March 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attempted Extreme Indifference Murder Constitutes “Grave and Serious” Crime for Proportionality Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Terry on Thursday, January 24, 2019.

Constitutional Law—Cruel and Unusual Punishment—Criminal Procedure—Postconviction Remedies.

Terry was charged in two cases with multiple offenses arising from two separate incidents. In the first incident, Terry rammed his truck into a patrol car when officers attempted to stop him for breaking into parked vehicles. In the second incident, officers responded to a report of an intoxicated man (later identified as Terry) driving his truck around a Walmart parking lot. Terry got into his truck, slammed an officer’s hand in the door, and ran over the officer’s foot as he sped away. After a chase, Terry sped toward officers and rammed the patrol cars. A jury found him guilty of attempted extreme indifference murder, second degree assault on a peace officer, two counts of first-degree criminal trespass, third degree assault on a peace officer, two counts of criminal mischief, two counts of vehicular eluding, and four habitual criminal counts. After the court adjudicated Terry a habitual criminal in a separate trial, it sentenced him to an aggregate total of 204 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

Terry filed pro se for postconviction relief with a request for counsel. The district court denied three of his four claims and appointed counsel to address only the one claim on which it had not already ruled. It simultaneously ordered that a copy of the motion be served on the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and the prosecution, and instructed the prosecutor to respond to the pro se motion and any supplemental motion within 30 days of its filing. The OPD determined it had a conflict of interest, so alternate defense counsel was appointed who filed a supplemental motion raising six claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court concluded that five of the six claims did not entitle Terry to relief and ordered the prosecution to respond to the remaining claim, which Terry withdrew. The district court dismissed his five claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, without first ordering the prosecution to respond.

On appeal, Terry contended that the district court erred in denying his petition for postconviction relief because Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V) requires, in the circumstances presented here, that the prosecution respond and the defendant be allowed an opportunity to reply to that response. Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V) does not prevent the court from ordering the prosecution to respond to only that portion of a postconviction motion that the court considers to have arguable merit. Here, the district court’s procedure fell within the bounds of prescribed procedure; it ruled on the pro se and supplemental petitions based on the motions, record, and facts and ordered the prosecution to respond to the one claim it deemed potentially meritorious. The trial court did not err, but even if it did, any error was harmless because Terry did not show prejudice.

Terry next contended that the district court erred in denying his postconviction petition because Terry sufficiently pleaded ineffective assistance of counsel. Here, (1) trial counsel’s decisions not to pursue a not guilty by reason of insanity plea or other mental health defense were objectively reasonable; (2) trial counsel’s failure to pursue a voluntary intoxication defense was strategically sound; (3) it was not error for defense counsel to decide not to pursue lesser nonincluded offenses based on trial strategy; (4) defense counsel did not err in deciding not to file a suppression motion; and (5) defense counsel did not err in failing to request a proportionality review, because attempted extreme indifference murder constitutes a per se “grave and serious” crime for purposes of an abbreviated proportionality review. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying the postconviction motion.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Gas Use that Adversely Affected Prisoners Was Not Excessive Force

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Redmond v. Crowther on February 9, 2018.

Redmond and the entire plaintiff class (collectively, Redmond) were incarcerated in the Olympus Wing of the Utah State Prison, an inpatient treatment facility that houses prisoners with physical and mental health conditions. It has five divided sections. Section D includes a recreation yard, which is enclosed by four walls and open to the sky. On one of those walls is an intake vent to Olympus’s HVAC unit. The vent takes in air from the recreation yard and circulates it into the cells in sections A, B, C, and D. James Hill is a prisoner housed in Section D. On August 3, 2011, Hill violated prison rules. When an officer tried to discipline him, Hill walked away. The officer ordered Hill to return to his cell, but Hill refused. In response, prison officials ordered all prisoners to return to their cells and locked the doors.

Instead, Hill walked into Section D’s recreation yard and closed the door behind him, causing it to lock. Hill then took of his glasses and began sharpening them on the wall. He declared he would “stick or cut the first pig that came out there,” paced aggressively, swung his arms in the air, swore, and spit at prison officials. In response, Robert Powell, the lead officer on duty that day, called the special operations unit, which Jason Nicholes led. Nicholes and his team planned how to extract Hill. Nicholes considered various options such as using a shield wall, shooting Hill with a rubber bullet, or deploying pepper spray. In the end, however, Nicholes concluded that these paths presented additional risks to staff, so he decided to deploy CS gas. Before doing so, Nicholes examined the recreation yard and looked for risks. He did not notice any, nor did he notice the HVAC vents. With his team in place, Nicholes instructed Hill to submit to a strip search and be handcuffed. He warned Hill that if he did not comply, force would be used. Hill nevertheless continued to respond aggressively.

Nicholes then ordered his team to deploy the CS gas. The plan went smoothly except for a significant problem – the HVAC unit. Because the recreation yard contained the HVAC unit’s intake vent, the vent drew the gas in and pumped it inside the prison. The gas went into the cells in sections A, B, C, and D. It also went into administrative areas. The gas caused a burning sensation in prisoners’ eyes, ears, and noses, and made it difficult for them to breathe. It took about thirty minutes for Powell and other prison officials to evacuate the prisoners in Sections B and C. During the evacuation, Powell went into the recreation yard and confirmed that medical staff were offering assistance to prisoners. Yet when the evacuated prisoners were lined up in the recreation yard, Powell told them: “if any of you sissies absolutely need medical treatment, that’s fine, but if any of you are just going over there to whine and cry, something to that extent, or say, oh, my eyes hurt or something like that, I’m going to put you on lockdown or see about having you removed from this facility. I’m not going to have you wasting time with those complaints. If you’re about to die, that’s one thing.” Two prisoners claim they would have sought medical treatment had Powell not made this statement.

Powell thought the gas had dissipated in these sections. He thus decided to not evacuate Sections A and D at all. To air these sections out, Powell instead opened the ports of the cells’ doors and placed an industrial fan in the doorway. Medical staff also walked around Sections A and D to ask if prisoners needed medical care.

Redmond contends that Powell and Nicholes violated the Eighth Amendment by exposing the prisoners to CS gas and then failing to respond adequately to their resulting medical needs. He also claims Powell, Nicholes, and Crowther violated the Utah Constitution’s unnecessary-rigor clause by exposing the prisoners to CS gas. Redmond specifically claimed four violations: (1) exposing plaintiffs to CS gas, (2) discouraging plaintiffs from seeking medical attention and not permitting them all to leave their cells or to shower, (3) verbally abusing and intimidating plaintiffs, and (4) failing to train prison staff regarding the use of CS gas. The Tenth Circuit found none of Redmond’s Eighth Amendment claims persuasive.

Redmond argued in support of his claim that Powell and Nicholes violated the Eighth Amendment by exposing prisoners to CS gas that when “assessing the claims of innocent bystanders who are not the intended target of force and whose exposure to force does not further the purpose of maintaining and restoring discipline,” the conditions of confinement framework applies. The Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding no viable conditions of confinement claim.

The Tenth Circuit found that Nicholes and Powell were entitled to qualified immunity on the excessive force claim regarding exposing the prisoners to gas. Redmond failed to meet his burden of showing a constitutional violation. And even assuming the officials did, in fact, violate the Eighth Amendment, Redmond failed to show that the right was clearly established.

An excessive force claim involves two prongs: (1) an objective prong that asks if the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation, and (2) a subjective prong under which the plaintiff must show that the officials acted with a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Because the record demonstrates the prison officials inadvertently exposed the prisoners to gas, they could not have done so with malicious or sadistic intent. Redmond argues a jury could infer the officers intended to gas all the prisoners, not just Hill, because the officers knew the HVAC unit existed, knew the harmful effects of CS gas, knew the gas should not be deployed in small spaces near buildings and hospitals because it could easily disperse, and would have seen the HVAC unit because it was large and conspicuous. The Tenth Circuit concluded that no reasonable juror could believe that the officers intended to expose any prisoner besides Hill to gas. The gas getting drawn into the intake vent, moreover, caused significant trouble for the officials. The gas went into administrative areas—thus exposing those prison officials to gas – and required a large-scale evacuation of the prison. Given all this, Nicholes’s and Powell’s generalized knowledge about the HVAC system and CS gas’s intended uses and effects are insufficient to create a jury question about their intent.

To determine whether prison officials applied force maliciously and sadistically or, rather, in good faith, the Circuit considered the need for the force, and whether the officers used a disproportionate amount of force. The Circuit initially concluded the prison officials needed to use force. Hill had, after all, locked himself inside the recreation yard and refused to comply with prison officials’ orders. The record demonstrates the officials inadvertently exposed the other prisoners to gas. So the question, then, is whether it was disproportionate to use CS gas to secure Hill, when officers did not realize other prisoners would be incidentally exposed to the gas as well. The Tenth Circuit concluded it was not disproportionately forceful to use CS gas.

Even assuming a constitutional violation occurred, the Tenth Circuit determined the officers would still be entitled to qualified immunity because no case clearly establishes this right. Nicholes and Powell are entitled to qualified immunity on the claim they violated the Eighth Amendment by exposing the prisoners to CS gas. Redmond cannot establish that the officers violated the Eighth Amendment and, even assuming they did, the right would not be clearly established.

Redmond next contended Powell acted with deliberate indifference to prisoners’ serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. To establish an Eighth Amendment claim based on inadequate medical care, the prisoner must prove both an objective component and a subjective component. The objective component requires showing the alleged injury is “sufficiently serious.” A delay in medical care is only sufficiently serious if “the plaintiff can show the delay resulted in substantial harm.” The subjective component requires showing the prison official knew the inmate faced a substantial risk of harm and disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. The subjective prong is met if prison officials intentionally deny or delay access to medical care or intentionally interfere with the treatment once prescribed. The Circuit found that Redmond failed to meet his burden.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity to the officers.

Colorado Supreme Court: Aggregate Sentences Amounting to Life for Juvenile Not Unconstitutional

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lucero v. People on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without Parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment—Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure 35(b) and 35(c).

The Colorado Supreme Court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. Graham holds that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the sentence of life without parole for a juvenile non-homicide offender. Miller bars mandatory life without parole for any juvenile offender. Because life without parole is a specific sentence imposed for a single offense, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court thus held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Lucero’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. The court also considered whether the court of appeals erred by treating Lucero’s Rule 35(b) motion for sentence reduction as a Rule 35(c) motion challenging the constitutionality of his sentence. Because a court may properly characterize a mischaracterized issue, and Lucero argued that his sentence must be reduced under Graham to meet constitutional standards, the court held that the court of appeals did not err. Accordingly, the supreme court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentences for Juvenile Held Constitutional

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Rainer on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without Parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Rainer’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was reversed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: Graham and Miller Do Not Apply to Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentences

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Armstrong v. People on Tuesday, May 30, 2017.

Life without parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Armstrong’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Supreme Court: No Constitutional Violation for Juvenile’s Aggregate Term-of-Years Sentence for Multiple Violations

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Estrada-Huerta v. People on Monday, May 22, 2017.

Life without parole—Juveniles—Eighth Amendment.

The supreme court considered whether Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012), apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed on juvenile defendants convicted of multiple offenses. For reasons discussed at length in the lead companion case, Lucero v. People, 2017 CO 49, __ P.3d __, announced the same day, the court held that Graham and Miller do not apply to aggregate term-of-years sentences imposed for multiple offenses. The Court therefore held that Graham and Miller do not apply to Estrada-Huerta’s aggregate term-of-years sentence. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Fine to Employer for Workers’ Compensation Insurance Lapse Unconstitutional As Applied

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Dami Hospitality, LLC v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office on Thursday, February 23, 2017.

Dami Hospitality, LLC, operates a motel in Denver, Colorado. For a period in 2006, Dami failed to carry workers’ compensation insurance. It paid the $1,200 fine and obtained insurance. In 2014, the Division of Workers’ Compensation informed Dami that it was again without workers’ compensation insurance and had been for periods during 2006 and 2007, as well as from September 2010 through the date of the division’s notice. Dami admitted receiving the Division’s June 28, 2014, notice, but denied receiving a notice the Division contended it had mailed four months earlier. Dami obtained the necessary insurance by July 9, 2014, but did not otherwise respond to the Division’s letter.

The Division imposed a fine of $841,200 based on C.R.S. § 8-43-409(1)(b)(II) and 7 CCR 1101-3 (Rule 3-6). Dami’s owner, Soon Pak, sent a letter to the Director captioned “Petition to Review,” asking the Director to reconsider the fine. Ms. Pak claimed that she relied on her insurance agent to obtain the necessary insurance and believed the hotel’s insurance policies contained workers’ compensation coverage. She also asserted that the fine was more than her business grossed in a year and it would bankrupt both the hotel and her individually. Ms. Pak’s insurance agent also submitted a letter claiming personal responsibility for the lapse in coverage. In a supplemental order, the Director again ordered Dami to pay the fine, asserting that the previous lapse in coverage should have put Dami on notice as to the need for insurance.

Dami appealed to the Industrial Claim Appeals Panel, which ruled that the Director had failed to consider the factors in Associated Business Products v. Industrial Claim Appeals Office, 126 P.3d 323 (Colo. App. 2005), to protect against constitutionally excessive fines. On remand, without taking additional evidence, the Director reinstated his original fine, concluding that Rule 3-6 inherently incorporated the Associated Business Products factors. Dami again appealed, but this time ICAO upheld the Director’s order. Dami appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The court of appeals first considered whether Dami was deprived of procedural due process. Dami argued that notice by mail was unreasonable, and that a hearing should have been held before the fine was imposed. The court of appeals disagreed. Dami did not request a prehearing conference when it received the first notice of the lapse in insurance, and Dami did not show that the address the Division had on file was incorrect. Therefore, the court found that Dami was not denied procedural due process.

Dami next contended that the $841,200 fine was constitutionally excessive in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Dami argued that section 8-43-409 is unconstitutional on its face because the General Assembly removed a penalty cap in 2005 and failed to impose a statutory deadline for notice of missing insurance coverage, which therefore granted the Director “complete discretion regarding the timing of notice and thus the size of the fine.” The court of appeals found no facial constitutional error, noting that other penalty statutes have been upheld despite a lack of cap or statutory deadline.

However, the court of appeals agreed with Dami that the penalty was unconstitutional as applied because the Director abused his discretion in applying the Associated Business Products factors to Dami’s situation. Dami also argued that the fine is grossly disproportionate both to its ability to pay and to the harm caused by the lack of workers’ compensation insurance. It asserts the Director should also have considered its ability to pay when weighing the constitutionality of the fine. The court of appeals again agreed that the fine was unconstitutional as applied.

The court of appeals evaluated whether Eighth Amendment protections apply to corporations, and determined that Dami’s status as a corporation did not deprive it of Eighth Amendment protections. The court cited Citizens United for the premise that individual constitutional protections can apply to corporations.

Evaluating the particular fine, the court of appeals determined that the Director abused his discretion in imposing the fine because he did not make specific findings regarding the Associated Business Products factors. The court of appeals found that the uncontroverted facts put Dami at the low end of the reprehensibility scale, since Ms. Pak relied on her insurance agent to supply all necessary insurance coverage and the agent admitted he had not informed Ms. Pak about workers’ compensation insurance. The court also found that because Dami had not had a single workers’ compensation claim in its existence and it had fewer than ten employees, there was no actual harm from Dami’s lack of workers’ compensation insurance and low risk of potential harm. The court noted that the record lacked any evidence of comparable fines because the Division failed to supply it, but the information Dami supplied showed that in FY 2006-2007 the total amount of fines for failure to carry insurance “would be $200,000.” The court of appeals also recognized that the Director should have considered Dami’s ability to pay before imposing the fine.

The court of appeals remanded for reconsideration of the excessive fine in light of the Associated Business Products factors.

Tenth Circuit: Isolated Mishap with Execution Does Not Give Rise to Eighth Amendment Violation

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Estate of Lockett v. Governor Mary Fallin on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

In 1999, Clayton Lockett kidnapped, raped, sodomized, and shot 19-year-old Stephanie Nieman and then had an accomplice bury her alive. He was found guilty of 19 felonies arising from the incident and was sentenced to death. He was executed in Oklahoma in 2014, using a combination of three drugs—midazolam, vecuronium bromide, and potassium chloride. The doctor and EMT had trouble starting an IV and ultimately inserted the IV into a vein in his groin area. They covered the area with a cloth so that the observers would not see Lockett’s intimate parts. Ten minutes after administering the first drug, midazolam, Lockett was declared unconscious. The executioners then administered the second and third drugs. Unexpectedly, about 15 minutes after the first drug was administered, Lockett began twitching and writhing, tried to rise from the table, uttered some words, and was grimacing in pain. The doctor checked the IV site, which had been covered so as to protect Lockett’s privacy, and discovered the IV had infiltrated so the drugs were not getting to Lockett’s veins. The doctor advised Oklahoma DOC Director Robert Patton that he believed insufficient drugs had entered Lockett’s system to cause his death. The execution was halted 33 minutes after the first drug was administered. However, 43 minutes after administering the first drug, Lockett was pronounced dead.

The Estate of Lockett filed seven claims: (1) “Eighth Amendment violation—Torture,” as to all defendants; (2) “Eighth Amendment—Using Untested Drugs and Human Medical Experimentation,” against all defendants; (3) “Eighth Amendment—Use of Compounded Drugs in Human Medical Experimentation,” against all defendants; (4) “Eighth Amendment—Human Medical Experimentation on Unwilling Prisoners,” against all defendants; (5) “Eighth Amendment—Failure to Train and Supervise,” against Warden Trammell and Director Patton; (6) Fourteenth Amendment—“Failure to Protect State-Created Rights Procedural Due Process Violation,” against all defendants; and (7) “Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel and First Amendment Access to the Court Violation,” against Warden Trammell and Director Patton. Governor Fallin, Director Patton, and Warden Trammell filed a motion to dismiss under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), as did Dr. Doe. Both motions asserted qualified immunity among other defenses. The district court granted both motions to dismiss on qualified-immunity grounds and sua sponte dismissed the claims against the other Doe defendants. The district court found the Estate had failed to prove defendants violated clearly established law.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, based on whether the Estate asserted facts sufficient to show a violation of a clearly established right. As to Dr. Doe, since he was a private party, the Tenth Circuit also had to find that he was entitled to government qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit found that he was. A government employee in the same position as Dr. Doe would have been entitled to qualified immunity, and the Tenth Circuit found that Dr. Doe was, too, finding “Dr. Doe is entitled to assert qualified immunity because the purposes of qualified immunity support its application here: carrying out criminal penalties is unquestionably a traditional function of government, exactly the sort of activities that Richardson reasoned qualified immunity was meant to protect.”

Turning to the Estate’s claims, the Tenth Circuit first addressed its claims of torture and deliberate indifference. The Tenth Circuit noted a single reference in the torture claim to “deliberate indifference,” although there were several references to torture. Although the Tenth Circuit would generally find that the deliberate indifference claim was waived, it addressed the claim because Appellees suffered no prejudice from the claim. The Tenth Circuit noted a deficiency in that the Estate did not account for how cruel and unusual punishment claims operate in the death penalty context. Because the Supreme Court has found capital punishment constitutional, and some pain and suffering is inherent in capital punishment, there must be an additional showing of torture or needless addition of pain in order for an Eighth Amendment violation to stand. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court’s death penalty opinions recognize that executions can go awry, and that an isolated mishap will not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation. The Tenth Circuit found that Lockett’s infiltrated vein, coupled with the unusual difficulty securing an IV site, constituted precisely the sort of “isolated mishap” contemplated by the Supreme Court. Although the infiltrated IV could have been discovered sooner had the IV site not been covered, the covering was done to protect Lockett’s privacy, not in an attempt to cause pain and suffering.

The Estate also asked the Tenth Circuit to take judicial notice of news articles about Lockett’s botched execution, as well as Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Glossip v. Gross, in which she discussed Lockett’s execution. The Tenth Circuit declined to take judicial notice of the news articles or the dissent. The Circuit found it inappropriate to take judicial notice of the opinions contained in the news articles, noting that judicial notice is reserved for facts beyond debate. The Tenth Circuit also declined to take judicial notice of Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, because it may only take judicial notice of the fact of the opinion and not its contents.

The Estate also claimed that the defendants violated Lockett’s Eighth Amendment rights by being deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need to die as quickly as possible. The Tenth Circuit noted that, at the same time, the Estate acknowledged that the EMT and doctor had difficulty placing an IV, and did not have alternative veinous access. The Estate argued that the appellees had no plan to respond to or prevent Lockett from suffering a prolonged death. The Tenth Circuit did not find deliberate indifference on the part of the appellees. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that there was no violation of a clearly established right. The Tenth Circuit further found the appellees violated no clearly established law despite Lockett suffering pain during his execution. The IV infiltration was an “isolated mishap,” not something designed to cause additional pain. The Tenth Circuit noted that Oklahoma has changed its execution procedures to conform to the Supreme Court’s approved procedure in Baze, so the situation is unlikely to arise again in another execution.

The Tenth Circuit next addressed the Estate’s claims that Defendants Patton and Trammell failed to promulgate policies that would prevent Lockett’s execution from violating the Eighth Amendment. The Tenth Circuit found that the Estate’s reliance on the requirements enumerated in Baze was misplaced; because some of the procedural safeguards were in place, and because Oklahoma adopted more procedural safeguards after Lockett’s execution, the Tenth Circuit found no error. The Tenth Circuit noted that the Estate’s claims contained only a high level of generality, which was impermissible.

The Tenth Circuit also dismissed the Estate’s aggregation claim. Because the Estate did not set forth clearly established law to support its aggregation claim, the Tenth Circuit dismissed it. The Tenth Circuit also found no procedural due process violation because Lockett had an opportunity to challenge the drug protocol and failed to do so. Similarly, the Tenth Circuit found that Lockett had no right to counsel during the execution.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. Judge Moritz wrote a separate concurrence; she would have declined to reach the constitutional issues as to any of the Estate’s questions.

Tenth Circuit: Facts Existed to Support District Court’s Denial of Qualified Immunity

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Durkee v. Minor on Monday, November 14, 2016.

James Durkee was an inmate at the Summit County Corrections Center in Colorado. After being threatened by a notoriously violent inmate, Ricky Michael Ray Ramos, Durkee expressed concern about Ramos’ aggression and a deputy issued an incident report stating that Durkee and Ramos were not allowed to attend any programs together, be in the hallways together or in passing, or be in the booking area together. The report was signed by the jail staff, including Defendant Hochmuth. On December 28, 2012, Plaintiff Durkee was in the jail’s professional visitation room, when Ramos was escorted into the booking area by Hochmuth. Plaintiff saw both Defendant and Ramos, and Ramos saw plaintiff, but Hochmuth reported that he did not see plaintiff despite the large glass window between the rooms. When defendant removed Ramos’ shackles, he ran into the visitation room and attacked plaintiff, leaving him with severe facial fractures.

Plaintiff sued Hochmuth and the Summit County Sheriff, Defendant Minor, in their individual capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. Both defendants moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity. The district court denied summary judgment and the defendants appealed.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit evaluated whether the district court found facts sufficient to support plaintiff’s claim that the defendants violated clearly established law. The Tenth Circuit found that, as to Hochmuth, the plaintiff had to prove sufficient facts that the defendant knew of and disregarded a substantial risk to plaintiff. Hochmuth does not dispute that he knew Ramos posed a substantial risk of harm to plaintiff “generally,” but argued he did not know plaintiff was in the unlocked room adjacent to the booking room. The Tenth Circuit noted that the success of the defendant’s defense may turn on whether the jury finds his testimony credible that he did not see plaintiff in the next room.

As to Minor, the Tenth Circuit did not find facts sufficient to prove that in his individual capacity as the director of the jail he knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of harm to plaintiff. The Tenth Circuit found that plaintiff could not show Minor’s direct personal responsibility for the harm suffered by plaintiff. The Tenth Circuit could not find a policy dilemma, since unshackling inmates in the booking area had not been a problem for anyone prior to the incident with plaintiff.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Extended Proportionality Review Needed to Determine Whether Defendant’s Sentence Appropriate

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McRae on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

Clifton McRae was convicted of distribution of methamphetamine. Due to his habitual offender status, his sentence was calculated at 64 years. He requested a proportionality review. After conducting an abbreviated proportionality review, the trial court determined that the sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crime and reduced it to 16 years. The People appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals noted first that if an abbreviated proportionality review gives rise to an inference of gross disproportionality, the court should engage in an extended proportionality review, comparing the sentence to that of similarly situated defendants.

Prior to the commission of McRae’s offenses, the Colorado General Assembly passed SB 13-250, which drastically decreased the sentences for certain crimes, including McRae’s, but the effective date was after the date from which his convictions arose. The People argued that the trial court entered an illegal sentence by retroactively applying SB 13-250. The trial court had noted that a defendant who committed the same crime a few months after McRae would be subject to only a 16 year sentence, although it did not rely on the not yet effective legislation in its determination of disproportionality. The Colorado Court of Appeals found no error.

The People also argued that because McRae’s triggering offenses and five of his prior convictions are per se grave or serious, the 64-year sentence failed to raise an inference of disproportionality. The court of appeals disagreed but remanded for an extended proportionality review. Although the court had made findings about the serious nature of the offenses, the court also noted that they were for personal consumption and not for substantial monetary gain. The court of appeals found the trial court did not err in considering these factors. The court noted that although it was tempted to approve of the trial court’s sentence, it should have conducted the further extended review to justify its sentence.

The court of appeals remanded for further proceedings.

Tenth Circuit: Jurisdiction Lacking Where Denial of Summary Judgment Based on Genuine Issues of Material Facts

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Henderson v. Glanz on Monday, December 28, 2015.

Aleshia Henderson was an inmate at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was in a holding cell of the medical unit in handcuffs and leg restraints awaiting medical treatment when Detention Officer (DO) Johnson unlocked the door in view of Inmate Jessie Earl Johnson, a violent offender who was considered extremely high risk for escape and required “extreme caution.” DO Thomas, unaware that the holding cell door was unlocked, left the medical unit to respond to a medical emergency. When a nurse returned with another emergency patient, DO Johnson left the medical unit to assist the nurses.

During this time, Inmate Johnson reported to Inmate Williams that he was going to make sexual contact with Henderson. He left his unlocked holding cell and entered Inmate Henderson’s unlocked holding cell, exiting about 10 minutes later. Both DO Johnson and DO Thomas observed Inmate Johnson leaving Henderson’s cell. DO Johnson immediately confronted Inmate Johnson, who denied being in Henderson’s cell. DO Johnson then interviewed Inmate Henderson, who would not speak but nodded when asked if Inmate Johnson had sexually assaulted her. She was taken to a hospital, where an examination showed bruising, swelling, and a midline vaginal tear consistent with forcible sexual conduct. Inmate Johnson was subsequently charged with rape, though the charge was dismissed when Henderson briefly recanted out of fear for her mother’s safety.

DO Johnson and Thomas told their immediate supervisor, Sergeant Pirtle, about the incident, and the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) conducted an investigation. TCSO determined that department policy was violated when the DOs left their posts, failing to maintain the required two officers in the medical unit, and when they failed to maintain the log book. When asked later how she could have been unaware of the risk to Henderson, DO Johnson stated, “I don’t know how to answer that.”

Henderson brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against DO Johnson, DO Thomas, and Tulsa County Sheriff Glanz, asserting violations of her Eighth Amendment rights. Defendants moved for summary judgment based on qualified immunity because Henderson could not show a constitutional violation. The district court denied summary judgment as to DO Johnson and DO Thomas, concluding there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether DO Johnson and DO Thomas were aware of the risk of assault. The district court denied summary judgment to Sheriff Glanz because there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether he was aware of the risk of assault to Henderson. Defendants appealed.

On appeal, the Tenth Circuit first determined it lacked jurisdiction to consider DO Johnson’s and Sheriff Glanz’s appeals. The Tenth Circuit noted that the district court’s denial of summary judgment was not ripe for interlocutory appeal because it was not a final order and did not fall into any of the exceptions allowing interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit also noted that the district court found facts sufficient to support its denial of summary judgment, concluding that by viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Henderson, a reasonable jury could find a constitutional violation.

As to DO Thomas, the Tenth Circuit found it had jurisdiction to assess the district court’s denial of summary judgment. Because DO Thomas did not know DO Johnson had unlocked Henderson’s cell door and was not there when DO Johnson left the unit, he was not subjectively aware of a substantial risk of bodily harm to Henderson. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to DO Thomas.

The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeals of DO Johnson and Sheriff Glanz for lack of jurisdiction, and reversed the district court’s denial of summary judgment to DO Thomas.

Tenth Circuit: Plaintiff Bears Burden to Prove Constitutional Violation of Clearly Extant Law in Qualified Immunity Case

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Cox v. Glanz on Tuesday, September 8, 2015.

Charles Jernegan surrendered at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma in July 2009, and was asked several questions related to his physical and mental health as part of the intake process by the booking officer and nurse Faye Taylor. He reported that he was taking medication for paranoid schizophrenia but did not express any suicidal ideation. The next day, he filed a medical request through the jail’s kiosk system, reporting he needed to “speak to someone about problems.” Two days later, healthcare employee Sara Sampson attempted to check on him but because he had been moved to a different cell block she never contacted him. That same morning, Jernegan hanged himself and was found dead in his cell.

His mother, Carolyn Cox, brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the Tulsa County Sheriff, Stanley Glanz, in his individual and official capacities, and also against the company that provided healthcare services to the jail and several of the jail’s healthcare employees, including Sampson and Taylor. As relevant to Sheriff Glanz, Ms. Cox alleged that his failure to provide adequate and timely mental health screening and care constituted deliberate indifference to Jernegan’s serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment. For the individual capacity claim, Ms. Cox relied on a supervisory-liability theory, alleging Glanz failed to properly train and supervise jail employees, including Sampson and Taylor. For the official capacity claim, Ms. Cox averred that Glanz had promulgated and administered an unconstitutional policy of providing insufficient mental health evaluation and treatment.

The sheriff moved for summary judgment, contending he was entitled to qualified immunity on the individual capacity claim because Ms. Cox had not established that any jail employee acted with deliberate indifference to Jernegan’s medical needs, he had not acted with the requisite state of mind to support a deliberate indifference claim, and he had not created any policy that produced constitutional harm. The district court denied Glanz’s motion, ruling that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment. The district court did not explicitly focus on the framework of qualified immunity in its ruling. Glanz filed an interlocutory appeal.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed whether it had jurisdiction to entertain the sheriff’s interlocutory appeal, acknowledging that Ms. Cox’s jurisdictional arguments had merit because the district court did not follow the settled mode of decision-making regarding qualified immunity. Because the sheriff accepted Ms. Cox’s version of the facts as true, the Circuit had jurisdiction to evaluate the legal issues presented by the agreed-upon facts. The Tenth Circuit noted that the appropriate two-fold test for qualified immunity was whether there was a constitutional violation and whether that constitutional violation was grounded in clearly established law. The Tenth Circuit commented that neither party adequately briefed the question of whether the law was clearly established at the time of Jernegan’s suicide.

Turning to the merits of the appeal, the sheriff argued the district court committed reversible error when it denied him qualified immunity on his individual capacity claim and when it denied him summary judgment on his official capacity claim. The Tenth Circuit declined to reach the second argument, noting it lacked jurisdiction and declined to exercise pendent appellate jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the sheriff’s appeal on the official capacity claim.

As to the individual capacity claim, the Tenth Circuit elected to review whether clearly established law prohibited the constitutional violation suffered by Jernegan, i.e., whether an inmate’s right to proper suicide screening was clearly established in 2009. The Tenth Circuit noted that Ms. Cox failed to produce any case law support for her proposition, but conducted an independent review. The Tenth Circuit noted that its standard for the requisite state of mind for deliberate indifference was established in the mid-1990s and had not changed by 2009. The trend in the circuit was to require inmate-specific knowledge of suicide risk, and the circuit declined to hold jail officials responsible when the inmate did not demonstrate a particularized risk of suicide. Because Jernegan did not present a specific risk of suicide, no jail employee could have been found to have acted with deliberate indifference, so the sheriff could not be found to have acted with deliberate indifference under a supervisor liability theory. The Tenth Circuit held that Ms. Cox failed to satisfy the clearly-extant law prong of the qualified immunity analysis, and therefore the sheriff was entitled to qualified immunity on the individual capacity claim.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity on the individual capacity claim against the sheriff and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the sheriff, and dismissed the part of the appeal related to the official capacity claim.