecution’s appeal, and defendant’s statutory and constitutional speedy trial rights were not violated.

Defendant next asserted that the trial court violated his rights to remain silent, to testify, to counsel, and to attorney–client privilege by allowing the prosecution to call his first trial attorney to testify against him at his second trial. Here, defendant waived the attorney–client privilege by testifying about his communications with his previous counsel, which opened the door to rebuttal testimony regarding that representation. The prosecution called defendant’s previous counsel to testify as a rebuttal witness to refute certain parts of defendant’s testimony in his case-in-chief. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing defendant’s first trial attorney to testify against him as a rebuttal witness at his second trial.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant Must Point to Something in Record to Show Prejudice from Visible Shackles

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hoang v. People on Monday, April 21, 2014.

Shackling—Meaningful and Speedy Appeal.

In this appeal, the Supreme Court considered (1) whether shackling a defendant at trial in a manner not plainly visible to the jury violates a defendant’s due process right; and (2) whether delays and deficiencies in the record on appeal violate a defendant’s rights to a meaningful and a speedy appeal. The Court held that when the record does not show that restraints were plainly visible, the defendant must point to something in the record justifying an appellate court’s reasonable inference that at least one juror saw or heard them; if a defendant fails to meet that burden, then the constitutional harmless error standard announced in Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622 (2005), does not apply. The Court held that defendant was not deprived of his due process rights to a meaningful and a speedy appeal because he was not prejudiced by deficiencies in the record or by the delay. The Court relied on a modified version of the speedy trial factors in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), as the analytical framework for evaluating whether there has been a due process violation. The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

Colorado Supreme Court: Balancing Test Applied to Determine if Defendant’s Right to Counsel of Choice Outweighed Public Interest

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Brown on Monday, April 7, 2014.

Motion to Continue—Right to Counsel of Choice.

The Supreme Court considered the balance between a defendant’s Sixth Amendment constitutional right to his or her counsel of choice and the public’s interest in the fairness and efficiency of the judicial system. The Court held that when deciding whether to grant a continuance to allow a defendant to change counsel, the trial court must conduct a multi-factor balancing test and determine whether the public’s interest in the efficiency and integrity of the judicial system outweighs the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel of choice. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was reversed and the case was remanded to the trial court for additional findings and conclusions.

Summary and full case available here.