December 11, 2018

Archives for August 2, 2015

Colorado Court of Appeals: Scope of Police Officer’s Testimony Within Knowledge of Average Computer User

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Froehler on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Child Pornography—Lay Testimony—Personal Observations—Specialized Knowledge.

Froehler accidently left a flash drive on a public business computer at a hotel. The flash drive was recovered by two hotel guests, who opened it and found that some of the files contained child pornography. They turned over the flash drive to hotel security, who contacted police. A jury found Froehler guilty of sexual exploitation of a child.

On appeal, Froehler contended that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the detective who investigated the case to give improper lay testimony. The detective testified about her personal observations of the dates the files on the flash drive were created and modified. Admission of the detective’s lay testimony was proper under CRE 701 because the method she used to view the dates did not require any specialized knowledge or familiarity with computers beyond that of the average lay person. The detective’s testimony about the ImageScan software program used to search Froehler’s home computers, however, was improperly admitted as lay testimony because this testimony did require specialized knowledge about the software. Nevertheless, its admission was harmless because no child pornography had been found on Froehler’s home computers and this evidence had no direct bearing on whether Froehler “knowingly possessed” the child pornography on the flash drive. The judgment was affirmed.

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

Colorado Court of Appeals: Affirmative Self-Defense Instruction Available for All General Intent Crimes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. DeGreat on Thursday, July 30, 2015.

Self-Defense—Robbery—Jury Instruction—Peremptory Challenge—BatsonChallenge.

DeGreat’s criminal charges arose from an altercation with a taxi cab driver over the fare, which culminated in DeGreat stabbing and wounding the driver. DeGreat defended on a theory of self-defense. The jury found DeGreat guilty of aggravated robbery and a related crime of violence count.

On appeal, DeGreat contended that, given the unique facts presented, he was entitled to a jury instruction on self-defense as an affirmative defense to aggravated robbery. A person may use physical force to defend himself from what “he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force” by another person. Here, evidence was presented that supported an affirmative self-defense instruction, and DeGreat successfully defended against attempted murder and first-degree assault charges on that basis. Because the robbery was intertwined with the assault, the jury could have concluded that DeGreat had the right to defend himself. The refusal to give the self-defense instruction for the charge of aggravated robbery lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof and was not harmless. Therefore, DeGreat’s aggravated robbery conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

DeGreat also contended that the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenge to the prosecutor’s use of a peremptory challenge to remove Juror M, an African American, from the panel [Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986)]. In light of the prosecutor’s stated basis for the strike, which was Juror M’s reaction to self-defense questioning, the trial court did not err in finding the prosecution offered a good faith, race-neutral basis for its peremptory challenge.

DeGreat contended that the trial court plainly erred in failing to sua sponte strike testimony that DeGreat had been offered a plea bargain. DeGreat’s attorney did not make a contemporaneous objection to this testimony. Because no binding precedent clearly precludes evidence regarding plea offers, the trial court could not have been expected to sua sponte strike such unsolicited testimony.

DeGreat contended that the trial court erred in admitting recorded phone calls he placed from jail in which he attempted to solicit the victim not to appear for trial. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in phone calls placed from jail. Furthermore, the wiretapping statute does not apply to inmate phone calls placed from jail. Thus, the trial court did not err in admitting the jailhouse phone calls.

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

Tenth Circuit: Sole Shareholders Should Not Be Discouraged from Infusing Capital Into Failing Businesses

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Alternate Fuels, Inc.: Redmond v. Jenkins on Friday, June 12, 2015.

Alternative Fuels, Inc. (AFI) is a Kansas corporation that formerly engaged in surface coal mining operations in Missouri. AFI filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Kansas in 1992 and briefly continued operations while its bankruptcy was pending. John Warmack acquired 100% of AFI’s stock and formed Cimarron Energy Co. to continue the mining operations for which AFI still held permits. Mr. Warmack provided the State of Missouri with new reclamation bonds to assure that AFI would reclaim the mining land when its mining operations were finished. The bonds were secured with 24 certificates of deposit, worth approximately $1.4 million.

Mr. Warmack finished mining in 1999 and entered into an agreement with Mr. Jenkins where Mr. Jenkins would fulfill the reclamation obligations and obtain the proceeds of the 24 certificates of deposit and Cimarron’s remaining mining equipment. Mr. Jenkins paid Mr. Warmack $549,250 in exchange for 100% of AFI’s stock and 99% of Cimarron’s stock, certain equipment owned by Cimarron, and the 24 certificates of deposit. On the same day, AFI executed a promissory note for $500,000 to Mr. Jenkins. AFI executed three promissory notes to Mr. Jenkins altogether—two for $500,000 and one for $1,000,000. In 2002, AFI filed a lawsuit against certain state officers and employees, alleging tortious interference with the reclamation efforts. AFI assigned $3,000,000 of its potential recovery to Mr. Jenkins.

Judgment entered for AFI in the tort suit for $6.4 million, which, following an appeal and payment of attorney fees and costs, resulted in a recovery of about $5 million. AFI’s creditors began making claims against the proceeds, and in 2009 AFI applied for help from the bankruptcy court in distributing the funds. Mr. Jenkins filed a proof of claim against AFI’s estate for about $4.3 million. Exercising discretion and applying the Tenth Circuit test for recharacterization, the bankruptcy court recharacterized the transfers evidenced by the promissory notes as equity infusions and found he no longer held a claim secured by the alleged assignment of the suit proceeds. The bankruptcy court held in the alternative that Mr. Jenkins failed to provide sufficient documentation to prove the amount of his claim, and additionally held in the alternative that equitable subordination would be appropriate since Mr. Jenkins had acted inequitably to the detriment of AFI’s creditors and his claim should be subordinated to the level of an unsecured creditor. Mr. Jenkins appealed. The Tenth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, and Mr. Jenkins again appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first rejected Mr. Jenkins’ argument that two recent Supreme Court decisions overruled Tenth Circuit precedent in In re Hedged Investments. The two cases relied on by Mr. Jenkins dealt with disallowance, not recharacterization, so the Tenth Circuit found the 13-step Hedged Investments recharacterization test applied. The bankruptcy court found three steps superficially supported treating Mr. Jenkins’ advances as loans: the names given to the certificates evidencing indebtedness, no increased participation in management as a result of the advances, and the extent to which the advances were used to acquire capital assets. The Tenth Circuit agreed that these three steps supported treating the advances as loans, but averred they did so more than superficially.

The Tenth Circuit found little support for the bankruptcy court’s determination that other factors necessitated recharacterization. It discounted the bankruptcy court’s decision that the ninth factor, the identity of interest between creditor and shareholder, pointed to recharacterization, finding that because there was only one shareholder this factor did not apply. As for the second factor, the presence or absence of a fixed maturity date, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the court’s finding that the notes lacked a maturity date, finding instead they each required full payment after five years. The fact that Mr. Jenkins did not seek repayment did not render the requirement meaningless. Concerning the eighth factor, recapitalization, the Tenth Circuit found that placing too much emphasis on the factor could discourage investors from funding “rescue efforts” for failing businesses. As to the seventh factor, the intent of the parties, the Tenth Circuit found the parties intended the capital contributions to be treated as loans. The Tenth Circuit balanced the remaining factors and decided the bulk of the Hedged Investments factors weighed against recharacterization. The Tenth Circuit painted a picture of Mr. Jenkins as a sole shareholder loaning money to a failing business in hopes of keeping it afloat.

The Tenth Circuit similarly rejected the bankruptcy court’s alternative holding discharging Mr. Jenkins’ claim because he failed to meet his burden of persuasion as to amount. The Tenth Circuit found the copies of the three promissory notes proved his claim amount. The Tenth Circuit also declined to accept the bankruptcy court’s determination that if Mr. Jenkins’ claim were allowed to proceed it should be equitably subordinated. The Tenth Circuit noted that equitable subordination is an extraordinary remedy that should be employed sparingly and only if three factors are present: inequitable conduct, injury to the other creditors, and consistency with the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code. The Tenth Circuit further noted that the inequitable conduct warranting subordination must be egregious, tantamount to fraud, or involving moral turpitude. The Tenth Circuit found no such conduct from Mr. Jenkins.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the bankruptcy court’s judgment, finding neither recharacterization nor equitable subordination appropriate to Mr. Jenkins’ claims. Judge Phillips wrote a thoughtful and detailed dissent.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/31/2015

On Friday, July 31, 2015, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued four published opinions and three unpublished opinions.

Didier v. Abbott Laboratories

Moore v. Hartley

General Steel Domestic Sales v. Chumley

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.