December 12, 2011

Colorado Supreme Court 12-12-11 criminal law decision People v. Coates

People v. Coates             4th Amendment: Automobile  Searches - Search Incident to Arrest vs. Probable Cause
Facts: The police stopped the car in which Ms. Coates rode in the backseat. The police patted down the driver, claimed the 16 year-old 'consented' to the pat down (reason for the stop was a minor traffic offense), and supposedly found one pill of Xanax in the 16 year-old's pocket. After the discovery, the police ordered everyone out of the car, interrogated Ms. Coates, and searched both the passenger compartment and the trunk of the car. In the trunk, the police claimed to find a bottle of pills. Ms. Coates admitted to owning the car, but denied knowledge of the pills in the trunk. The defense moved to suppress all the evidence found in the trunk, and the trial court granted the motion. The trial court cited two bases for suppression. The trial court stated that the police possessed neither reasonable suspicion to search the trunk (search incident) nor probable cause to search the trunk for contraband. The prosecution appealed the order.
Issue: Whether the police, who found a pill of Xanax in the pocket of the driver, possessed probable cause to search the trunk?
Held: No.
Reasoning: As astonishing as the holding, Justice Coates wrote the decision with nary a dissenter.  First, the Court put to rest any fantasies cops and prosecutors have about using search incident to justify a general search of the entire car. The Court flat out stated in the beginning of its decision, "Because the evidence for which suppression was sought was not seized from the passenger compartment of the defendant’s vehicle, the search-incident-to-arrest exception could not justify its seizure under any circumstances." Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, ---,129 S.Ct. 1710, 1719 (2009).
            The Court then held that ticketing the driver for driving without a license and finding a Xanax pill in the driver's pocket did not amount to probable cause to search the trunk of the car. 
Link to People v. Coates here

December 9, 2011

Colorado Court of Appeals - 12-8-11 criminal decision - People v. Poage

People v. Poage             Failing to De-Register as a Sex Offender
Facts: Mr. Poage got evicted from his home where he previously registered. Because he was homeless, he did not have any address to re-register. So, he never registered any address but his initial address. An Adams County Deputy with not enough to do, checks on the address, finds no one living there (because of the eviction), and the prosecution subsequently charged failing to register and failing to de-register. At a hearing where the defense asked for a bill of particulars, the prosecution opted to only proceed on failing to de-register. However, Mr. Poage testified that he never moved out of Adams County. Further, the Court of Appeals found that the prosecution never presented any evidence that Mr. Poage moved out of Adams County (Appeals panel - Judges Roman, Taubman, and Booras with Judge Roman writing the opinion). Nevertheless, the trial court denied the motion for judgment of acquittal, and the jury convicted Mr. Poage of failing to de-register. The Court of Appeals vacated the conviction.
Issue:  Whether the prosecution must show, under the de-registration section, that a person moved out of the jurisdiction?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals read the de-registration, section C.R.S. 18-3-412.5 (1)(i) - “Failure to complete a cancellation of registration form and file the form with the local law enforcement agency of the jurisdiction in which the person will no longer reside,” - as any normal red blooded human being would – that jurisdiction does not mean house, home, or apartment. Jurisdiction in subsection (i) means out of the jurisdiction.  Thus, the Court of Appeals held that only when a person moves out of the jurisdiction, does the statute then require the person to de-register. Therefore, the Court of Appeals vacated Mr. Poage’s conviction, and case dismissed.
Adam Mueller represented Mr. Poage on appeal and Emily Lieberman represented the man in trial. Both did a helluva job.

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