May 25, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: Trooper’s Erroneous Interpretation of Governing Statute Was Not Reasonable Mistake of Law

On Monday, January 14, 2019, the Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in People v. Burnett.

Searches and Seizures—Reasonable Suspicion— Mistake of Law.

In this interlocutory appeal, the supreme court considered whether a Colorado State Patrol trooper made a reasonable mistake of law when the trooper stopped a car for making what he believed to be an illegal lane change after witnessing the driver flash her turn signal twice over a distance of less than 200 feet and then change lanes. The court held that the trooper’s erroneous interpretation of the governing statute, C.R.S. § 42-4-903, did not constitute an objectively reasonable mistake of law. It is plain from the text of the statute that a driver is not required to signal continuously for any set distance before changing lanes on a highway; the statute only requires that a driver use a signal before changing lanes. Thus, because this was not a reasonable mistake of law, the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the investigatory stop. The court therefore affirmed the trial court’s suppression order.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Adverse Possession Requires Good Faith Belief of Ownership of Property for 18 Years or More

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Gutierrez-Vite on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Adverse Possession—Defense—Theft—Offering a False Instrument for Recording—Jury Instructions—Testimony.

This case stems from defendant’s alleged attempt to adversely possess a home in Fraser, Colorado. At all relevant times, the home was privately owned by another party, but was unoccupied and in foreclosure. Defendant filed an Affidavit of Adverse Possession with the Grand County Clerk and Recorder’s Office even though she did not own or have permission to be in the home. A jury found defendant guilty of attempted theft and two counts of offering a false instrument for recording.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred because it denied her request to present a defense based on the adverse possession statute and an affirmative defense of mistake of law based on the adverse possession statute. Under the adverse possession statute, in actions filed on or after July 1, 2008, the party claiming the title must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that his or her possession was actual, adverse, hostile, under a claim of right, exclusive, and uninterrupted for at least eighteen years. The statute also requires that an adverse claimant establish a good-faith belief that he or she was the property’s actual owner.

Because defendant admitted that she knew the property was owned by someone else and she only possessed the property for five months, she did not meet the requirements to claim adverse possession. Because her adverse possession claim to the property fails, the adverse possession statute could not relieve her of criminal liability. Further, defendant’s mistaken belief regarding adverse possession law does not relieve her of criminal liability. Therefore, the trial court did not err in denying her request to present a defense based on adverse possession and excluding this defense from the jury instructions.

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