April 25, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Trial Court Erred by Concluding Ex Parte Review of Defense’s Competency Motion Prohibited

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In re People v. Roina on Monday, March 25, 2019.

Competency Proceedings.

The supreme court addressed whether a trial court erred in requiring the defense to provide a copy of its sealed motion raising competency to the prosecution before conducting an initial competency evaluation of defendant. Because C.R.S. § 16-8.5-102(2)(b) requires trial courts to consider defense motions raising competency without disclosing that motion to the prosecution, the court determined that the trial court erred in concluding that Rule 2.9(A) of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits the trial court from conducting an ex parte review of the defense’s motion. Accordingly, the court made its rule to show cause absolute.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: ALJ Cannot Determine MMI Where No Physician Has Placed Claimant at MMI

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Burren v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Workers’ Compensation—Maximum Medical Improvement.

Burren sustained admitted work-related injuries to her arm and shoulder in 2014. Several physicians treated her for her injuries into 2017, but Burren complained that her pain continued to worsen and that none of the treatment improved her condition. None of her physicians placed her at maximum medical improvement (MMI).

In 2015 employer retained Dr. Fall to perform a medical examination of Burren. She did not find Burren at MMI, but in 2016 she found Burren had reached MMI. Employer then requested Dr. Henke to perform a 24-month division-sponsored independent medical examination (DIME) because no treating physician had placed Burren at MMI. Dr. Henke determined that Burren was not at MMI.

Employer then applied for a hearing to dispute Dr. Henke’s DIME opinion. The ALJ ruled that employer had clearly and convincingly overcome the DIME and found MMI was reached in 2016. An Industrial Claim Appeals Office panel (the Panel) upheld the ALJ’s order.

On appeal, Burren argued that the Panel and the ALJ misinterpreted C.R.S. § 8-42-107(8)(b) because an ALJ cannot determine a claimant’s MMI as a matter of fact without an authorized treating physician (ATP) placing her at MMI. She contended that if a DIME performed under the statute finds a claimant is not at MMI, treatment should proceed until an MMI determination is made. The court of appeals analyzed the statute and the Panel’s historical practices and concluded that when the DIME and the ATP agree that a claimant is not at MMI, treatment should continue until either the DIME or the ATP places the claimant at MMI. Thus, the ALJ and the Panel misinterpreted C.R.S. § 8-42-107(8)(b)(II). While the court’s conclusion effectively precludes an employer from challenging a 24-month DIME when the DIME agrees with the ATP that a claimant is not at MMI, it does not prohibit an employer from re-invoking the 24-month DIME process at an appropriate future time.

The order was set aside and the case was remanded to the Panel with directions to return it to the ALJ to enter an order consistent with the opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Juvenile Court Must Make Reasonable Accommodations Under ADA in Crafting Treatment Plan for Parents

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of S.K. on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Americans with Disabilities Act—Reasonable Accommodations—Termination of Parental Rights—Dependency and Neglect—Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The Gunnison County Department of Health and Human Services (Department) received reports that S.K. was failing to thrive. The Department initiated a dependency and neglect case and took custody of S.K.

The parents stipulated that the child was dependent and neglected because she was without proper care through no fault of their own. The juvenile court adopted treatment plans for the parents and appointed a guardian ad litem for each parent. Ultimately, the Department moved to terminate the legal relationships between S.K. and the parents. Mother and father filed a joint motion requesting (1) a finding that the Department had not made reasonable efforts to reunify them with the child, (2) dismissal of the termination motion, and (3) amendment of the treatment plans to provide reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Following a hearing, the court rejected the parents’ arguments and terminated their parental rights.

On appeal, the parents challenged the appropriateness of their treatment plans, the efforts the Department made to reunify them with the child, and the extent of reasonable accommodations required under the ADA. An appropriate treatment plan is one that is approved by the court and is reasonably calculated to render the parent fit to provide adequate parenting within a reasonable time and that relates to the child’s needs. When evaluating parental unfitness and the likelihood that a parent’s conduct or condition will change, the court must consider whether reasonable efforts have been unable to rehabilitate the parent. The reasonable efforts standard is met when services are provided in accordance with C.R.S. § 19-3-208, including appropriate assessments and referrals and mental health and substance abuse treatment services, if funding is available. Title II of the ADA prohibits a public entity from discriminating against a qualified individual with disabilities in the provision or operation of public services, programs, or activities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies the same requirement to entities that receive federal financial assistance. There is an affirmative duty placed on a public entity to make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities.

Whether a parent is a qualified individual with a disability under the ADA is a case-by-case determination. When a parent in a dependency and neglect proceeding has a disability under the ADA, the Department and the juvenile court must make reasonable accommodations for the parent’s disability in the treatment plan and the rehabilitative services provided. When deciding whether to terminate parental rights, the juvenile court must consider whether reasonable accommodations were made for the parent’s disability in determining whether the parent’s treatment plan was appropriate and reasonable efforts were made to rehabilitate the parent. The juvenile court’s primary concern is the child’s health and safety.

Here, it was undisputed that both parents had serious intellectual and developmental disabilities. Though these were disabilities under the ADA, the ADA does not restrict a court from terminating parental rights when the parent, even after reasonable accommodations, is unable to meet his child’s needs. The juvenile court considered the many services offered to the parents in concluding that the Department provided services that reasonably accommodated the parent’s limitations; the parents’ treatment plans were appropriate; and the Department made reasonable efforts to rehabilitate the parents. These conclusions were supported by the record.

Mother contended that the juvenile court erred in finding that she was an unfit parent and her conduct or condition was unlikely to change in a reasonable time. The record evidence, including the opinions of professional evaluators, did not support this argument. The juvenile court did not err in concluding that mother was an unfit parent and her conduct or condition was unlikely to change in a reasonable time.

Father argued that placing the child with the paternal grandmother was a less drastic alternative to termination. The record showed that a home study resulted in the paternal grandmother being denied placement for the child and otherwise supported the juvenile court’s determination that there was no less drastic alternative to termination.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Teacher Must Report Child Abuse Regardless of Circumstances in Which He or She Learns of Abuse

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Heotis v. Colorado State Board of Education on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Teacher’s License—C.R.S. § 19-3-304(2)(l) Reporting Duties—Constitutionality.

Several months before the expiration of her teacher’s license, Hoetis submitted a renewal application to the Colorado State Board of Education (the Board). The Board denied her application because while Heotis was employed as a public school teacher, she did not report to authorities that her then-husband had sexually abused their daughter. The Board determined her failure to report the abuse was unethical under Colorado’s Teacher Licensing Act, C.R.S. § 22-60.5-107(4) (the Act). An administrative law judge (ALJ) upheld the Board’s decision, and the district court upheld the Board’s final order.

On appeal, Heotis argued that the Act violates due process on its face and as applied because the disciplinary options provided to the Board by the Act are too limited as compared to the greater disciplinary flexibility provided to other licensing boards. The court of appeals found no authority to support the proposition that the greater flexibility in other licensing statues represents a constitutional minimum. Hoetis failed to establish that the Act is unconstitutional.

Hoetis also contended that there was insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that she engaged in unethical behavior. She argued that she was not required to report the abuse of her daughter. C.R.S. § 19-3-304(2)(l) required Heotis, as a public school teacher, and thus a mandatory reporter, to immediately report any known or suspected child abuse or neglect. This duty applies irrespective of the circumstances in which the reporter learns of or suspects abuse or neglect. The statute reflects a moral standard in the community for teachers. Substantial evidence in the record supported the Board’s conclusion that Heotis engaged in unethical conduct through her failure to report because it offended the morals of the community.

Hoetis further argued that she was excused from reporting based on evidence that she suffered from battered woman syndrome. The statute does include an exception for persons suffering from battered woman syndrome. Moreover, there was substantial evidence in the record that Hoetis did not report because she was trying to keep her family together, not because of battered woman syndrome.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Eyewitness’ In-Court Identification Allowed Despite Previous Failure to Identify Defendant in Photo Array

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Garner v. People on Monday, March 18, 2019.

Eyewitnesses—Identification Evidence and Procedures—In-Court Identification.

The supreme court reviewed whether due process or the Colorado Rules of Evidence required the exclusion of victim-witnesses’ in-court identifications of defendant, where each witness had failed to identify defendant in a photographic array before trial and almost three years had elapsed between the crime and the confrontations. The court held that where an in-court identification is not preceded by an impermissibly suggestive pretrial identification procedure arranged by law enforcement, and where nothing beyond the inherent suggestiveness of the ordinary courtroom setting made the in-court identification itself constitutionally suspect, due process does not require the trial court to prescreen the identification for reliability. Here, because defendant alleged no impropriety regarding the pretrial photographic arrays, and the record revealed nothing unusually suggestive about the circumstances of the witnesses’ in-court identifications, the in-court identifications did not violate due process. The court further held that defendant’s evidentiary arguments were unpreserved, and the trial court’s admission of the identifications was not plain error under CRE 403, 602, or 701. Accordingly, the court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Because Two Charges Would Have Been Tried Together But For Defendant’s Guilty Pleas, They Cannot Be Considered Separate Under Habitual Criminal Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Williams on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Criminal Law—Photo Lineup—Sixth Amendment—Motion to Continue—Sentencing—Habitual Criminal.

Defendant robbed the victim, an Uber driver, at knifepoint in a Denver alleyway. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court held a hearing to determine whether defendant was a habitual criminal. Based on defendant’s prior convictions for first degree assault (heat of passion) and two prior convictions for distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance, the trial court adjudicated him a habitual criminal and sentenced him to 64 years in prison.

On appeal, defendant argued that the pretrial photo lineup, from which the victim identified him, was impermissibly suggestive. He contended that he was older than the other men in the photo array and there were impermissible differences in the clothing and tattoos depicted. Here, defendant’s photo matched the victim’s description and the filler photos depicted men who generally fit the witness’s description. The number of photos in the array (six) and the details of the photos did not render the lineup impermissibly suggestive.

Defendant also contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his Sixth Amendment right to his counsel of choice by denying his motion for a continuance. The trial court considered the appropriate factors in balancing defendant’s right to have counsel of his choosing against the efficient and effective administration of justice. The trial court’s findings were supported by the record, and the court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s motion for a continuance.
Defendant next contended that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a continuance to allow the People to complete fingerprint testing and that completed testing would have allowed for the production of exculpatory evidence. Here, the fingerprint results were inconclusive and the prosecution did not have possession or control of any exculpatory fingerprint comparison results. Considering the totality of the circumstances, there was no error in the trial court’s ruling on the motion.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erroneously sentenced him under the habitual criminal sentencing statute because two of his three prior felony convictions were permissively joined for trial. Defendant argued that because the two cases charging him with distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance were joined for trial under Crim. P. 13, they would have been tried together had he not entered guilty pleas, so his previous convictions for distribution should be treated as one conviction for habitual criminal purposes. Here, the offenses were joined for trial and would not have been tried separately. The prosecution failed to meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s predicate felonies were separately brought and would have been separately tried had defendant not entered guilty pleas. The guilty pleas resulted in one conviction for purposes of the habitual criminal sentencing statute and the trial court erred in sentencing defendant under that statute.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed. The case was remanded for the trial court to impose a new sentence and to correct the mittimus.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Judge who Witnessed Crime in Courtroom May Have Appearance of Impropriety for Later Related Proceedings

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Roehrs on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Criminal Law—Judge—Recusal—Personal Knowledge—Extrajudicial Source Doctrine— Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.11(A)(1)—Appearance of Impropriety—Disqualification.

Roehrs was an interested party in a dependency and neglect hearing at which Judge Cisneros presided. At the hearing, Sergeant Couch testified concerning Roehrs’s presence at the scene of an investigation that he was conducting. During Sergeant Couch’s testimony, Roehrs stood up, walked toward the witness stand, and said, “You’re a liar. I am going to have your job.” Judge Cisneros asked Roehrs to leave the courtroom, which Roehrs did. After Sergeant Couch’s testimony, Roehrs threatened him in the courtroom hallway. Judge Cisneros later called Sergeant Couch and the attorneys into her chambers to discuss what had happened outside the courtroom.

The People charged Roehrs with retaliation against a witness, harassment, and intimidating a witness. Before trial, Roehrs’s counsel moved to recuse Judge Cisneros. Judge Cisneros denied the motion, ruling that Roehrs failed to prove bias or personal knowledge of the disputed facts. Judge Cisneros presided over Roehrs’s criminal trial. Roehrs contested a number of factual issues. A jury found Roehrs guilty of retaliation against a witness and harassment.

On appeal, Roehrs contended that the trial court erred in denying her motion to recuse because she had personal knowledge of disputed facts and was a material witness to Roehrs’s conduct; thus, there was an appearance of bias or prejudice. Judge Cisneros was not a likely material witness. But under Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.11(A)(1), a judge need not be a likely material witness for disqualification to be mandated; all that is required is personal knowledge of the facts that are in dispute. The court of appeals examined the scope of the extrajudicial source doctrine and concluded that although knowledge gained in the course of a judge’s courtroom duties does not normally prevent a trial judge from presiding over subsequent, related proceedings, when a trial judge witnesses all or part of a crime in the courtroom, she has personal knowledge of facts that are in dispute within the meaning of Rule 2.11(A)(1). Here, the judge witnessed part of the crime and thus had personal knowledge of disputed facts. Accordingly, Roehrs’s motion was sufficient to raise an appearance of bias or prejudice and Judge Cisneros’s continued participation in the trial was improper.

The judgment of conviction was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to grant appellant a new trial before a different judge.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: CRE 901 Requires Flexible, Factual Inquiry to Determine Whether Proffered Evidence is What Proponent Claims

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Gonzales on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Criminal Law—Evidence—Authentication—Voicemail Recording—Photographs.

Gonzales grew up down the street from the victim. He was sexually attracted to the victim from a young age. Gonzales eventually moved away from the neighborhood. Years later, Gonzales broke into the victim’s house and waited a substantial time for the victim to return. When the victim returned, Gonzales repeatedly stabbed him in the neck, killing him. Gonzales then sexually assaulted the victim’s dead body and attempted, unsuccessfully, to set the house on fire to destroy the evidence. Gonzales fled the scene with a credit card, a debit card, and cash that he had taken from the victim’s wallet. Gonzales was charged and convicted of first degree murder with intent and after deliberation, first degree felony murder, abuse of a corpse, stalking, arson, burglary, and aggravated robbery.

On appeal, Gonzales argued that the trial court erred in admitting a tape recording of a voicemail that he allegedly left for the victim because the prosecution did not properly authenticate the recording of the voicemail. Here, the victim’s sister found the recording in his house after the premises were released to her by the police. A police officer who interrogated Gonzales at length testified that Gonzales’s voice was heard on the voicemail. Gonzales did not claim that the recording was falsified or manipulated. These uncontested facts supported a CRE 901 finding that the voicemail was what the prosecutor purported it to be, a voicemail left by Gonzales for the victim. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the voicemail.

Gonzales also argued that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting a photograph showing Gonzales’s tattoos because it was both irrelevant and highly prejudicial. The tattoo on one arm says “CHUBBY” and the tattoo on the other says “CHASER.” Gonzales admitted both that he was he was attracted to larger men and that he killed a person who fit that physical description. On these facts, the jury was entitled to consider the probative value of the tattoos.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Proper Sanction for Judge’s Improper Communications Is Acceptance of Resignation, Censure, and Payment of Costs

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In the Matter of Laurie A. Booras on Monday, March 11, 2019.

Judicial Discipline—Sanctions.

In this judicial disciplinary proceeding, the supreme court considered the exceptions of a now-former Colorado Court of Appeals judge to the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline’s (Commission’s) recommendation that the judge be removed from office and ordered to pay the costs the Commission incurred in this matter.

The Commission’s recommendation was based on factual findings and conclusions of law determining that the judge had violated Canon 1, Rule 1.2, Canon 3, Rule 3.1, and Canon 3, Rule 3.5 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct by (1) disclosing confidential information belonging to the court of appeals (namely, the vote of a court of appeals division on a case prior to the issuance of the decision in that case) to an intimate, non-spousal partner, and (2) using inappropriate racial epithets in communications with that intimate partner, including a racially derogatory reference to a court of appeals colleague.

The supreme court concluded that the Commission properly found that the judge’s communications with the judge’s then-intimate partner were not protected by the First Amendment. The court further concluded that, given the judge’s resignation, which the judge tendered and which became effective after the Commission made its recommendation, the court need not decide whether the judge’s removal from office was an appropriate sanction. Rather, the court concluded that the appropriate sanction in this case is the acceptance of the judge’s resignation, the imposition of a public censure, and an order requiring the judge to pay the Commission’s costs in this matter.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Jury Instruction Defining “Hesitate to Act” Did Not Lower Prosecution’s Burden of Proof

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Johnson v. People on Monday, March 11, 2019.

Jury Instructions—Reasonable Doubt—Burden of Proof—Due Process.

In this case, the supreme court considered whether the trial court’s jury instruction defining “hesitate to act” lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof in violation of due process. The court held that the instruction did not lower the prosecution’s burden of proof in violation of due process. Because the instruction was nonsensical, given only once during voir dire, not referenced by either party at any time, and flanked by the proper instruction regarding the burden of proof at the beginning and end of trial, there is not a reasonable likelihood that the jury understood the instruction and applied it in a manner that lowered the prosecution’s burden.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Deputy Had Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion to Stop Defendant; Suppression Order Reversed

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Threlkel on Monday, March 11, 2019.

Investigatory Stop—Grounds for Stop or Investigation—Fellow-Officer Rule.

An extensive narcotics investigation culminated in arrest warrants for defendant and her significant other based on their alleged distribution of controlled substances. While attempting to execute the warrants, deputies observed a truck belonging to defendant’s significant other driving away from the residence shared by the couple. The deputies suspected that defendant was a passenger in the truck. As the deputies tried to stop the truck, it evaded them. At one point, the deputies observed a white bag fly out of the passenger window, which supported their belief that there was a passenger in the truck. The truck eventually stopped within a mile of the home. Inside, they located defendant’s significant other, but not defendant. Moments later, however, defendant was spotted a couple of hundred yards away, attempting to hitch a ride. It was a frigid and snowy night, the roads were slippery, and there was no easy access on foot between the home and the location of the stop. A deputy who recognized defendant detained her, and she was later arrested on her outstanding warrant.

The trial court suppressed all evidence and observations derived from defendant’s stop, finding that the deputies lacked reasonable, articulable suspicion to detain her. Later, the trial court explained that its suppression order included the deputies’ observations and investigation before they contacted defendant. The supreme court reversed. It concluded that the deputies had reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop defendant. It further concluded that the trial court lacked authority to suppress the deputies’ observations and investigation before they contacted defendant.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Defendant’s Request to Look for Lawyer Did Not Implicate Sixth Amendment

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Travis on Monday, March 4, 2019.

Sixth Amendment—Counsel of Choice—Motion to Continue—Abuse of Discretion.

The People challenged the decision of a division of the court of appeals that concluded that Travis’s request to “look for and pay for a lawyer” was an invocation of her Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel of her choice. The supreme court held that Travis’s request did not implicate her Sixth Amendment right to counsel of her choice and that the trial court’s decision to deny Travis’s request to continue her trial to “look for and pay for a lawyer” was not an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the court reversed the division’s decision and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.