August 18, 2019

Archives for March 16, 2016

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecution Not Entitled to Withdraw from Plea Bargain Regardless of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Mazzarelli on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

Mazzarelli was charged with child abuse in violation of C.R.S. § 18-6-401(1)(a), a class 3 felony, but entered into a plea agreement in which he agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of class 4 felony child abuse in exchange for a stipulated sentencing range of 2 to 8 years. The trial court accepted the plea agreement at the initial hearing but delayed sentencing until it could review the presentence report.

At the next hearing, the prosecution proposed a five-year sentence, arguing that the defendant was unemployed and was playing video games when the incident in question occurred. The trial judge, who was also presiding over the accompanying dependency and neglect proceeding, informed the prosecution that it disliked the sentence because the father’s incarceration would not be in the child’s best interest, further saying he was not going to accept the plea agreement. The judge offered the parties a chance to withdraw the agreement at that time.

After that hearing, Mazzarelli filed a motion for a special prosecutor due to “blatantly false statements” made by the People. At the third hearing, the People clarified the misstatements, saying that defendant had been employed when the abuse occurred and was not playing video games as they had previously represented. The People requested to withdraw the plea agreement and set the case for trial, but the trial court denied the request and sentenced Mazzarelli to 36 months supervised probation.

The People appealed, contending the trial court should be bound by the plea agreement because it did not inform the parties that it was not inclined to accept the proposed sentencing, and that the court erred when it found prosecutorial misconduct and would not allow the People to withdraw from the plea agreement. The court of appeals disagreed with the People’s arguments but did not address the prosecutorial misconduct issue because the People had no right to withdraw from the plea agreement, further finding that the trial court had decided not to sentence the defendant pursuant to the plea agreement prior to having knowledge of the prosecutorial misconduct.

The court of appeals affirmed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Parental Rights Terminated As of Date of Juvenile Court’s Relinquishment Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Marriage of Rohrich on Thursday, March 10, 2016.

Mother’s and Father’s marriage ended in 2008. Parenting time was equally allocated and Father was ordered to pay $101 monthly in child support. In 2012, Mother relocated to South Dakota with the children, and Father’s support obligation was increased to $288 monthly. When the child support enforcement unit moved again in 2013 to modify Father’s support, the parties entered into mediation and reached an agreement that Father would relinquish his parental rights and the children would be adopted by Mother’s new husband.

In November 2013, Father petitioned the juvenile court to relinquish his parental rights, which petition was granted, and then moved in the dissolution court to terminate his child support obligation. The district court granted his motion and terminated the child support obligation as of the date Mother accepted his proposal to terminate his parental rights.

Mother appealed, arguing the district court erred in determining that Father was “effectively no longer a parent” as of the date he agreed to relinquish his parental rights and instead argued that the termination of Father’s support duty must be found under the Colorado Children’s Code. Mother alternatively contended the district court erred in retroactively terminating Father’s child support obligation under the Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act.

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with both arguments. The court noted that Father’s agreement to end his rights did not terminate his child support obligation, which could only end when his rights were formally relinquished. The court also held that the district court erred in relying on the UDMA to retroactively modify Father’s support obligations, noting that because the children were spending more time with Mother, the support obligation should have been increased, not decreased.

The court of appeals reversed and remanded.