May 17, 2011

Colorado Supreme Court criminal law decisions 5-16-11

Oram v. People; Weinstein v. People      ‘Bonding Agent Privilege’ / Consent / Sufficiency of the Evidence
Facts: Mesrrs. Oram and Weinstein, two bounty hunters, pretended they were cops to gain entry into the home of someone suspected of jumping bail. The person Mesrrs. Oram and Weinstein sought? A John Vigil. The house Mesrrs. Oram and Weinstein broke into to arrest Mr. Vigil? Eugene Vigil’s – John Vigil’s brother. However, John Vigil did list the home as his residence, but had not actually lived there since the early ‘80’s according to the Court. Neither Mr. Oram nor Mr. Weinstein possessed a photo of John Vigil, and thus, arrested the wrong guy, a Joe Martinez. Eventually, Mesrrs. Oram and Weinstein learn that John Vigil did not live at the home, that Joe was not John, and that John Vigil, the man they sought, was in jail. At trial, each asserted the common law defense of Bonding Agent Privilege. The trial court gave a version of the Bonding Agent Privilege, and a jury found each guilty of burglary and felony menacing.
Issue: Whether the common law defense, Bonding Agent Privilege, exists in Colorado to allow entry into a private residence without consent?
Held: No.
Reasoning: The Court combined both Oram and Weinstein into one opinion – Oram v. People. The Court declined to follow other states, and held that the bond person privilege does not survive because the statute granting bond agents the authority to arrest does not grant bond agents authority to break-and-enter homes. The Bond Agent’s Privilege came from Taylor v. Taintor, 83 U.S. 366 (1872)(“…if necessary, [the bond agent] may break and enter his house for that purpose. Semi-just result as poor folks already got cops busting in their home for spurious reasons, they do not need also worry about bounty hunters (Justice Rice, always sympathetic to anyone who claims the mantle of victimhood, refers to the entire Hispanic family, whom Mr. Oram and Weinstein burglarized, not as ‘victims’ but with the dehumanizing ‘The Inhabitants’.)
Issue: Whether the contract John Vigil signed established the affirmative defense of consent?
Held: No.
Reasoning: To their credit, Mesrrs. Oram and Weinstein went to the address that John Vigil listed as his. The bonding contract John Vigil signed allowed the bondsperson or agent to enter his home and arrest him for violating the contract, which he did when he failed to appear. However, John Vigil actually had not lived at the home of Eugene Vigil since the early 1980’s according to the opinion. The Court unfairly restricts Mesrrs. Oram’s and Weinstein’s right to raise the affirmative defense of consent. No doubt, each reasonably believed that John Vigil lived at the home John Vigil listed as his. The Court did not care. Because John Vigil did not actually live at the residence and because none of the actual residents of the home consented to the entry, the Court held that neither Mr. Oram nor Mr. Weinstein were entitled to an instruction on the affirmative defense of consent.
Issue: Whether the prosecution provided enough evidence sufficient for a conviction?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Mesrrs. Oram and Weinstein argued that they did not knowing burglarize the home because neither believed he was committing a crime. Instead simply executing an arrest warrant. The Court focused the impersonating a cop, and found both men knew they were committing a crime because otherwise they would not have impersonated a cop to effectuate an arrest. Here is the problem with that analysis: These two bounty hunters signed on to get someone suspected of jumping bail; neither had the intent to commit any crime; their only intent was to arrest a bond jumper. To prove the point, once they realized they arrested the wrong man and that John Vigil did not actually reside at the residence, they uncuffed the man and left. Further, both gave their information to the family to call if they heard from John Vigil. Not to be all that sympathetic to folks that hold Dog the Bounty Hunter in high esteem, but the result here seems unjust. 

People v. Gonzalez-Zamora             Miranda – Voluntariness
Facts: In Palm Beach County Florida, an officer stopped and questioned Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora for open container. After doing a warrant check, a possible warrant came out of Denver for murder. The officer took Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora to the station to determine whether he was the man wanted in Denver. After receiving pictures confirming Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora was the subject of the warrant, the police started reading him his rights in Spanish. Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora spoke no English. During the advisement, Mr. Zamora rarely made any verbal statements, but did nod to indicate he did not understand two points, according to the Court. After the police read the Miranda advisement, the police did not ask whether he waived his rights, but instead told him sign the card indicating he waived. The police then started questioning Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora about being in Colorado, and Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora made incriminating statements. The trial court found both the waiver and the statements to be involuntary, and suppressed all of Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora’s statements.
Issue: Whether Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora voluntarily waived his rights pursuant to Miranda?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Court, with Justice Eidvoluntariness to the defense to show coercion on the part of the police. The Court wrote:
In determining whether a waiver is voluntary, ‘the sole concern . . . is the presence or absence of government coercion.’ Significantly, in the instant case, although the trial court determined that the waiver was not voluntary, it failed to find that the police used intimidation, threats, or promises to coerce defendant into making a Miranda waiver. Furthermore, our review of the record demonstrates that there were none. The record is void of any ‘intimidation, misconduct, or trickery’ on the part of the police that would lead us to question the voluntariness of defendants waiver.
quoting in part People v. Humphrey, 132 P.3d 352 (2006). Unfortunately, the trial court only focused on voluntariness, not knowing or intelligent waiver. Perhaps, then Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora would have won.
Issue: Whether Mr. Gonzalez-Zamora made his statements voluntarily?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Again, the Court reiterated the lack of coercion in the record to support reversing the trial court. The trial court listed a series of problems with the interrogation, and held the prosecution did not meet its burden showing the statements to be voluntary. The Colorado Supreme Court reversed, and reasoned because the record did not show any evidence of coercion, the statements must be voluntary. The Court did not explicitly state it, but the Court shifted the burden to the defense to show involuntariness.  

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