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Cases of Note

Courts presume that the General Assembly is aware of court decisions that construe state statutes or the constitution. The OLLS will update this web page quarterly to notify the General Assembly of such court decisions. Cases that may be of particular interest because they meet certain criteria have been summarized and are listed below in chronological order. Summaries for cases older than a year are available in an archive.

 

 

People v. Dennel, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 19CA1007 (October 5, 2022)

Holding: The juvenile transfer statute does not condition transfer eligibility on a previous delinquency adjudication.

Case Summary: Juvenile defendant was charged in juvenile court with committing a delinquent act that if committed by an adult would constitute second degree murder, a class 2 felony. On the date of the alleged offense, defendant was 15 years old. The juvenile court transferred defendant's case to district court for adult criminal proceedings pursuant to the juvenile transfer statute, § 19-2.5-802, C.R.S. In the district court, defendant pleaded guilty to manslaughter, a class 4 felony, and was sentenced as an adult. The defendant appealed, contending that his case was ineligible for transfer because the transfer statute requires a juvenile to have a prior felony adjudication in order for the case to be transferred, and defendant did not have a prior felony adjudication.

The court held that the plain language of the transfer statute does not require the transfer petition to allege the juvenile had been previously adjudicated for a delinquent act in order to transfer the juvenile's case to district court. As relevant to the issue in the case, the transfer statute only requires the delinquency petition to allege that the juvenile is at least a certain age and that the juvenile is accused of committing an offense of at least a certain seriousness. The court found that the petition in this case satisfied both conditions.

The court in this case acknowledged that another division of the court of appeals, in People v. Nelson, 2015 COA 123, interpreted the transfer statute to require a prior felony adjudication in order to transfer a juvenile's case to district court. The division in this case was not persuaded to depart from its plain language statutory analysis by the Nelson division's analysis because Nelson didn't turn on the issue of whether a prior felony adjudication was required and the Nelson division only addressed the issue in passing. (For more information, contact Conrad Imel.)

 

 

People v. Snelling, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 20CA1144 (October 5, 2022)

Holding: First degree criminal trespass, § 18-4-502(1)(a), C.R.S., is a lesser included offense of second degree burglary, § 18-4-203(1), C.R.S.

Case Summary: Defendant was convicted of both first degree criminal trespass and second degree burglary. On appeal, defendant argued that  first degree criminal trespass is a lesser included offense of second degree burglary, so the trespass conviction should merge with the burglary conviction. 

An offense is a lesser included offense of a greater offense if the lesser offense contains only elements that are also included in the elements of the greater offense. If a defendant is found guilty of a greater offense and a lesser included offense, the court must merge the lesser offense into the greater. In this case, the court found that both first degree criminal trespass and second degree burglary are committed by knowingly and unlawfully entering a dwelling; second degree burglary differs only because it requires the intent to commit a crime upon entry. Because all of the elements of first degree criminal trespass are included in second degree burglary, the trespass is a lesser included offense of the burglary and convictions for the offenses merge.

The court acknowledged that its holding conflicts with the Colorado Supreme Court's opinion in People v. Garcia, 940 P.2d 357 (Colo. 1997), in which the court held that first degree criminal trespass was not a lesser included offense of second degree burglary, and with the opinion of another division of the court of appeals in People v. Whiteaker, 2022 COA 84, in which the division relied on Garcia to hold that second degree burglary and first degree trespass do not merge. The court of appeals division in this case found that it is not bound by Garcia's holding because the Supreme Court implicitly overruled Garcia when, in a later case, it adopted a standard different from the one used in Garcia to determine whether two offenses merge. (For more information, contact Conrad Imel.)

 

 

Ford Motor Co. v. Walker, Colorado Supreme Court No. 20SC947 (June 21, 2022)

Holding: If a civil judgment is reversed on appeal and a new judgment entered on retrial, postjudgment interest accrues at the market interest rate after the date of the first judgment rather than the statutory 9% interest rate.

Case Summary: Under § 13-21-101, C.R.S., if a judgment debtor appeals a judgment, postjudgment interest accrues from the date the judgment is entered until the judgment is satisfied at the market interest rate rather than the statutory interest rate of 9%. In this case, the judgment debtor successfully appealed the first judgment, resulting in reversal and remand to the trial court for a new trial. Following the new trial, a second judgment was entered for the plaintiffs. In an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court following entry of the second judgment, the issue was whether the market interest rate should apply from the date the first judgment was entered until the second judgment was satisfied or whether the statutory 9% interest rate should apply once the first judgment was reversed and the case sent back to the trial court for retrial. The Supreme Court found that the statute was ambiguous, but interpreted the legislative intent of the statute to require application of the market interest rate for the entire period after the date of the first judgment and until the second judgment was satisfied. (For more information, contact Jeremiah Barry.)

 

 

People v. Moreno, Colorado Supreme Court No. 21SA181 (March 28, 2022)

Holding: The phrase "intended to harass" in subsection § 18-9-111(1)(e) is facially overbroad and therefore unconstitutional.

Case Summary: Defendant was charged with harassment under § 18-9-111(1)(e) for making multiple derogatory and offensive comments about his ex-wife on social media. Because the term "harass" has a broad meaning that can be applied to protected and unprotected speech, the court ruled that the phrase "intended to harass" was substantially overbroad on its face because the phrase substantially extends into areas of protected speech. Therefore, the court partially invalidated the statute by removing the words "harass or" from (1)(e). (For more information, contact Chelsea Princell.)

 

 

Rojas v. People, Colorado Supreme Court No. 20SC399 (February 22, 2022)

Holding: Criminal conviction was reversed because of admission of evidence of prior criminal act under the common law doctrine of res gestae. The court found that res gestae no longer applies in Colorado.

Case Summary: Defendant was convicted of two counts of theft based upon her improper receipt of food stamps benefits. At trial, the prosecution, over objection, submitted evidence of her application for benefits after the time period in which she received the improper benefits. The trial court and court of appeals upheld the submission of such evidence under the common law doctrine of res gestae. The supreme court reversed and held that the doctrine of res gestae is abolished in criminal cases and that evidence of other wrong doing should be analyzed under Rule 404 of the Colorado Rules of Evidence. (For more information, contact Jeremiah Barry.)

 

 

People v. Rau, Colorado Supreme Court No. 20SC583 (January 10, 2022)

Holding: For purposes of section 18-1-704.5, a "dwelling" includes the shared basement in an apartment building.

Case Summary: The defendant lived in an old house that was converted into apartments. The basement of the building contained the controls for the water and heat supply and had areas for storage. Each tenant had keyed access to the basement. One morning the defendant's girlfriend noticed that the door to basement was open. The defendant armed himself with a gun and went down to investigate. Defendant found a large man asleep and surrounded by drug paraphernalia. The defendant woke the man up and told him he needed to leave. The man got up and became aggressive, yelling and throwing things around. The defendant told the man he had a gun, but the man's behavior did not change. Finally, the defendant told the man he was going to count to 5 and if the man did not leave when he finished counting he would shoot. The man did not leave, and the defendant, fearing that the man was going to charge at him, shot and killed the man. A grand jury indicted the defendant for second degree murder. The defendant moved to dismiss the charge arguing that he was immune to prosecution pursuant to section 18-1-704.5, C.R.S., commonly referred to as the "Make My Day" law. Following an evidentiary hearing, the trial court dismissed the charge against him.

The people appealed arguing that the basement was not part of the defendant's "dwelling", and thus section 18-1-704.5, C.R.S., did not provide immunity to the defendant. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's dismissal of the charge. The supreme court took up the case to decide whether the basement was part of the defendant's dwelling.

The supreme court determined that "dwelling" includes an apartment building's shared basement that is accessible to all tenants. The basement was part of the building that the defendant used for habitation. Some of the usual uses of the basement, like the control of water and heat and storage of personal items, were incidental to and part of the defendant's use of the residence. In making its ruling, the supreme court overruled a court of appeals decision that held the common areas of an apartment building used by other tenants and guests was not part of a defendant's dwelling for purposes of section 18-1-704.5, C.R.S. 

The supreme court rejected the people's arguments that its decision would lead to absurd results because immunity "would extend to every nook and cranny in apartment buildings". The supreme court acknowledged that the shared living arrangements that may not have been prevalent when section 18-1-704.5, C.R.S., was adopted may present some problems today in applying this section, but it is up to the legislature to contemporize section 18-1-704.5, C.R.S., if changes are necessary. (For more information, contact Michael Dohr.)

 

 

Rudnicki v. Bianco, Colorado Supreme Court No. 19SC631 (December 13, 2021)

Holding: In cases involving an unemancipated minor child, either the child or the child's parents may recover the child’s pre-majority medical expenses, but double recovery is not permitted.

Case Summary: A child suffered serious injuries at birth, in 2005, when a doctor negligently performed the delivery. The child's parents, in both their individual capacities and acting on behalf of the child, brought a claim in 2014 against the doctor and hospital where the child was born. The district court dismissed the parents' claims because the applicable two-year statute of limitations barred their claims. The case went forward with the child as the only plaintiff. A jury found the doctor liable for the child's injuries and awarded the plaintiff-child damages, including past medical expenses and future medical expenses to cover costs from the judgment date until the child is 22 years old.

Under Colorado common law, only an injured child's parents can recover an unemancipated child's pre-majority medical expenses. In this case, because the parents' claim for medical expenses was dismissed as time-barred, the trial court vacated the award for past medical expenses and the portion of the future medical expenses awarded for the period before child reaches age 18. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's decision vacating the pre-majority medical damages award.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed. In doing so, the court abandoned the common law rule that allows only parents to recover their unemancipated minor child’s pre-majority medical expenses, expressly overruled any Colorado appellate court decisions that followed the common law rule, and held that in cases involving an unemancipated minor child, either the child or the child's parents may recover the child’s pre-majority medical expenses, but double recovery is not permitted. 

The court recognized that it "will depart from [ ] existing law only if [it is] clearly convinced that (1) the rule was originally erroneous or is no longer sound because of changing conditions and (2) more good than harm will come from departing from precedent." 

The court found that the common law rule is no longer sound because of changing conditions. The modern common law rule is based on the theory that it allows the party who actually suffered the damages (namely, the parents, who have a legal obligation to support their children) to recover the loss caused by another person and prevents double recoveries. The court explained that the first rationale "ignores the advent" of private and public health insurance that relieve parents of the obligation to pay a child's medical expenses out of pocket and that a rule that treats parents as the sole interested parties with regard to a child's medical expenses is "no longer in sync with the realities of the health care economy." The court also found that the common law rule is no more "adept at shielding a defendant from double recovery" than a rule expressly bars double recoveries."

To determine whether more good than harm will come from departing from precedent, the court considered the public policy rationales for abandoning the common law rule. The court found abandoning the rule would allow recovery from the responsible party for unforeseen and presently unforeseeable medical expenditures, would not result in parents denying children medical treatment, and would not result in any unmanageable evidentiary issues that would arise with delayed claims brought by the child. (For more information, contact Conrad Imel.)

 

 

People v. Johnson, Colorado Supreme Court No. 20SC790 (December 13, 2021)

Holding: The common law doctrine of abatement ab initio applies to a restitution order imposed on a criminal defendant who dies during the pendency of his direct appeal and thus the order is vacated.

Case Summary: The defendant was convicted of multiple counts of securities fraud and theft and adjudicated a habitual criminal. The district court sentenced him to a total of forty-eight years in prison and ordered him to pay costs, fees, and restitution. The defendant appealed, but the defendant died before the appeal could be resolved.

The common law doctrine of abatement ab initio establishes that when a defendant dies while his conviction is on appeal, all criminal proceedings against him are vacated. The court of appeals division in this case held that the doctrine of abatement ab initio extinguished defendant's restitution order entered as part of his criminal sentence. In doing so, the division disagreed with a contrary holding of another division of the court of appeals. In People v. Daly, 313 P.3d 571 (Colo. App. 2011), the court of appeals held that in this situation, a restitution order should not be abated because it is a civil judgment that survives the defendant's death.

The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the court of appeals in this case and overruled the division's decision in Daly. The Court held that a final conviction is a requirement for maintaining an order of restitution and recognized that a conviction becomes final only after the court of appeals has issued a mandate, which does not occur if the defendant dies while the direct appeal is pending. Without a final conviction, the defendant may not be deemed an offender for the purpose of maintaining a restitution order. The Court also found that the General Assembly has not explicitly or by clear implication abrogated the common law doctrine of abatement ab initio. (For more information, contact Conrad Imel.)

 

 

In re Colo. Indep. Legislative Redistricting Comm'n, Colorado Supreme Court No. 21SA305 (November 15, 2021)

Holding: The court held that the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission did not abuse its discretion in applying the criteria set forth in article V, section 48.1 of the Colorado Constitution in adopting final legislative redistricting plans for the Colorado Senate and the Colorado House of Representatives. Accordingly, the Court approved the plans for the Colorado Senate and the Colorado House of Representatives and ordered the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission to file those plans with the Colorado Secretary of State.

Case Summary: In this original proceeding, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the final legislative redistricting plans submitted by the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission. The Court reviewed the objections filed against the final legislative redistricting plans and the criteria set forth in article V, section 48.1 of the Colorado Constitution to determine if the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission abused its discretion in following these criteria and adopting final legislative redistricting plans. The Court determined that the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission did not abuse its discretion in adopting the final legislative redistricting plans. (For more information, contact Pierce Lively.)

 

 

Rocky Mtn. Gun Owners v. Polis, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 20CA0997 (November 10, 2021)

Holding: 1. Whether the House of Representatives properly dispensed with the requirement of article V, section 22 of the Colorado constitution that a bill be read at length absent unanimous consent to dispensing with reading at length is not a nonjusticiable political question. 2. Representatives who had requested to have a bill read at length and had their requests denied had standing to assert a violation of the reading at length requirement.

Case Summary: Article V, section 22 of the Colorado constitution imposes a requirement, commonly known as the reading requirement, that every bill be read "at length on two different days in each house;" except that "any reading at length may be dispensed with upon unanimous consent of the members present." On second reading on House Bill 19-1177 (HB 1177), which included "red flag" provisions that allow confiscation of an individual's firearms under specified circumstances, two state representatives' separate requests that the bill be read at length were denied. Thereafter, the General Assembly enacted HB 1177.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the representatives who had requested that HB 1177 be read at length, and one other representative challenged the enactment of HB 1177 as unconstitutional due to the denial of the requests that the bill be read at length. The Denver District Court granted the Governor's motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the case presented a nonjusticiable political question and that the court therefore lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The district court also held, albeit unnecessarily given its finding of nonjusticiability, that none of the plaintiffs had individual or taxpayer standing but that the representatives who had requested that HB 1177 be read at length had "legislative standing. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals first held that the case did not present a nonjusticiable political question. In doing so, it relied on Markwell v. Cooke, 2021 CO 17, a case decided after the district court's dismissal of the case at issue in which the Colorado Supreme Court had unanimously held that a constitutional challenge to the enactment of another bill based on the reading requirement did not present a nonjusticiable political question. The court of appeals then held that: (1) none of the plaintiffs had taxpayer standing because there was no clear nexus between their status as taxpayers and the alleged violation of the reading requirement; and (2) the representatives who had requested that HB 1177 be read at length had standing because the procedural right to have a bill read at length is personal to each individual legislator and the denial of that procedural right is itself an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing even if the reading would not necessarily have led to any changes to the contents of HB 1177 or prevented its enactment. Accordingly, the court of appeals remanded the case back to the Denver District Court for further proceedings. (For more information, contact Jason Gelender.)

 

 

People v. Taylor, Colorado Court of Appeals No. 18CA1410 (November 4, 2021)

Holding: Section 18-1-406 (7), C.R.S., permitting a court to allow the remaining 11 jurors to return the jury's verdict in a felony case if the court excuses a juror for just cause after the jury has retired to consider its verdict, is unconstitutional.

Case Summary: The defendant was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance. During its deliberations following the trial, the jury informed the court that it had an 11-1 vote to convict the defendant, but would not be able to reach a unanimous guilty verdict because one juror who believed that the defendant was guilty would not vote to convict due to that juror's disagreement with Colorado's drug laws. Subsection 18-1-406 (7) permits a court to allow the remaining 11 jurors to return the jury's verdict in a felony case if the court excuses a juror for just cause after the jury starts deliberations. Relying on that section, the trial court dismissed the dissenting juror for "just cause" because (1) the juror had a pre-existing belief with respect to his disagreement with Colorado's drug laws and did not express that disagreement during the jury selection process and (2) after taking an oath indicating that he would follow the law and the court's instructions, the juror chose not to do so. After the juror was dismissed, the remaining 11 jurors returned a verdict finding the defendant guilty.

In 2005,  the Colorado Supreme Court, in People v. Rodriguez, 112 P.3d 693 (Colo. 2005), interpreted Article II, Sec. 23 of the Colorado Constitution as guaranteeing a right to a 12 person jury in felony cases. In the present case, the Court of Appeals court found that the right to a 12 person jury is effectuated only when 12 jurors complete the trial and deliberate to a conclusion in the case. Thus, the court held that section 18-1-406 (7), C.R.S., is unconstitutional because it conflicts with a defendant's state constitutional right to have a felony case decided by a jury of 12. (For more information, contact Conrad Imel.)