August 14, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Must Determine Whether Retrospective Competency Evaluation Feasible

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lindsey on Thursday, July 12, 2018.

Competency—Jury Instructions—Unanimity Instruction.

Lindsey persuaded six individuals to invest $3 million in new technology that would allegedly use algae-based bioluminescent energy to light signs and panels. Lindsey told his investors that he had contracts to sell his new technology. Neither the technology nor the contracts ever existed, and Lindsey allegedly spent the money on repaying other investors and on personal expenses. A jury convicted Lindsey of eight counts of securities fraud and four counts of theft.

On appeal, Lindsey contended that the trial court erred in refusing to order a competency evaluation where the issue was raised by his counsel’s motion before trial. Here, the trial court failed to comply with the statutory procedure. The motion was facially valid, and the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that a facially valid motion on competency did not fall under the competency statute.

Lindsey next argued that the trial court erred by (1) instructing the jury that “any note” constitutes a security, and (2) giving an improper unanimity instruction. As to the first argument, Lindsey’s trial was conducted before People v. Mendenhall, 2015 COA 107M. In the event of retrial, the trial court and parties should apply Mendenhall’s four-factor test in crafting new jury instructions. As to the second contention, regarding Count 6, which included three separate transactions, the unanimity instruction should be modified to specify that the jury must agree unanimously that defendant committed the same act or that defendant committed all of the acts included within the period charged.

The judgment was vacated and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Closure of Courtroom to Reread Jury Instructions Violated Defendant’s Right to Public Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Lujan on Thursday, June 12, 2018.

Right to Public Trial—Constitutional Law—Sixth Amendment—Rebuttal—Residual Hearsay Exception—Other Acts Evidence.

The victim, defendant’s live-in girlfriend, was beaten, strangled, and left on the ground outside a friend’s apartment in 1999. In 2013, the People charged defendant with first degree murder. On the first day of trial, defendant conceded that he was responsible for the victim’s death, but he argued that he was guilty only of reckless manslaughter. After jury deliberations had started, the trial judge closed the courtroom to read limiting instructions to the jury, over defendant’s objection. The jury found defendant guilty of second degree (knowing) murder.

On appeal, defendant contended that his conviction must be reversed because closing the courtroom to read limiting instructions upon the jury’s request violated his right to a public trial and his right to be present. A criminal defendant’s right to a public trial is guaranteed by both the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. Here, the trial court sua sponte excluded all but the jury, the bailiff, the reporter, and itself from the courtroom. In this case, the closure was total, intentional, and unjustified, and defendant’s Sixth Amendment right was violated.

Defendant also contended that the court committed three evidentiary errors. First, a law enforcement officer testified for the People that in all of their interactions, defendant had never seemed upset or remorseful about the victim’s death. Defendant contended that because the prosecution opened the door to his demeanor, and the testimony did not involve hearsay, he was entitled to elicit rebuttal testimony as part of his right to present a defense. Exclusion of the rebuttal testimony was an abuse of discretion because the court misapplied the law in concluding that the evidence was hearsay. On the other hand, the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting statements made by the victim to two witnesses before her death under the residual hearsay exception because the court found that these statements were sufficiently trustworthy. The court also did not abuse its discretion in allowing defendant’s ex-wife and his former girlfriend to testify about defendant’s specific acts while in their individual relationships, finding that defendant had committed such acts and the evidence was related to a material fact with logical relevance independent of the prohibited inference of defendant’s bad character. Further, the court provided an appropriate limiting instruction.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Indefinite Stay of Appeal Denied where Defendant Found Legally Incompetent After Notice of Appeal Filed

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Liggett on Thursday, June 12, 2018.

Competency to Proceed—Stay of Appellate Proceedings—Jurisdiction—Restoration Proceedings—Right to Counsel—Waiver.

This is a direct appeal of two cases, first degree murder after deliberation and revocation of probation (based on the murder conviction). Based on Liggett’s incompetence, his counsel requested an indefinite stay of the appellate proceedings, a stay of the ruling on Liggett’s request to terminate counsel’s representation and to dismiss the appeal, and a remand of the cases to the district court for competency restoration proceedings.

On appeal, Liggett’s counsel contended that the direct appeal should be stayed indefinitely because proceeding while Liggett is incompetent will violate his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process of law. An incompetent defendant’s direct appeal should proceed, despite incompetence, if the defendant is provided a postconviction remedy to raise issues not raised in the direct appeal due to his incompetence. The court of appeals held that Liggett must be permitted to raise in a postconviction motion any matter not raised in the direct appeal due to his incompetence.

The People contended that the direct appeal divested the district court of jurisdiction and that the appeal and restoration proceedings cannot occur simultaneously. They also argued that the district court has no authority to order the Department of Corrections (DOC), in whose custody Liggett resides, to restore him to competency. The People agreed that Liggett is incompetent and that an incompetent defendant cannot waive the right to counsel on direct appeal. Thus, Liggett’s incompetence precludes the court from ruling on his pending requests to terminate counsel and dismiss the appeal, and a limited remand to restore Liggett’s competence is necessary.

A stay of the ruling on Liggett’s requests to terminate counsel and dismiss the appeal was granted. The request for indefinite stay of the appellate proceedings was denied. The request for limited remand to restore Liggett to competence was granted and the case was remanded to the district court for that limited purpose.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Instruction that Effectively Told Jury Not to Consider Burden of Proof Erroneous, but Error Not Plain

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Sabell on Thursday, June 14, 2018.

Jury Instructions—Involuntary Intoxication—Other Acts Evidence—Merger—Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act.

Sabell and his girlfriend, the victim, got into an argument one night. When the victim returned to the couple’s home that evening after running errands, Sabell accused her of cheating on him and physically assaulted her. The victim then began audio recording the altercation on her cell phone. Sabell then forced the victim to perform oral sex on him and later broke down her bedroom door after she had locked herself inside. A jury found Sabell guilty of sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact, third degree assault, and criminal mischief.

On appeal, Sabell contended that the trial court erroneously instructed the jury on his affirmative defense of involuntary intoxication and that this lessened the prosecution’s burden of proof. Before trial, the victim admitted that she had put Seroquel, a drug she had been prescribed, in Sabell’s wine after the sexual assault in an attempt to sedate him. Sabell testified that the victim had put the Seroquel in his drink before the recording began and that he had no memory of any of the recorded events. Although the involuntary intoxication instruction was erroneous because it effectively told the jury not to consider the People’s burden of proof until after it first decided whether Sabell’s intoxication was self-induced, it was not plain error.

Sabell also contended that the trial court gave an erroneous instruction limiting the jury’s consideration of other acts evidence. At trial, the victim, along with the victim’s friend and police officers, testified about four other incidents in which Sabell had been violent toward her or had forced her to have sex. The other acts evidence was relevant as to whether Sabell acted knowingly and voluntarily, and the court properly gave limiting instructions to the jury. There was no error.

Sabell’s contention that the Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to him was without merit.

Sabell further argued, and the People conceded, that his unlawful sexual contact conviction should have merged with the sexual assault conviction at sentencing because they were based on the same conduct. The trial court plainly erred in entering both the sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact convictions.

Sabell also argued, and the People conceded, that the trial court erred in imposing a crime against a child surcharge of $500. The victim here was not a child, and the trial court plainly erred.

The unlawful sexual contact conviction and the crime against a child surcharge were vacated. The case was remanded for the trial court to correct the mittimus. The judgment and sentence were affirmed in all other respects.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: ALJ Not Required to Rank Firefighter’s Cancer Risk Factors in Workers’ Comp Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in City of Boulder Fire Department v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Workers’ Compensation—Coverage for Occupational Diseases Contracted by Firefighters—C.R.S. § 8-41-209.

A firefighter worked for the City of Boulder’s fire department for 35 years. After he retired, a doctor discovered he had squamous cell carcinoma in his tongue. He filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits under C.R.S. § 8-41-209 (section 209). Section 209 creates a presumption that certain cancers are compensable if stricken firefighters meet certain criteria. But it does not impose strict liability on fire departments or cities; rather, the presumption may be overcome by showing that a firefighter’s cancer “did not occur on the job.”

The City challenged the firefighter’s claim. It maintained that human papillomavirus 16/18 was the more likely cause of his cancer and retained an expert that opined that was the case. The firefighter offered testimony from his own expert refuting the City’s expert. Based on the evidence, the administrative law judge (ALJ) decided the cancer was compensable and awarded the firefighter benefits. A panel of the Industrial Claim Appeals Office (Panel) affirmed, finding that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s findings and conclusions.

On appeal, the City argued it had proved it was more likely that the virus had caused the firefighter’s cancer than other, more attenuated, risks. It further contended that by accepting the “multifactorial” or “combination” of causes advanced by the firefighter’s experts, the ALJ misinterpreted a trio of Colorado Supreme Court cases that had analyzed section 209 (the trio of cases). The City maintained that the trio of cases requires ALJs to “weigh and rank the risk factors to determine whether the employer showed by a preponderance of the evidence that a non-occupational risk factor was the greater or higher risk factor in the firefighter’s cancer.” The trio of cases does not mandate that ALJs rank firefighters’ cancer risks, nor does it preclude consideration of multifactorial causes of cancer. Rather, the cases emphasize that an employer can overcome the presumption by establishing the prevalence of non-work-related-factors. But this does not automatically rebut the section 209 presumption because the determination of whether an employer has met its burden is within the fact-finder’s discretion. Substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s factual findings, and the Panel did not err.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Contract Between Private Cable Provider and Government Void Because It Does Not Provide for Annual Appropriations

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Falcon Broadband, Inc. v. Banning Lewis Ranch Metropolitan District No. 1 on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Contract—Colorado Governmental Immunity Act—Tort—Civil Conspiracy—Unjust Enrichment—Promissory Estoppel—Annual Appropriation—Attorney Fees.

Falcon Broadband, Inc. (Falcon) signed a contract, the “Bulk Services Agreement” (BSA), with Banning Lewis Ranch Metropolitan District No. 1 (the District) to provide Internet and cable services to Banning Lewis Ranch area residents. Under the BSA, the District granted Falcon the exclusive right to provide Internet and cable services to residents for a monthly per-resident fee. The BSA states that it remains in effect until 2,700 homes in the development are occupied, which hasn’t yet occurred. The District later disavowed the BSA, stopped paying Falcon, and stopped collecting fees from residents. Falcon sued the District, its directors, and Oakwood Homes, LLC (the developer) and related Oakwood entities (collectively, Oakwood).  The district court dismissed Falcon’s complaint in part as barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act (CGIA) and granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor on the remaining claims not subject to dismissal under the CGIA.

On appeal, Falcon contended that the district court erred in its application of the CGIA and in granting summary judgment. It is undisputed that the District is a public entity within the meaning and protection of the CGIA. Thus, the district court properly dismissed the civil conspiracy claim against the District because that claim is undeniably a tort claim. However, the court improperly dismissed the unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel claims as sounding in tort because they were grounded in contracts; the district court should have granted summary judgment to the District on these claims. The district court properly granted the District summary judgment on the breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and declaratory judgment claims. The District directors are also protected by the CGIA, and the district court should have dismissed the claims against them. All of the Oakwood entities are private associations; thus, the district court erred in dismissing some claims against Oakwood under the CGIA.

Falcon also contended that the district court erred by determining that the BSA is void and by entering summary judgment on its tortious interference and civil conspiracy claims regardless of the BSA’s validity. The BSA is void under C.R.S. § 29-1-110 because it is a multi-year contract that does not provide that the obligation to pay is subject to annual appropriations. Because all of Falcon’s claims are premised on the BSA’s validity, only its unjust enrichment claim against Oakwood survives.

The District and the directors cross-appealed, arguing that the court erred by failing to award them attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-201. Because the gist of Falcon’s action against the District was the District’s failure to perform the BSA, not its commission of any tort, and those claims were dismissed on summary judgment, the District is not entitled to fees. On the other hand, the only claims Falcon brought against the directors were tort claims. Because Falcon’s entire action against the directors should have been dismissed under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) as tort claims barred by the CGIA, the directors are entitled to an award of their reasonable attorney fees under C.R.S. § 13-17-201. The directors are also entitled to an award of their reasonable attorney fees incurred in their successful appeal under C.R.S. § 13-17-201.

The judgment was affirmed on all claims except Falcon’s unjust enrichment claim against Oakwood, which was reversed. The district court’s denial of the District’s request for attorney fees was affirmed. The district court’s denial of the directors’ request for attorney fees was reversed and the case was remanded to determine those fees.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Child Care Center Not Eligible for Property Tax Exemptions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Children’s Hospital Colorado v. Property Tax Administrator on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Child Care Center—Property Tax—Exemption—Sliding Scale—Charitable Purpose.

Children’s Hospital Colorado (the Hospital) owns and operates a child care facility (the Center) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School (CU Anschutz) campus. The Center provides child care to constituents of the Hospital and CU Anschutz as an employee benefit. The Center has a written tuition assistance policy that gives all families with an income below 150% of the federal poverty level a flat 10% discount. It also provides a flat 5% discount for siblings of enrolled children, regardless of the family’s income. The Hospital filed an application for exemption from property tax for the Center, which the Division of Property Tax considered under the charitable purposes exemption, C.R.S. § 39-3-108(1)(a), and an exemption for qualified child care centers, C.R.S. § 39-3-110. The Property Tax Administrator denied the application, and the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) upheld the order.

On appeal, the Hospital argued that the BAA exceeded its authority in interpreting C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) to conclude that the Center’s tuition discount policy did not qualify the Center for an exemption under that section. It argued that the BAA misinterpreted the rule regarding the definition of “charges on the basis of ability to pay.” C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) requires that the Center charge for its services based on the recipient’s ability to pay. Here, the family tuition reduction policy was based solely on whether a family’s income falls above or below the federal poverty line; it was not a scale that provides a range of tuition options, and it did not account for more than one factor in determining a family’s ability to pay. Similarly, the sibling discount is provided regardless of income or another factor indicating ability to pay. The BAA properly interpreted C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) to conclude that the Center’s tuition discount policy did not qualify as offering services “on the basis of ability to pay.”

The Hospital also contended that the BAA erred by finding that the Center is not operated for strictly charitable purposes. Here, the Center was operating for a business purpose—providing an employee benefit and recruitment tool—and not for a charitable purpose. Additionally, the Center did not benefit an indefinite number of persons and did not lessen the burdens of government. Therefore, it was not operated strictly for charitable purposes, as required by C.R.S. § 39-3-108(1).

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sex Offender Registration Act Requires Registry for Individuals with More than One Conviction for Unlawful Sexual Behavior

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McCulley on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Sexual Assault—Deferred Judgment—Plea Agreement—Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act—Petition for Removal from Registry.

Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of second degree sexual assault and one count of third degree sexual assault and entered into a plea agreement. Among other things, the plea agreement provided that the trial court would dismiss the felony charge once defendant complied with his deferred judgment. A condition of the deferred judgment was that defendant register as a sex offender pursuant to the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). Defendant completed his deferred judgment and the felony charge was dismissed. Years later, defendant filed a petition to discontinue the requirement that he register as a sex offender. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred by construing the term “conviction” under SORA to include a successfully completed deferred judgment. SORA’s plain language provides that the term “conviction” as used in C.R.S. § 16-22-113(3)(c) includes a successfully completed deferred judgment.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Trial Court Committed Plain Error by Not Giving Unanimity Instruction in Forgery Case

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wester-Gravelle on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Forgery—Jury Instructions—Unanimity Instruction—C.R.C.P. 12(b).

Defendant worked as a certified nursing assistant for Interim Healthcare (Interim), which provides in-home care to patients. In 2015, Interim assigned defendant to care for Moseley five days a week for two hours each day. Even though defendant had failed to show for her shift for three weeks, she had submitted weekly shift charts to receive payment for the preceding three weeks. The shift charts showed Moseley’s purported signatures acknowledging that defendant had arrived for her shifts. A jury convicted defendant of forgery, and the court sentenced her to two years’ probation.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred when it failed, on its own motion, to require the prosecution to elect a single forged shift chart as the basis for the conviction or to give a modified unanimity instruction. The People argued that defendant waived this issue by failing to object to the information under Crim. P. 12(b)(2) and (3), which requires a defendant to raise defenses or objections to an information and complaint within 21 days following arraignment. Colorado law is clear that Rule 12(b) does not require a defendant to object when the error stems from circumstances that are not apparent from the charging document. Here, on its face the charge does not evidence a defect, so Crim. P. 12(b)(2) does not apply. The unanimity issue arose only after the prosecution decided to introduce three different written instruments for the period charged. Therefore, defendant did not waive her claim.

The court of appeals determined that the prosecution’s evidence presented a reasonable likelihood that the jurors may have disagreed on which shift chart constituted the forgery charged. Thus, the court should either have (1) required the prosecution to elect an act on which it relied for a conviction, or (2) instructed the jury that to convict, it had to unanimously agree on the act committed or unanimously agree that defendant committed all of the acts. This error was substantial and obvious.

The conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Double Jeopardy Implicated where Defendant Convicted of DARP at First Trial and ADARP at Second Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wambolt on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Aggravated Driving After Revocation Prohibited—Driving Under the Influence—Driving Under Restraint—Driving After Revocation Prohibited—Driving While Ability Impaired—Lesser Included Offense—Merger—Double Jeopardy—Motion to Suppress—Illegal Arrest—Miranda—Fifth Amendment.

Defendant was charged with aggravated driving after revocation prohibited (ADARP), driving under the influence (DUI), and driving under restraint (DUR). During a first trial, the jury was instructed on the elements of driving after revocation prohibited (DARP) and given a special interrogatory verdict form on the ADARP charge. The jury returned guilty verdicts on DARP and DUR, but hung on the DUI charge, and thus did not complete the ADARP special interrogatory. Defendant was retried in a two-phase trial. In the first phase, the jury returned a guilty verdict on driving while ability impaired (DWAI), a lesser included offense of DUI. In the second phase, the jury completed a special interrogatory finding that the prosecution had proved the ADARP charge. The trial court entered convictions for ADARP, DUR, and DWAI.

On appeal, defendant contended that he was unconstitutionally tried twice for the same offense when he was retried on the ADARP charge after the first jury had convicted him of DARP. Here, defendant was effectively tried for DARP twice and he was not properly tried for ADARP. Thus, under the circumstances of this case, defendant was unconstitutionally tried twice for the same offense. This error was obvious and substantial and significantly undermined the reliability of defendant’s ADARP conviction.

Defendant also argued that the trial court plainly erred in entering convictions for DUR and DARP because those convictions should have merged. DUR is a lesser included offense of DARP. Thus, the trial court erred in entering both convictions. However, because the relevant law in this area has undergone significant recent change, the error here was not plain because it was not obvious. The trial court did not plainly err in entering the DUR and DARP convictions.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress statements he made after being detained. He argued that his statements resulted from an unlawful detention and were taken in violation of his Miranda rights. Here, although the officer found defendant compliant and “very easy to get along with,” he handcuffed him at gunpoint and placed him in the back of the patrol car. Defendant thereafter was removed from the patrol car, his handcuffs were removed, and he was read his Miranda rights and voluntarily waived them. Although defendant was unconstitutionally arrested, the statements were admissible because they were sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful arrest.

The judgment of conviction for DWAI and DUR was affirmed, the conviction for ADARP was vacated, and the case was remanded for the trial court to reinstate the DARP conviction and correct the mittimus.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Attorney Violated Colo. RPC 1.8(a)(3) by Not Obtaining Informed Consent for Business Transaction

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in In the Matter of James C. Wollrab on Monday, June 25, 2018.

Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct—Attorney Discipline—Colo. RPC 1.8—Colo. RPC 4.2.

In this attorney discipline proceeding, the supreme court was confronted with questions as to what Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct 1.8 and 4.2 require of an attorney who enters into a business relationship with his client. The court concluded that the attorney in this case violated Rule 1.8(a)(1) when he signed a lease with his client’s company without complying with any of Rule 1.8(a)’s prophylactic requirements. The attorney also violated Rule 1.8(a)(3) when he entered into an option agreement with his client without obtaining his client’s informed, written consent to his role in the deal. However, because the attorney had the implied consent of his client’s independent counsel for the purposes of the option agreement, he did not violate Rule 1.8(a)(1) or (2) or Rule 4.2 in that transaction. The court remanded the case to the hearing board for determination of the appropriate sanction in light of its conclusions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Appellant Must Adjudicate New Water Right Rather than Amend Existing Augmentation Plans

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Coors Brewing Co. v. City of Golden on Monday, June 25, 2018.

Amendment of Augmentation Plans—Return Flows.

This case concerns appellant’s application to amend its decreed augmentation plans to authorize the reuse and successive use of return flows from water that appellant diverts out of priority pursuant to those plans. On competing motions for determinations of questions of law, the water court ruled that (1) any amount of water not beneficially used by appellant for the uses specified in its decreed augmentation plans must be returned to the stream; (2) appellant’s decreed augmentation plans did not authorize the reuse or successive use of such water; and (3) appellant may not obtain the right to reuse or make successive use of such water by way of amendment to its augmentation plans but could only obtain such rights by adjudicating a new water right.

The supreme court affirmed the water court’s judgment. To obtain the right to reuse and make successive use of the return flows at issue, appellant must adjudicate a new water right and may not circumvent this requirement by amending its decreed augmentation plans. Further, the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan does not change its character. Accordingly, the general rule, which provides that return flows belong to the stream, applies. The water court also correctly construed appellant’s augmentation plans.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.