Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court

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In 2006, Guy Lucero was convicted by jury for multiple offenses arising from a drive-by shooting. He was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Lucero to consecutive term-of-years prison sentences for each count, aggravated as crimes of violence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of eighty-four years. The court of appeals affirmed Lucero’s convictions and sentences on direct appeal. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), that the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the imposition of a life without parole sentence on a juvenile non-homicide offender, concluding that states must “give defendants like Graham some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Subsequently, Lucero filed a motion pursuant to Rule 35(b) of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure seeking reduction of his sentence. As relevant here, Lucero argued that his sentence must be reduced under Graham to meet constitutional standards, because an eighty-four-year sentence imposed on a juvenile carried the same implications as a sentence of life without parole. The trial court denied the motion; the court of appeals affirmed. The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Lucero's aggregate term-of-years sentence. The Court also rejected Lucero’s argument that the court of appeals erred in treating his claim as one under Rule 35(c). View "Lucero v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Atorrus Rainer was convicted by jury on two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of aggravated robbery, and crime of violence. He was seventeen at the time of the charged offenses, and he was charged as an adult. Rainer was sentenced to forty-eight years for each attempted murder charge, thirty-two years for each assault charge, and thirty-two years each for the charges of burglary and aggravated robbery. The sentences for the two counts of attempted murder were subsequently ordered to run concurrently, as were the sentences for the two counts of assault, resulting in an aggregate sentence of 112 years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which categorically banned sentences of life without parole for juveniles who were not convicted of homicide, Rainer moved the district court to vacate the sentence, arguing that his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional under "Graham." The district court denied the motion. On appeal, the court of appeals reversed, concluding that, because Rainer would be eligible for parole at about age seventy-five, thus ineligible for parole within his expected lifetime, he had no meaningful opportunity to obtain release and was unconstitutional under "Graham" and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Rainer's aggregate term-of-years sentence. View "Colorado v. Rainer" on Justia Law

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In 1995, Cheryl Armstrong was convicted by jury on two counts of second-degree murder under a complicity theory. She was sixteen at the time of the charged offenses, and was tried as an adult. Armstrong was sentenced to forty-eight years in prison on each count, to be served consecutively, resulting in an aggregate sentence of ninety-six years. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), which categorically banned sentences of life without parole for juveniles who were not convicted of homicide, Armstrong moved the district court to vacate the sentence, arguing that her aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and therefore unconstitutional under "Graham." The district court denied Armstrong’s motion. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Armstrong will be eligible for parole at about age sixty, she has a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, and her sentence thereby complied with "Graham" and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court determined "Graham" and "Miller" did not apply here, and therefore, did not invalidate Armstrong's aggregate term-of-years sentence. View "Armstrong v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In 2006, a jury convicted Alejandro Estrada-Huerta of second-degree kidnapping and sexual assault. Estrada-Huerta was seventeen at the time he was charged, and he was tried as an adult. The trial court sentenced Estrada-Huerta to twenty-four years for the kidnapping conviction and sixteen years to life for each count of sexual assault. The sexual assault sentences were ordered to run concurrently with each other but consecutive to the kidnapping sentence, resulting in an aggregate sentence of forty years to life in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Estrada-Huerta moved to vacate his sentences, arguing his aggregate term-of-years sentence was the functional equivalent of life without parole and was therefore unconstitutional under Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010). The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that, because Estrada-Huerta would be eligible for parole at age fifty-eight, he had a meaningful opportunity to obtain release, therefore his sentence complied with “Graham” and the subsequent case of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012). The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s result, though on different grounds. The Court found that “Graham” and “Miller” did not apply in this matter; Estrada-Huerta was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole: he received consecutive terms for three separate convictions. View "Estrada-Huerta v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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Police responded to a domestic disturbance involving then 16-year-old A.L.-C., who was feuding with he mother and stepfather on the first floor of the family home. B.O., his sister, told an aunt who was in the house, that A.L.-C. had sexually assaulted her. B.O. repeated her allegations to the police. A.L.-C. was briefly detained, but then returned to his parents. The following day, A.L.-C. and his parents went to the police station for questioning about the alleged sexual assaults. A detective and Spanish interpreter advised the three of A.L.-C.'s "Miranda" rights, then the detective and interpreter stepped out of the room to allow the family to discuss whether A.L.-C. would waive his rights. A videorecorder captured their exchange. Initially, the tape showed the parents individually asking A.L.-C. whether he understood his rights. A.L.-C. replied that he was "always the liar, or the one lying" and told his mother he would rather keep quiet. Whether A.L.-C. meant this as a refusal to speak with his mother or with the police was unclear. Minutes later, the detective and interpreter re-enetered the room and A.L.-C. and his mother both signed the Miranda waiver form. A.L.-C. indicated he understood his rights and agreed to discuss his sister's allegations. A.L.-C.'s stepfather left the room before more questioning began, but his mother remained for its entirety. At issue was A.L.-C.'s statement to his mother outside of police presence. The trial court suppressed A.L.-C.'s incriminating statements, concluding that although his mother was present, she could not protect his right to remain silent because she did not share his interests. The State sought the Colorado Supreme Court's review. Finding that the plain language of section 19-2-511(1) C.R.S. (2016) required only that a parent be present during the advisement and interrogation, the Supreme Court reversed the suppression order. View "People in the Interest of A.L.-C." on Justia Law

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Similar to "Colorado v. Johnson," (2016 CO 69 (2016)), at issue in this case were questions involving what a trial court could order when a juvenile seeks a reverse-transfer of her criminal case from trial court to juvenile court. Defendant Brooke Higgins was a juvenile respondent before a magistrate judge. The district attorney requested, and Higgins' then-defense-counsel agreed to, a state administered mental health assessment of Higgins. Because the parties agreed, the magistrate judge ordered the assessment. Later, in front of a trial court, the DA dismissed the juvenile charges against Higgins and charged her as an adult with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Higgins sought, and the trial court granted, a reverse-transfer hearing to determine whether she should remain in adult court. Before that hearing, Higgins, now represented by different counsel, filed a motion to suppress the mental health assessment and disqualify the trial court judge. The trial court denied both requests, holding that the parties stipulated to the assessment, and there was independent statutory authority for the magistrate judge to order the assessment. Higgins appealed, arguing the trial court lacked authority to order a juvenile-charged-as-an-adult to undergo a mental health assessment for a reverse-transfer hearing. The Supreme Court found that based on the facts of this case, Higgins' arguments, while loosely related to those in "Johnson," were hypothetical and premature. The Court therefore vacated the trial court's order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Higgins v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were questions involving what a trial court could order when a juvenile seeks a reverse-transfer of her criminal case from trial court to juvenile court. The district attorney directly filed a criminal complaint against defendant Sienna Johnson in trial court, treating her as an adult and charging her with two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. Defendant requested a reverse-transfer hearing, and the trial court granted her request. The State appealed, arguing that C.R.S. 19-2-517(3)(b)(VI) (the reverse-transfer statute) required a trial court to evaluate the petitioner's mental health. The DA requested access to defendant's mental health and psychological records and requested a court-ordered mental health assessment. Defendant responded that she should not have to produce the records because she had not waived her psychotherapist-patient privilege in her request for a reverse-transfer, and the statute did not give the trial court authority to order an assessment. The trial court ruled in favor of the DA on both counts. The Supreme Court concluded after review: (1) nothing in the reverse-transfer statute stated that a juvenile waived her psychotherapist-patient privilege by requesting a reverse-transfer hearing, so the trial court could not order her to produce her mental records; and (2) nothing in the statute gave the trial court explicit authority to order the mental health assessment. The case was therefore remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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In this juvenile delinquency case, the prosecution filed an interlocutory appeal seeking the Supreme Court's review of a magistrate's order suppressing certain statements made by the juvenile during a police interrogation. Because the magistrate's suppression order was never reviewed and adopted (with or without modification) by the district court before the appeal was filed, the Supreme Court lacked appellate jurisdiction, and accordingly dismissed the appeal. View "Colorado v. S.X.G." on Justia Law

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The juvenile court found that Respondent J.L.B. (Father) had abandoned A.B. (Child) and that therefore the Child was available for adoption by Petitioner D.P.H. (Stepfather). The juvenile court also determined that the fact that Father had filed parenting-time motions in the dissolution court did not outweigh overwhelming evidence of abandonment, including the fact that Father had not seen the Child in the twenty-one months prior to the filing of the adoption proceeding. Father appealed to the court of appeals, which reversed. The court determined that a finding of abandonment was precluded by the fact that Father had filed motions for parenting time in the dissolution court. The court also concluded that the juvenile court should have delayed the adoption determination until the parenting-time motions were resolved. Upon review of the case by the Supreme Court, the Court concluded that the "[i]t is the trial court's responsibility to consider the totality of the circumstances and to make this factual determination, which is to be disturbed only if it is clearly erroneous. ...It was therefore error for the court of appeals to determine that a single circumstance (the father's filing of a parenting-time motion) precluded a finding of intent to abandon, essentially as a matter of law." In addition, the Court found it was unnecessary for a trial court to delay adoption proceedings until a parenting-time motion in another court is resolved, so long as the trial court adequately considered the parenting-time motion in making its abandonment determination. The Court reversed the court of appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "D.P.H. v. J.L.B" on Justia Law

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Colorado state law makes it a felony for a person to have unlawful sexual contact with a child while occupying a "position of trust." Petitioner Mark Pellman appealed an order of the Court of Appeals that found that he was in a position of trust at the time of the unlawful contact between himself and his child victim. Petitioner was a friend of the victim's family, and from 2000-2005, visited with the family, attended the same church, and babysat the victim. In 2005, Petitioner chaperoned a trip to an amusement park when the alleged contact took place. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Petitioner argued that he was only in a position of trust at specific times, the last of which was when he chaperoned the amusement park trip. The appellate court rejected this argument, and after review, the Supreme Court rejected it as well. The Supreme Court found that under the language of the applicable statute, a defendant might be in a position of trust through an ongoing a continuous supervisory relationship with the victim, regardless of whether or not the defendant was performing a specific supervisory task at the time of the unlawful contact. The Court found sufficient evidence to support the appellate court and affirmed its decision. View "Pellman v. Colorado" on Justia Law