March 28, 2011

Colorado Supreme Court 3-28-10 criminal law decisions/opinions

People v. Schutter            Warrantless Search / Abandoned Property / iPhone
Synopsis: Up in Aspen, Mr. Schutter dropped by a convenience store, got a key to the restroom, used the facilities, but forgot both the key and his iPhone in the restroom. The prick of a clerk at the convenience store refused to unlock the door proclaiming he/she/it was simply “too busy.” Further, the clerk told Mr. Schutter to come back when he/she/it was not so ‘busy’ to pick up the iPhone. By the way, this incident occurred around 3:20 in the morning. Mr. Schutter did not justifiably choke, mutilate, or punish the clerk, but simply told the clerk he would be back later when the clerk had time. In less than an hour after Mr. Schutter left the store, the clerk opened the door, grabbed the iPhone, and promptly called the cops to turn the phone over. Upon arrival, the police searched the phone by going through text messages, answering calls and snooping through other contents in the phone. To actually identify the phone, the police used their own police service, which easily identified the phone. However, based upon the text messages, the police sought and obtained a search warrant for Mr. Schutter’s home. Subsequently, the prosecution filed two felonies against Mr. Schutter - possession with intent to distribute, a class 3 felony, and possession of more than a gram (old law), a class 4 felony. The prosecution big bitched Mr. Schutter by filing three habitual criminal counts against him.
The district court suppressed all the evidence gained as a result of the warrantless search of the iPhone. Further, the District Court suppressed all the other evidence, including the evidence gained from the search of Mr. Schutter’s home, as fruit of the unconstitutional search of Mr. Schutter’s iPhone. In doing so, the District Court found that Mr. Schutter did not abandon, lose or misplace his phone. Moreover, the District Court found, even if Mr. Schutter lost, abandoned, or misplaced the phone, the police went beyond the scope of a search needed to identify the owner of the iPhone.
Issues: 1) Whether the District Court correctly found that Mr. Schutter did not abandon, lose, or misplace his iPhone?
2) Assuming the iPhone to be lost, abandoned, or misplaced, whether the police exceeded the scope of a search necessary to locate the owner of the iPhone?
Held: The Colorado Supreme Court held that Mr. Schutter did not lose, abandon, or misplace his iPhone. Thus, the Court affirmed the District Court’s suppression order in its entirety.  The Colorado Supreme Court saved the second issue for another day.
Reasoning: Justice Coates, of all Justices, wrote the majority opinion. Justice Coats wrote simply and succinctly, that no one with a straight face could characterize property as abandoned when the owner knows where he left the property, told the clerk about the property, and stated his intentions to retrieve the property later the same day.
Justice Eid, smile and all, did characterize the iPhone as abandoned, and dissented.

People v. Schakley                        Venue
Synopsis: In an off-year election, 2009, Mr. Schakley allegedly voted in both Arapahoe and Adams counties.  Carol Chambers and crew in Arapahoe charged Mr. Schakley, who voted in his own name on both ballots, with misdemeanor voting fraud. The defense filed and the Arapahoe County Court granted a motion to change venue to Adams County. The prosecution appealed the venue change through an interlocutory appeal with the Colorado Supreme Court.
Issue: Whether the trial court had the authority to change the venue from Arapahoe to Adams County?
Held: No.
Reasoning: The Court held either Adams or Arapahoe to be proper venue. The Court found that a trial court may change venue if the current venue could not provide a fair or expeditious trial or if the parties stipulate to a change of venue. The Court stated flatly, “[A] criminal court does not have the inherent power to transfer a criminal prosecution from a county in which the legislature has deemed it triable ‘merely because the court considers another county to be a more appropriate venue or more easily established as a proper situs of the offense.’ “ Further, the Court reasoned, We have acknowledged that the ‘act in furtherance of’ language of section 18-1-202(1) serves to expand the situs of the crime beyond the location of the causative criminal conduct or proscribed result, and includes any county where an act in furtherance of the offense occurred.”  The Court referred to its previous decision in People v. Freeman, 668 P.2d 1371 (Colo. 1983). In Freeman, the Court “determined that the sale of stolen property was an ‘act in furtherance of’ felony murder, where the disposition of the property was closely related to the defendant’s overall criminal scheme of obtaining stolen vehicles by means of robbery, kidnapping, and murder.” Thus, in Freeman, the Court found “venue was proper in Jefferson County for a felony murder that occurred in Denver County, even though the only act that occurred in Jefferson County was the subsequent sale of the stolen vehicle.” (quoted portions taken from Schakley).

1 comment:

  1. I almost yelled out loud "WHAAAAAT?" when I read about the search in Schutter. I'm sure if I was still in the office next to you I would have.


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