August 20, 2018

Archives for February 12, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecutor’s Use of Partially Completed Puzzle to Illustrate Reasonable Doubt was Misconduct

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Van Meter on Thursday, February 8, 2018.

Criminal Law—Possession of a Weapon by a Previous Offender—Reasonable Doubt—Mistrial—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Jury Instruction—Possession—Evidence.

Van Meter pleaded guilty to multiple crimes and served time in the Department of Corrections’ custody. After Van Meter was released on parole, his employer told Van Meter’s parole officer that Van Meter had a gun in his car and was possibly using heroin and stealing from customers. When Van Meter arrived at work he was arrested, and officers found a loaded semi-automatic handgun inside a toolbox in the trunk of his car. A jury found Van Meter guilty of possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO).

On appeal, Van Meter argued that the trial court reversibly erred in failing to declare a mistrial after a prospective juror stated in front of the panel that he was aware of the underlying case because he was a deputy sheriff and had transported Van Meter to court. The record supports the trial court’s determination that the challenged comments did not taint the entire panel because they did not necessarily imply that the deputy sheriff transported Van Meter to court for the underlying case rather than a previous case, and the POWPO charge required the jury to learn that Van Meter had a prior felony conviction. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to declare a mistrial.

Van Meter next asserted that the trial court reversibly erred by allowing the prosecutor to show the jury a picture of a partially completed puzzle of an iconic and easily recognizable space shuttle image to explain the concept of reasonable doubt. There was no contemporaneous objection. The challenged behavior constituted prosecutorial misconduct. However, because all the elements of the POWPO charge were clearly proven, and the error was neither obvious nor substantial, the trial court did not plainly err in allowing the prosecutor’s improper conduct.

Van Meter also argued that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on the definition of “possession” in the context of the POWPO charge. The trial court gave the definition of “possession” from the new criminal jury instructions, and defense counsel affirmatively declined to object to the challenged instruction three times. The challenged instruction was not incorrect or otherwise confusing to the extent that it constituted plain error.

Van Meter next contended that the trial court reversibly erred in allowing evidence that the gun found in his vehicle was stolen and that Van Meter was allegedly using illicit drugs. Here, defense counsel offered no contemporaneous objections and strategically chose to elicit CRE 404(b) evidence, and there was overwhelming evidence of Van Meter’s guilt. Any error in allowing the challenged evidence did not rise to the level of plain error.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sentence of Indeterminate Term of Probation Permitted by Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Trujillo on Thursday, February 8, 2018.

Criminal Law—Foreclosure—Theft—Criminal Mischief—Sentencing—Jury Instructions—Evidence—Motive—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Probation—Indeterminate Sentence—Costs.  

Trujillo took out a construction loan from the victim, a bank, for home construction. After construction was completed on the house, Trujillo stopped making his monthly loan payments, and the bank subsequently initiated foreclosure proceedings. Before the foreclosure sale, Trujillo removed or destroyed property in the house, which resulted in a decrease in the home’s value from $320,000 to $150,000. A jury found him guilty of theft and criminal mischief.

On appeal, Trujillo contended that he should have benefited from an amendment to the theft statute reclassifying theft between $20,000 and $100,000 as a class 4 felony. Before the amendment, theft over $20,000 constituted a class 3 felony. Trujillo was charged with theft before the statute was amended but was not convicted or sentenced until after the General Assembly lowered the classification for theft between $20,000 and $100,000. Thus, Trujillo was entitled to the benefit of the amendment.

Trujillo also asserted that the trial court erred in rejecting various jury instructions regarding his theory of the case. Throughout trial, the defense’s theory of the case was that Trujillo lacked the requisite intent to commit the charged offenses because he believed that the property he removed from the house belonged to him. Here, the trial court instructed the jury on Trujillo’s theory of the case in an instruction that clearly stated that Trujillo believed the property he took from the house was “his sole property.” The trial court did not abuse its discretion in drafting a theory of defense instruction that encompassed the defense’s tendered instructions.

Trujillo next asserted that the trial court erred in allowing the People to introduce evidence that another property of his had been foreclosed. However, the evidence was directly relevant to Trujillo’s intent and motive. Therefore, the trial court did not err in admitting it.

Trujillo further argued that the prosecutor improperly commented on the district attorney’s screening process for bringing charges and Trujillo’s decision to not testify, and improperly denigrated defense counsel and the defense’s theory of the case. Although the prosecutor improperly denigrated defense counsel and the defense’s theory of the case, viewing the record as a whole there was not a reasonable probability that the remarks contributed to Trujillo’s convictions. There was no basis for reversal.

Trujillo also contended that the trial court exceeded its statutory authority in sentencing him to indeterminate probation. The statute, however, does not prohibit such sentencing, and based on the substantial amount of restitution Trujillo owed, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing him to an indefinite probation sentence.

Lastly, the court of appeals agreed with Trujillo’s assertion that the trial court erred in awarding the full costs of prosecution requested by the People without making a finding on whether any portion of the costs was attributable to the acquitted charge.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed. The sentence was affirmed in part and vacated in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/12/2018

On Monday, February 12, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued no published opinion and two unpublished opinions.

Boettcher v. Conoco Phillips, Co.

Grammer v. Sauers

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

Colorado Supreme Court: Announcement Sheet, 2/12/2018

On Monday, February 12, 2018, the Colorado Supreme Court issued two published opinions.

Burton v. Colorado Access

Oakwood Holdings, LLC v. Mortgage Investment Enterprises, LLC

Summaries of these cases are forthcoming.

Neither State Judicial nor the Colorado Bar Association provides case summaries for unpublished appellate opinions. The case announcement sheet is available here.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 2/9/2018

On Friday, February 9, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and six unpublished opinions.

United States v. McIntosh

United States v. Zander

McDermod v. Ford Motor Co.

Samuels v. McDonald

Martin-El v. Zeerip

United States v. Rodriguez

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