August 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Involuntary Short-term Mental Health Commitment Is Not Equivalent to Court Order

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Interest of Ray v. People on Thursday, February 21, 2019.

Mental Health—Certification for Short-Term Treatment—Physician—National Instant Criminal Background Check System—Firearm Prohibitions—Court Order.

Ray voluntarily sought mental health treatment from a hospital. After he was admitted, a physician certified Ray for involuntary short-term mental health treatment under C.R.S. § 27-65-107, finding that he was a danger to himself or others and would discontinue mental health treatment absent such a certification. That certification caused Colorado officials to report Ray to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as a person subject to federal firearm prohibitions. The certifying physician terminated the mental health certification days after it was entered, and Ray was discharged from the hospital. Ray petitioned the probate court for removal from the NICS. The probate court denied the petition.

On appeal, Ray argued that because he was involuntarily certified by a physician, rather than a court, Colorado officials should not have reported his certification to the NICS. Colorado law requires certain persons and entities to make NICS reports for persons with respect to whom a court has entered an order for involuntary certification for short-term mental health treatment. The plain meaning of the term “court order” does not encompass certification by a professional person. Therefore, the certification made by the physician does not meet the plain definition of a court order.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for the probate court and the parties to take reasonable steps to cause any record of Ray’s certification submitted by them under CRS § 13-9-123(1)(c) to be rescinded.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

SB 16-113: Repealing Statutory Ban on Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines

On January 29, 2016, Sen. Vicki Marble and Reps. Lori Saine & Stephen Humphrey introduced SB 16-113Concerning the Repeal of Certain Provisions Concerning Ammunition Magazines. The bill was introduced in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it passed with no amendments. It also passed Second and Third Reading in the Senate unamended, and was referred to the House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

This bill, if enacted, would repeal statutory provisions:

  • Prohibiting the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines; and
  • Requiring each large-capacity magazine that is manufactured in Colorado on or after July 1, 2013 to include a permanent stamp or marking indicating that the magazine was manufactured or assembled after July 1, 2013.

The law repealed under this bill was created by House Bill 13-1224. Among its provisions, that bill established four new criminal offenses (one class 6 felony, two class 1 misdemeanors, and one class 2 misdemeanor). Since HB13-1224 took effect, 20 cases have been filed. Of these 20 cases, 2 misdemeanor convictions have been entered.

Mark Proust is a 2016 J.D. Candidate at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Constitutional Claim Requires Inquiry into Reasonableness of Statutory Ammunition Limits

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Hickenlooper on Thursday, March 24, 2016.

HB 12-1224—HB 13-1229—Firearms—Colorado Constitution—Right to Bear Arms—Police Power—Legislative Powers—Executive Powers—Due Process Clause.

In 2013, the Colorado General Assembly passed House Bills 13-1224 and 13-1229, which banned the sale, possession, and transfer of “large capacity ammunition magazines,” and expanded mandatory background checks to recipients of firearms in some private transfers. Plaintiffs Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, National Association for Gun Rights, Inc., John A. Sternberg, and DV-S, LLC (collectively, plaintiffs) filed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of both bills. The district court analyzed the bills under a “reasonable exercise of police powers” test rather than an intermediate or strict scrutiny test and dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim under CRCP 12(b)(5).

On appeal, plaintiffs contended that the district court erred in dismissing their claim that HB 13-1224 violated the Colorado Constitution’s right to bear arms clause. Because this case presented a challenge based on the Colorado Constitution, the district court did not err in using the “reasonable exercise of police power” test to assess the validity of HB 13-1224. However, the district court erred in its application of that test to this case. At a minimum, the claim asserts that the magazine limits violate the constitutional right to bear arms, which requires a factual inquiry into the reasonableness of the limits. When viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the allegations state a claim for relief, and plaintiffs are entitled to present evidence of the basis for their claim.

Plaintiffs contended that HB 13-1229 is unconstitutional because it (1) infringes on individuals’ rights to keep and bear arms; (2) delegates legislative and executive licensure powers to nongovernmental agents; and (3) violates the Due Process Clause, because licensed gun dealers will refuse to facilitate background checks, and they have discretion to impose criminal liability and punishments.

As to the first argument, HB 13-1229 imposes the same mandatory background check requirements on some firearm transfers between private parties as those required for retail sales and sales at gun shows. Thus it does not prevent the sale of firearms but merely creates an additional step for those sales not taking place through a licensed gun dealer. Furthermore, HB 13-1229 does not implicate a fundamental right and does not infringe on individuals’ rights to keep and bear arms for a lawful purpose; both Colorado and federal law bar certain individuals from possessing firearms.

Second, HB 13-1229 does not unconstitutionally delegate legislative or executive powers. Licensed gun dealers do not have the power to make rules regarding mandatory background checks; they are required to follow the same procedures in place for retail firearm transactions. The fact that they are not legally obligated to facilitate sales between private parties is not a delegation of legislative authority. Similarly, HB 13-1229 does not unconstitutionally delegate executive powers. Again, the process for these transfers is no different than that for retail firearm transactions and gun show sales. Licensed gun dealers are not agents of state law enforcement charged with keeping firearms away from criminals; they are only required to initiate a background check.

Third, plaintiffs presented no facts that licensed firearm dealers will refuse to facilitate background checks, thus depriving parties of a right to firearms sales. Additionally, licensed firearms dealers merely collect information; they do not have the discretion to impose criminal liability and punishments. Thus HB 13-1229 does not violate the Due Process Clause.

Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief on HB 13-1229.

As to HB 13-1224, the case was reversed and remanded. Other aspects of the court’s decision were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Short Shotguns Not Protected by Constitutional Right to Bear Arms

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

Police executing a search warrant on Miguel Sandoval’s property after a shooting found a short shotgun in the shed in his backyard. Sandoval was convicted after a bench trial of possessing a dangerous weapon and appealed, arguing the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence of the gun in the trial court, contending the shed was outside the scope of the warrant, and in precluding him from asserting the affirmative defenses of the right to bear arms and self-defense. He also argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.

The court of appeals first evaluated the scope of the search warrant at issue. The warrant authorized the police to enter and search “the person, premises, location and any appurtenances thereto” of Sandoval’s residence. Because the shed in question was in Sandoval’s backyard and very close to the residence, the court found that search of the shed was within the scope of the warrant. The court of appeals affirmed the district court’s denial of Sandoval’s suppression motion based on the search of the shed.

Next, the court evaluated the right to bear arms as enunciated in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution. The court noted that the Supreme Court declined to hold that the Second Amendment provided a constitutional right to possess dangerous weapons, and short shotguns were typically used solely by criminals. The court found that there was no constitutional right for Sandoval to possess the short shotgun and therefore it was not available as an affirmative defense.

Finally, the court evaluated Sandoval’s sufficiency claim and found the evidence was sufficient to support his conviction. Although Sandoval never identified the particular short shotgun at issue as his, he admitted there was a short shotgun at his residence, the short shotgun at issue was found at Sandoval’s residence in the shed in the backyard, a key to the shed was found at Sandoval’s residence, and a spent shotgun round that had been fired from the short shotgun at issue was found in Sandoval’s bedroom. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support Sandoval’s conviction.

The court of appeals affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: USPS Regulations Prohibiting Firearms in Post Office Building and Adjacent Parking Lot Constitutional

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Bonidy v. United States Postal Service on Friday, June 26, 2015.

Tab Bonidy is a resident of Avon, Colorado, who has a permit to carry concealed firearms. Avon does not have residential postal delivery services; instead, residents must pick up their mail at the Avon post office, which is open to the public at all times. Because the United States Postal Service (USPS) does not allow firearms on its property, Bonidy sends an assistant to pick up his mail. Bonidy, through his attorney, sent a letter to the USPS general counsel, asking if he would be prosecuted for carrying a concealed weapon into the post office or storing it in his truck in the parking lot while he got his mail, and the general counsel said he would. Bonidy sued for declaratory and injunctive relief, claiming the prohibition violated his Second Amendment right to bear arms for self-defense. Bonidy and the government filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court held the regulation constitutional as applied to concealed firearms, and the regulation regarding open carry was constitutional as applied to the post office building itself, but not as to the parking lot. The government appealed and Bonidy cross-appealed.

The Tenth Circuit analyzed its own and U.S. Supreme Court case law and affirmed the district court’s holding that the regulation was constitutional as applied to concealed firearms. With regard to open carry, a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling as to the post office building but reversed as to the parking lot, finding it constitutional to prohibit firearms both within the building and in the parking lot.

Citing District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Tenth Circuit affirmed the prohibition on carrying firearms in “sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.” Although Bonidy argued the language was dicta, the Tenth Circuit noted the Supreme Court repeated its holding in a 2010 case, and the Circuit itself had followed the language in its own holdings, which made it binding precedent. The Tenth Circuit applied an intermediate scrutiny test to determine that the ban on firearms in the post office parking lot was constitutional, since the government is empowered to regulate its own business. The Tenth Circuit further found that, as a national government-owned business, the USPS may create a single national rule regarding firearms carry and need not tailor its rules to each individual customer or building.

The district court’s holding that the concealed carry ban was constitutional as applied to both the USPS building and parking lot was affirmed. The district court’s holding that the prohibition on open carry was constitutional as to the post office building was affirmed. The district court’s holding that the prohibition on open carry was unconstitutional as to the parking lot was reversed. Judge Tymkovich wrote a thoughtful dissent; he would have affirmed the district court in all aspects.

Tenth Circuit: Qualified Immunity Appropriate for Officers who Reasonably Believed Probable Cause Existed for Search

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Stonecipher v. Special Agents on Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

Anthony and Melissa Stonecipher were targets of an investigation into their purchases and sales of firearms and explosives. Mrs. Stonecipher had purchased 14 handguns over a period of 10 months, including 12 on a single day, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms began investigating her. The ATF also learned that Mr. Stonecipher was attempting to sell firearms and explosives out of his home. Two special agents went undercover to the Stoneciphers’ home and purchased a firearm and two explosives from Mr. Stonecipher. The ATF determined that Mr. Stonecipher’s sale of the explosives violated 18 U.S.C. § 842(a)(1) because he did not have a federal firearms or explosives license and investigated further into his activity.

In the course of their investigation into Mr. Stonecipher’s activity, Officer Carlos Valles obtained a certified court document showing that Mr. Stonecipher had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2007 in Missouri. Valles also obtained a report from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that indicated Mr. Stonecipher had been denied the right to purchase a handgun because of the conviction, and a report from the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) noting Mr. Stonecipher’s domestic violence charge. Valles sought legal advice from Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Jennings regarding whether Mr. Stonecipher was prohibited from possessing firearms due to his domestic violence conviction. After reviewing all the documents, Jennings advised Valles that Mr. Stonecipher was prohibited from possessing firearms. Valles prepared an application and supporting affidavit for a search warrant to search the Stoneciphers’ house. The warrant was signed by a magistrate judge, and the search was executed. Mr. Stonecipher was placed under arrest during the search, after which he repeatedly proclaimed that his First and Second Amendment rights were being violated. Mr. Stonecipher requested to retrieve some papers from his house, one of which was a letter from his Missouri criminal defense attorney that advised Stonecipher that his conviction would not count after he completed his probation. The agents continued their search, and the next day Valles informed Jennings of the letter produced by Mr. Stonecipher. Jennings advised Valles to proceed with the case. Valles prepared a criminal complaint, which Jennings approved, and Valles filed the complaint in federal district court. Five days later, the prosecuting U.S. Attorney moved to dismiss the case upon discovering that the domestic violence charge was not a qualifying conviction.

The Stoneciphers brought a civil rights action against Valles and five other ATF agents involved in the search. The defendants moved to dismiss on qualified immunity grounds, and the district court granted the motion, finding that the agents reasonably concluded on facts available that they had probable cause to search the house and arrest Mr. Stonecipher. The Stoneciphers contended that the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because they lacked probable cause. The Stoneciphers also alleged that Valles’ warrant application was a reckless disregard of the truth, contending that he knew or should have known that the Missouri suspended sentence was not a conviction for purposes of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). The Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that the documents on which Officer Valles relied were confusing and could be interpreted by an objectively reasonable officer as supportive of the warrant and complaint. The Tenth Circuit also examined the conduct of Officer Valles, particularly that he independently consulted AUSA Jennings, and determined that Officer Valles’ conduct was reasonable and supported dismissal on qualified immunity grounds.

The Stoneciphers also alleged that once they produced the letter from the Missouri criminal defense attorney, the officers should have stopped their search. However, the Tenth Circuit noted that the officers had no duty to credit the suspect’s explanation if they independently believed they still had reasonable probable cause to conduct the search. There was no way for the officers to verify the authenticity of the letter in the middle of the search, and Valles informed Jennings of the letter and its contents the next day. Upon evaluation of the Stoneciphers’ malicious prosecution claims, the Tenth Circuit similarly upheld the actions of Officer Valles, noting that nothing supported that his behavior was malicious. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal because the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant Not Entitled to Second Amendment Instruction for Firearm Used In Conjunction with Illegal Drug Transactions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Cisneros on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

Jury Instructions—Challenge for Cause—Deadly Weapon—Evidence—Right to Bear Arms—Controlled Substance—Miranda Rights—Motion to Suppress Statements—Res Gestae Evidence.

Defendant was at home with his wife, four children, brother, and mother when intruders who apparently intended to rob defendant fired shots into the apartment. Defendant grabbed a handgun and fired shots toward the intruders. Defendant’s 10-year-old daughter was caught in the crossfire. She was shot in the head and died at the scene.

The People charged defendant with child abuse resulting in death, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of marijuana–eight ounces or more, and one special offender count under the special offender statute’s deadly weapon provision. The People alleged that defendant was an armed drug dealer who sold drugs out of his home, thereby placing his daughter in a situation that posed a threat of injury to her health. The People also alleged that defendant possessed the handgun in connection with his drug dealing business.

Regarding defendant’s contention on appeal for an elemental jury instruction concerning possession of a deadly weapon under CRS § 18-18-407(1)(f), the Court of Appeals ruled that the instructions as a whole properly informed the jury of the elements of the sentence aggravator and the proof beyond a reasonable doubt burden. The Court also ruled that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s findings that defendant possessed both a controlled substance and a deadly weapon, and to infer a nexus between the controlled substance and the weapon.

The Court determined that because the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions do not protect the unlawful purpose of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug offense, the Second Amendment right to bear arms in self-defense does not infringe on the constitutionally protected right to bear arms. Defendant was not entitled to the statute’s instruction. Further, because the jury found that defendant’s possession of the handgun was related to his drug offense, the statute was not unconstitutional as applied to him, nor was it unconstitutionally vague.

The Court did not agree with defendant’s argument that his statements to law enforcement officers should have been suppressed. Defendant was not in custody and was not being interrogated when he provided his statement to the officer at the scene or in the waiting room at the police station, and defendant voluntarily made statements to police after they advised him of his Miranda rights. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Court ruled that the trial court did not err in denying defendant’s causal challenge to a juror who worked as a reporter for The Denver Post. The record supported the court’s finding that this juror could “do what the law requires” and could handle any consequences of his relationship with law enforcement agencies.

Defendant contended that the trial court erred when it admitted, as res gestae, evidence concerning his prior acts of buying, selling, and receiving marijuana. This evidence, however, was relevant as to defendant’s knowledge and intent to distribute the marijuana, his possession of a deadly weapon in connection with that offense, and the dangerous circumstances in which defendant allowed his daughter to live. Therefore, the court did not err in admitting it. The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

e-Legislative Report: April 7, 2014

CBA Legislative Policy Committee

For readers who are new to CBA legislative activity, the Legislative Policy Committee (LPC) is the CBA’s legislative policy-making arm during the legislative session. The LPC meets weekly during the legislative session to determine CBA positions on requests from the various sections and committees of the Bar Association.

The LPC did not meet on Friday, April 4.

At the Capitol—Week of March 31

A scorecard of the committee and floor work follows.

In the House

Monday, March 31

No bills were heard on 3rd reading.

Tuesday, April 1

Passed 3rd Reading:

  • HB 14-1315. Concerning the enactment of certain model acts adopted by the national association of insurance commissioners, and, in connection therewith, enacting the credit for reinsurance model act and the portion of the insurer receivership model act that governs netting agreements. Vote: 65 yes and 0 no.
  • HB 14-1313. Concerning a requirement that the owner of a pet animal provide a valid rabies vaccination certificate prior to registering the animal with a county. Vote: 40 yes and 25 no.
  • HB 14-1045. Concerning the continuation of the breast and cervical cancer prevention and treatment program, and, in connection therewith, making an appropriation. Vote: 50 yes and 15 no.
  • HB 14-1281. Concerning the allowance for terminally ill patients to have access to investigational products that have not been approved by the federal food and drug administration that other patients have access to when they participate in clinical trials. Vote: 65 yes and 0 no.
  • HB 14-1302. Concerning the addition of a judgment against a debtor or transferee who acts with actual intent as an available remedy for a creditor in a fraudulent transfer action. Vote: 65 yes and 0 no.

Wednesday, April 2

No bills were heard on 3rd reading.

Thursday, April 3

Passed 3rd Reading:

  • SB 14-135. Concerning the repeal of certain provisions concerning the purchasing of firearms in states that are contiguous to Colorado. Vote: 61 yes, 1 no, and 3 excused.

Friday, April 4

Passed on 3rd Reading:

  • SB 14-103. Concerning the phase-out of the sale of certain low efficiency plumbing fixtures. Vote: 35 yes, 28 no, and 2 excused.
  • HB 14-1001. Concerning the creation of a property tax reimbursement for a taxpayer that owes property tax on property that has been destroyed by a natural cause, and, in connection therewith, making and reducing appropriations. Vote: 46 yes, 17 no, and 2 excused.

In the Senate

Monday, March 31

Passed on 3rd Reading:

  • HB 14-1195. Concerning the diversion of revenue collected by the division of insurance to cash funds. Vote: 35 yes and 0 no.

Tuesday, April 1

Passed on 3rd Reading:

  • SB 14-163. Concerning clarifying changes to provisions related to the sentencing of persons convicted of drug crimes. Vote: 33 yes, 0 no, and 2 excused.
  • SB 14-160. Concerning removing limitations on a transitional living program for a person with a brain injury. Vote: 33 yes, 0 no, and 2 excused.
  • HB 14-1141. Concerning the confidentiality of social security numbers under statutes protecting the privacy of individuals. Vote: 33 yes, 0 no, and 2 excused.

Wednesday, April 2

No bills were heard on 3rd Reading.

Thursday, April 3

Passed on 3rd Reading:

  • The Senate spent numerous hours debating various 2nd Reading amendments to HB 14-1336. Concerning the provision for payment of the expenses of the executive, legislative, and judicial departments of the state of Colorado, and of its agencies and institutions, for and during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014, except as otherwise noted—“the Budget bill.”

Friday, April 4

Passed on 3rd Reading:

  • HB 14-1282. Concerning the specification of what materials may be provided in a language other than English by an insurer to a customer. Vote: 34 yes, 0 no, and 1 excused.
  • HB 14-1336. Concerning the provision for payment of the expenses of the executive, legislative, and judicial departments of the state of Colorado, and of its agencies and institutions, for and during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014, except as otherwise noted—“the Budget bill.” Vote: 26 yes, 8 no, and 1 excused.

Stay tuned for 10 Bills of Interest.


Tenth Circuit: Grant of New Trial Reversed Because Undisclosed Evidence Immaterial Under Brady

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Reese on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Rick Reese owned a federally licensed firearms store and ran it with his wife, Terri, and two sons, Ryin and Remington. In August 2012, a jury convicted Rick, Terri, and Ryin under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 924(a)(1)(A) for aiding and abetting straw purchases of firearms from the store. Unbeknownst to them, however, at the time of trial the FBI was investigating one of the government’s witnesses, Deputy Batts, for his alleged involvement in various criminal activities. Arguing that the government’s failure to disclose that information before trial violated Brady v. Maryland, Defendants filed a motion for a new trial. The district court concluded that the government had withheld favorable, material evidence from Defendants and granted their motion. The government appealed.

Before reaching the merits of the appeal, the Tenth Circuit clarified that de novo is the standard of review of a district court’s ruling on a Brady claim asserted in the context of a new-trial motion. It also clarified that the test for materiality of withheld evidence does not change based on whether the government withheld it negligently or intentionally.

The court focused on the materiality element of the Brady claim and concluded that the Deputy Batts investigation was immaterial because there was not a reasonable probability that the outcome of Defendants’ trial would have been different had the government disclosed the investigation. The government’s evidence on the counts of conviction was sufficiently strong that the court was confident in the jury’s verdict. The court rejected Defendants’ arguments that Deputy Batts was a critical witness or that this was a close case and reversed the district court.

SB 14-038: Eliminating Governor’s Authority to Restrict Sale of Firearms During Disaster

On Wednesday, January 8, 2014, Sen. Scott Renfroe introduced SB 14-038 – Concerning Eliminating the Governor’s Authority to Restrict the Distribution of Firearms During a State of Disaster Emergency. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill eliminates the governor’s authority to suspend or limit the sale, dispensing, or transportation of firearms during a state of disaster emergency. The bill is assigned to the State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.