January 30, 2012

Colorado Court of Appeals - Criminal Law Decision 1-19-12

People v. Stovall            Petty Offense Escape as Predicate for Felony Murder
Facts: Essentially, bad facts make idiotic bad law. Here, Mr. Joel Stovall, a man with no prior criminal history, shot his neighbor’s dog down in redneck, cop/prison guard infested Fremont County. A deputy arrested him. However, while the deputy held him in handcuffs, Mr. Stovall’s brother, who also had no prior criminal history but a traffic case, arrived on scene with a handcuff key and two pistols. The deputy made a fatal error, and did not search the brother, Michael Stovall, prior to placing him in handcuffs. As the deputy drove the two brothers, twins, away to the jail, Michael Stovall unhinged a handcuff and shot the deputy. The deputy died. The car crashed, and the brothers borrowed a truck at gunpoint, negotiating with the man by shooting him. The brothers then fled police in the truck for about 24 hours. The police all whined that the brothers tried to kill them as the brothers attempted to avoid arrest. The prosecution threatened to go death because the deputy died. Mr. Stovall pled to all charges as a result of the threat. The Court sentenced him consecutively on each offense including a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Mr. Stovall filed a 35(c), and the trial court denied the motion. Mr. Stovall appealed.
Issue: Whether the petty offense of escape can form the predicate crime for felony murder?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Essentially, the Court of Appeals looked at the cop who died, and found some way, some how, on some level of reality, that a petty offense can be the predicate crime for felony murder. Why? Because the statute lists the word 'escape' as one possible predicate for felony murder. No other reasoning necessary to explain how a petty offense equates to a felony.
link to People v. Stovall here. 

Colorado Court of Appeals - Criminal Law Decision 1-5-12

People v. Morales            Burglary – Definition of a Dwelling
Facts: The prosecution accused Mr. Morales of stealing items from a house under renovation. No one lived in the house at the time of the burglary, and seemingly, the house was inhabitable. A jury convicted Mr. Morales of burglary of a dwelling, a class 3 felony.
Issue: Whether an inhabitable, vacant house under renovation qualified as a dwelling for burglary?
Held: Yes
Reasoning: The Court concedes these facts, “The record shows that Cheek purchased the Stuart home from a woman who had lived there, with her family and on her own, for about thirty-five years. Cheek testified that he planned on renovating the home and selling it for a profit. Specifically, Cheek planned to replace the roof, windows, and siding, remodel the kitchen and bathrooms, and refinish the hardwood floors. At the time of the burglary, Cheek and his business partner were in the process of demolishing the interior of the Stuart home and refinishing the hardwood floors. They had torn out the kitchen cabinets, moved the kitchen appliances, ripped up the carpeting, demolished a bathroom, taken out a fireplace, and removed ceiling tile, baseboards, trim, and several doors, among other things.” Thus, the house was inhabitable.
            Nevertheless, the Court reasoned, if the structure could be construed now or at any time in the future, as a dwelling, then that structure fit the definition of dwelling under the burglary statute.

January 23, 2012

Colorado Court of Appeals - Criminal Law Decision 1-5-12

People v. Davis            Competency to Stand Trial vs. Competency to Waive Counsel / Right to Withdraw Guilty Plea
Facts: A Jury convicted Mr. Davis of distribution in one case. In two other cases, he worked out a joint deal where he pled to drug related offenses in each case. The prosecution then dismissed habitual criminal charges against Mr. Davis. Prior to trial, Mr. Davis moved to represent himself. No one disputed that Mr. Davis suffered some from serious mental illness. During the pendency of his cases, the Court subjected Mr. Davis to three competency evaluations, but Mr. Davis refused to participate in each. Nevertheless, the trial court concluded that Mr. Davis was competent to stand trial. However, the trial court determined that Mr. Davis was not competent to represent himself, and thus, denied his motion to dismiss counsel and proceed pro se.
Issue: Whether the trial court erred in denying Mr. Davis’ request to represent himself?
Held: No.
Reasoning: In Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court held that Indiana did not err when it denied Mr. Edwards’ request to represent himself. The trial court in Indiana found Mr. Edwards competent to stand trial, but also found his mental illness affected him to a degree that he could not competently represent himself at trial.  Because the trial court that heard Mr. Davis’ request did not analyze the issue under Edwards, the Court of Appeals remanded this issue back to the trial court.
Issue: Whether the trial court erred when it declined to address Mr. Davis’ desire to withdraw his two guilty pleas?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Prior to sentencing, Mr. Davis sought to withdraw his guilty pleas in his other two drug cases. His defense lawyer declined to address the issue, and as a result, the trial court also refused to address the issue. The Court of Appeals held that seeking to withdraw a guilty plea is personal to the accused, and thus, a lawyer cannot waive that issue. The Court of Appeals cited People v. Bergerud, 223 P.3d 686 (2010) in support of its holding, and remanded the issue back to the trial court.
Issue: Whether the state violated Mr. Davis’ right under the Double Jeopardy Clauses by convicting him of both possession and distribution?
Held: No
Reasoning: First, there seems to be a trend among the appellate divisions in Colorado to avoid any ‘unpreserved’ sentencing issues. Thus, like any trial error, if defense counsel does not raise the sentencing issue to the trial court, the appellate divisions seem eager to apply the deferential standard of ‘plain error’ on review. Here, the Court of Appeals claimed that substitute counsel did not raise the issue of Double Jeopardy at the time of sentencing, and thus, the standard of review the Court held would be plain error. In deciding the issue, the Court found the undercover officer’s testimony ambiguous. Thus, the Court concluded that the jury could infer that Mr. Davis only handed the officer a portion of the total amount of crack Mr. Davis possessed. Thus, the Court held, the two convictions Mr. Davis suffered did not violate Double Jeopardy.

Colorado Court of Appeals - Criminal Law Decision 12-22-11

People v. Marsh            Knowing Possession of Child Pornography
Facts: A jury convicted Mr. Marsh of a slew of charges relating to sexual assault on a child and possession of child pornography. A prosecution expert opined that the ‘AOL cache’ contained 17 images of child porn.  However, the defense claimed that only a person with specialized knowledge could “know” what images the cache contained. If the Court of Appeals found the evidence insufficient for the 17 images, then the class 4-felony possession of child pornography would be vacated.
Issue: Whether the cache of a computer provides sufficient evidence that the person knowingly possessed child porn?
Held: Yes
Reasoning: The Court found the cache issue was one of first impression in Colorado. However, the Court simply went along with the prosecution’s expert. The prosecution expert opined that if the images remained in the cache of the computer, then someone previously opened and viewed those images on the computer. Further, the Court cited the prosecution expert’s testimony that 3 of the images in the cache matched the images on the hard drive that were previously deleted. Thus, Court of Appeals found the jury permissibly inferred that the someone who possessed the child pornography was Mr. Marsh. Lastly, the Court addressed a multitude of other issues, but found no error, cumulative or otherwise. 
Link to People v. Marsh here

Search the Sword