September 22, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prison Inmate Not Barred from Asserting Castle Doctrine

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Alaniz on Thursday, June 30, 2016.

Prison Cell—Prisoner—“Make-My-Day” Statute—Dwelling—Immunity.

Alaniz is an inmate in the Colorado Department of Corrections. The people filed the charges in this case after another inmate was found dead in a cell shared by Alaniz and another inmate. After the court held an evidentiary hearing, it dismissed the charges against defendant based on Colorado’s “make-my-day” statute, which provides that under certain circumstances an occupant of a dwelling who uses any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against an intruder will be immune from prosecution.

On appeal, the People contended that Alaniz was not entitled to immunity under section C.R.S. § 18-1-704.5 because a prison cell is not a dwelling for purposes of that statute. Alaniz’s prison cell meets the definition of a dwelling in C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(g) because it was used by persons for habitation. Further, the definition of dwelling in C.R.S. § 18-1-901(3)(g) applies to the immunity provisions of C.R.S. § 18-1-704.5.

The People next contended that the court erred in dismissing the charges because Alaniz failed to prove that he used physical force against the victim. Alaniz was merely required to establish that circumstances justifying the charged use of force were present, as set forth in C.R.S. §§ 18-1-704.5(2) and (3). Nothing in the language of that statute supports the People’s assertion that he was required to explain the entirety of his actions at the hearing in order to obtain immunity. Accordingly, the court did not err in granting Alaniz’s motion to dismiss the charges.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Prisoner’s Claim Dismissed as Moot Where Basis for Claim No Longer Exists

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Ind v. Colorado Department of Corrections on Friday, September 11, 2015.

Jacob Ind has been in prison since 1992. In September 1995, he was assigned to administrative segregation at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP), where he was subject to a limitation of two personal books. He filed suit in March 2009, alleging the two-book limitation was a substantial burden on his sincerely held religious beliefs in violation of the constitution and RLUIPA. In June 2011, he was transferred out of administrative segregation and into the general population, where he is allowed 15 personal books. The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) moved to dismiss his suit as moot, and the magistrate judge recommended it be dismissed for mootness, but the district judge concluded Ind would likely be returned to segregation in the future and denied the motion. The court held after a bench trial that the two-book limitation violated Ind’s RLUIPA rights and that if he were returned to segregation CDOC was enjoined from enforcing the policy against Ind. CDOC appealed, arguing the case was moot.

The Tenth Circuit began its review by evaluating the doctrine of mootness, noting the exceptions to the mootness doctrine include if (1) secondary or collateral injuries survive after resolution of the primary injury, (2) the issue is deemed a wrong capable of repetition but evading review, (3) the defendant voluntarily ceases an illegal practice but is free to resume at any time, or (4) it is a properly certified class action. The second and third exceptions were at issue in Ind’s case, and the district court applied the third exception in ruling the limitation violated RLUIPA as applied to Ind.

The Tenth Circuit examined the record and found it void of any evidence that Ind’s return to the general population was a ploy by CDOC to deprive the court of jurisdiction. Instead, the record showed that Ind completed the required phases of administrative segregation and was then returned to the general population. Ind argued that his history of having spent more than half of his imprisonment in administrative segregation demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would return there. The Tenth Circuit declined to assume that he would repeat the misconduct that caused him to enter administrative segregation in the first place, and further noted that he had spent four years in the general population since being released from segregation, three years of which were after the district court issued its order. The Tenth Circuit concluded it was undisputed that Ind’s release from administrative segregation ended the alleged violation of his rights, and the CDOC carried its burden of showing the challenged conduct could not reasonably be expected to resume.

The Tenth Circuit then turned to Ind’s assertion that the harm was capable of repetition but evading review. To avail himself of the exception, Ind must show that the challenged action was too short in duration to be litigated prior to its cessation and there is a reasonable expectation that the complaining party will be subject to the same action again. The Tenth Circuit found Ind’s argument failed at the second prong, because, pursuant to Tenth Circuit precedent, the circuit declined to assume Ind would repeat the misconduct for which he was previously sent to administrative segregation.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision and remanded with instructions to dismiss the case as moot.

SB 14-064: Disallowing the Use of Long-Term Isolated Confinement for Seriously Mentally Ill Prisoners

On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri introduced SB 14-064 – Concerning Restricting the Use of Long-Term Isolated Confinement for Inmates with Serious Mental Illness. This summary is published here courtesy of the Colorado Bar Association’s e-Legislative Report.

The bill requires the department of corrections to review the status of all offenders held in long-term isolated confinement within 90 days after the effective date of the bill. If the review determines that the offender is seriously mentally ill, the department shall move the offender from long-term isolated confinement to a mental health step-down unit, prison mental hospital, or other appropriate housing that does not include long-term isolated confinement. The department may not place a seriously mentally ill offender in long-term isolated confinement and must do a mental health evaluation prior to placing an inmate in long-term isolated confinement prior to placement to determine whether the placement is allowed.

The bill dictates the type and manner that discipline is applied to seriously mentally ill inmates. The bill provides seriously mentally ill inmates with the opportunity for therapy and out-of-cell time.

The bill is assigned to the Judiciary Committee.

Tenth Circuit: Consent Can Be a Defense to Eighth Amendment Claim Based on Sex Acts Between Prisoner and Custodian

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in Graham v. Sheriff of Logan County on Friday, December 20, 2013.

Two prison guards, Jefferies and Mendez, had sexual intercourse with Stacey Graham while she was in solitary confinement at the Logan County Jail in Oklahoma. The guards confessed and were fired immediately. Graham then sought damages in a civil-rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the two guards and the county sheriff. She alleged a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, as applied to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the ground that the sexual acts were consensual.

On appeal, Graham argued that (1) her consent was a question of fact that must be decided by a jury, and (2) consent was not a valid defense to her claims. Sexual abuse of an inmate by an officer violates the Eighth Amendment and is generally analyzed as an excessive force claim. The test for excessive force has an objective and subjective prong. When a prisoner alleges rape by a prison guard, the prisoner need prove only that the guard forced sex in order to show an Eighth Amendment violation.

In this case, the Tenth Circuit found there was no genuine dispute that the guards did not force Graham to have sex. Graham did not contest that she had participated in sexual conversations with Jefferies for an extended period before the acts in question occurred. She admitted that she flashed Jefferies and wrote him notes that made clear that she wanted to have sexual intercourse with him. She admitted to talking to Mendez about her fantasies, and that she told him to “[b]ring Jefferies” so that they could have a threesome. She did not indicate lack of consent during the event. Although Graham has said that she did not want to have sex with Mendez and that Mendez pushed her head down just before the encounter ended, she has not suggested that she indicated any reluctance to Jefferies or Mendez. Additionally, she did not discuss the significance of Mendez pushing her head down in her opening brief’s argument section.

Graham argued on appeal that a prisoner cannot legally consent to sex with a custodian, so even consensual sex with a prisoner is cruel and unusual punishment. This is a matter of first impression in the Tenth Circuit. The Sixth and Eighth Circuits have held that consensual sex between guards and inmates is not an Eighth Amendment violation. The Ninth Circuit has held that there is a rebuttable presumption of nonconsent that can be rebutted by a showing that the interaction involved no coercive factors. Some district courts have held that consent is not a defense.

The Tenth Circuit held that to prove sexual abuse of a prisoner, some form of coercion by the custodian must be present. The coercion need not be physical. In this case, coercion was not present, so summary judgment was affirmed.