July 22, 2019

Archives for February 15, 2016

Hon. Marilyn Antrim and Hon. Richard Caschette to Retire from 18th Judicial District Court

On Friday, February 12, 2016, the Colorado State Judicial Branch announced the retirements of Hon. Marilyn L. Antrim and Hon. Richard Caschette, effective July 1, 2016.

Hon. Marilyn L. Antrim was appointed to the Eighteenth Judicial District Court in 2003. She hears a docket of criminal, civil, and domestic cases. Prior to her appointment, she had been a magistrate in Jefferson County Court since 1996, and prior to that was in private practice with the firm of Kissinger & Fellman, PC. She is on the board of the First Judicial District Bar Association and has held several offices, including president, in the District Judges Association.

Hon. Richard Caschette was appointed to the Eighteenth Judicial District Court in 2008, where he hears a docket of domestic relations and civil cases. Prior to his appointment, he was in private practice, where he handled complex business litigation, securities and health care fraud, professional malpractice, products liability, employment, and white collar criminal defense. Judge Caschette is a member of the CBA Litigation Section and frequently speaks at domestic relations and civil law conferences.

Applications are now being accepted for the vacancies on the Eighteenth Judicial District Court. Eligible applicants must be qualified electors of the Eighteenth Judicial District and must have been admitted to practice law in Colorado for five years. Application forms are available from the Colorado State Judicial Branch or the ex officio chair of the Eighteenth Judicial District Nominating Commission, Justice Allison Eid. Applications must be received no later than 4 p.m. on March 16, 2016, and anyone wishing to nominate another must do so no later than 4 p.m. on March 9, 2016.

For more information about the vacancy, click here.

Tenth Circuit: Excessive Force Claim Does Not Require Showing of More than De Minimus Injury

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Rodella on Wednesday, November 4, 2015.

Michael Tafoya was driving home from his grandfather’s house in rural Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, when a green Jeep began tailgating him and flashing its headlights. Tafoya stepped on his brakes to try to get the Jeep to back off, and flipped off the driver of the Jeep through his back window, but the Jeep continued to tailgate him. Eventually, he found a place to pull over and allowed the Jeep to pass. When it sped past him, Tafoya again flipped off the driver. The Jeep slammed on its brakes and rapidly reversed back to where Tafoya was stopped. Two men got out of the Jeep: defendant Thomas Rodella, who was the passenger, and his son, Thomas Rodella Jr., who was the driver. The two men approached Tafoya and urged him to “come on.” Although Rodella was the acting sheriff of Rio Arriba County, at no point did he identify himself as a law enforcement officer.

Tafoya, believing the men wanted to fight him, sped off, followed by the Jeep. Tafoya became scared and began driving 60 to 65 miles per hour down the road, despite the 35 mph posted speed limit. He tried to plan a route to reverse his course but missed his turn. Panicked, he yelled out the window at a passing jogger to call the police. Tafoya turned into a nearby driveway, and the Jeep quickly followed. Tafoya reversed, trying to evade the Jeep, but crashed into a metal pole in the middle of the driveway. His vehicle became stuck.

Rodella jumped out of the passenger side of the Jeep and tried to get into the driver’s side. When that failed, he successfully entered the passenger side with a shiny silver firearm in his hand, later confirmed to be a .38 special revolver. Rodella tried to turn the gun toward Tafoya, who grabbed at his wrists, begging, “Please don’t kill me!” Rodella responded by saying, “It’s too late, it’s too late.” As the two struggled, Rodella Jr. approached the vehicle and pulled Tafoya out. Tafoya struggled to get up, continuing to say “Please don’t kill me.” As Rodella Jr. held him down, he told Tafoya that his dad was the sheriff. Tafoya reported that he froze in shock, and eventually calmly asked Rodella to show him his badge in order to confirm he was the sheriff. Rodella said, “You want to see my badge?,” grabbed Tafoya by the hair, and smacked him across the face with his badge, saying “Here’s my badge, motherfucker.”

Tafoya remained on the ground for several minutes until deputies from the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene. The deputies were contacted by Rodella directly during the chase; he did not report the chase to dispatch. The deputies took Tafoya to his car, frisked him, and transported him to the jail. Although Tafoya attempted repeatedly to explain what happened, they did not listen, and eventually charged him with a felony offense. Tafoya remained in jail for several days until his grandfather bailed him out. The criminal charges against Tafoya were eventually dismissed, and Tafoya contacted the FBI to report what had happened to him.

In August 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Rodella on four counts: conspiring with his son to violate Tafoya’s constitutional rights against unreasonable seizures, depriving Tafoya of his civil rights, brandishing a firearm in the commission of that offense, and falsifying a document because of his official written report documenting what happened before and during the arrest of Tafoya. In September 2014, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging two offenses: deprivation of Tafoya’s constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures by a law enforcement officer and brandishing a firearm duing the commission of that offense. Rodella proceeded to trial, and the jury found him guilty on both counts. He was sentenced to a total term of imprisonment of 121 months. He appealed.

On appeal, Rodella argued the evidence was insufficient to show that he had subjected Tafoya to a deprivation of rights while under color of law. The government presented two theories to show Rodella’s violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242: that Rodella unlawfully arrested Tafoya, and that he used unreasonable force in the course of arresting Tafoya. The jury accepted the government’s theory on both counts. Considering the unreasonable force theory, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Rodella used or threatened to use a dangerous weapon, but not that he caused serious bodily injury. Rodella challenged both theories of liability on appeal.

The Tenth Circuit initially noted that Rodella failed to preserve his argument that Tafoya was committing certain traffic infractions, thus supplying reasonable cause to stop him. The Tenth Circuit further noted that, because Rodella did not testify in his defense, the jury could only evaluate the testimony of the other eyewitnesses: Tafoya, Rodella Jr., and Mark Thompson, the owner of the property where Tafoya crashed his car. Thompson’s testimony generally supported Tafoya’s, and although Rodella Jr.’s testimony was dramatically different, the jury could have reasonably found it was not credible. Additionally, because Rodella was not in uniform, he could not have arrested Tafoya for the traffic offenses under New Mexico law. The Tenth Circuit found the evidence sufficient to support the unlawful arrest charge.

Next, the Tenth Circuit examined Rodella’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the excessive force claim. Rodella based his challenge on a Tenth Circuit opinion that an excessive force claim in the context of handcuffing too tightly requires more than a de minimus injury. The Tenth Circuit noted that the holding on which Rodella relied was limited to handcuffing injuries, and also that the Supreme Court rejected the theory that more than a de minimus injury was required to support an excessive force claim. The Tenth Circuit rejected Rodella’s claim that more than a de minimus injury was required to support excessive force and therefore concluded the evidence was sufficient for Tafoya’s excessive force claim. Rodella also argued that he was deprived of his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when the jury was not instructed that excessive force requires more than a de minimus injury, which the Tenth Circuit similarly rejected.

Next, Rodella argued the district court erred in admitting evidence of three similar incidents in which he was involved. Prior to trial, the government had filed a motion in limine, seeking to introduce evidence of the three similar incidents pursuant to FRE 404(b) to show motive, intent, plan, knowledge, absence of mistake, and lack of accident, listing specifically what the government thought the evidence would show. The district court granted the government’s motion on the eve of trial. To reduce the risk of prejudice, the court ordered the government to instruct the jury specifically for what purpose the evidence was admitted. The Tenth Circuit rejected Rodella’s argument that the evidence tended to make propensity-based inferences in order to show willfulness. The Tenth Circuit found that the evidence had significant probative value and was not unfairly prejudicial.

Rodella similarly argued the prosecution committed misconduct when it improperly referenced his other bad acts during closing argument, pointing to eight specific statements. The Tenth Circuit evaluated each statement separately. As to the statements that contrasted the personalities of Rodella and Tafoya, the Tenth Circuit found no misconduct. The Tenth Circuit also found no prejudice in the prosecutor’s statement that Rodella’s tailgating of Tafoya was “familiar,” considering the other similar incidents. The Tenth Circuit similarly found the prosecutor’s mention of the other three incidents acceptable three other times. As for the government’s mention of the emotional distress suffered by one of the other victims, the Tenth Circuit found no error because the government’s evidence was sufficient to establish that Tafoya experienced emotional distress from the incident. Finally, the Tenth Circuit found the last statement proper because it asked the jury to infer from the totality of the circumstances that Rodella had acted willfully.

The Tenth Circuit also rejected Rodella’s claim that the admission of evidence on officer training was an abuse of discretion, noting that the evidence showed that Rodella knew his conduct was illegal. The Tenth Circuit also addressed Rodella’s cumulative error claim, finding that it only had accepted one instance of prosecutorial misconduct as potentially erroneous and that was not enough to prove cumulative error.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/12/2016

On Friday, February 12, 2016, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

Richards v. Colvin

United States v. Gutierrez-Carranza

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