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Colorado Supreme Court Opinions
November 30, 2004

No. 03SC479. Vigil v. Franklin.
Common Law—No Duty Defenses Under Colorado’s Premises Liability Statute.

Petitioner James Vigil seeks review of the decision by the Court of Appeals that the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was proper, because the common law open and obvious danger doctrine survived enactment of Colorado’s premises liability statute, CRS § 13-21-115. The Court of Appeals held that the Franklins had no duty to warn Vigil of the open and obvious danger of diving into the above-ground swimming pool on their property.

The Supreme Court reverses and remands, holding that the express, unambiguous language of the premises liability statute evidences the General Assembly’s intent to establish a comprehensive and exclusive specification of the duties landowners owe to those injured on their property. Accordingly, common law landowner duties do not survive its enactment.

Having chosen to exclusively set forth the nature and extent of duties owed by a landowner, the General Assembly also abrogated the common law regarding defenses to the existence of such duties. Consequently, while a landowner may argue that he owes no duty to an injured plaintiff, he may do so only pursuant to the defenses set forth in the statute.

Nothing in the plain language of the statute, either expressly or by clear implication, incorporates the common law defense of open and obvious dangers. Therefore, the common law open and obvious danger doctrine does not survive the enactment of Colorado’s premises liability statute.

No. 03SC559. People v. Yascavage.
Tampering—Witness Tampering—Victim Tampering—Legally Summoned—Subject to Legal Process.

In this case, the People appeal a decision by the Court of Appeals vacating defendant’s conviction under CRS § 18-8-707(a)(b) (the "tampering statute"). The tampering statute prohibits a defendant from attempting to influence a victim or witness to absent him or herself from a proceeding to which he or she has been legally summoned.

While in custody, defendant telephoned a friend and said the charges against him might be dismissed if someone "got to" the victim and she failed to show up for court. At the time, the victim had not been subpoenaed. The People contend that under the tampering statute, the victim or witness need not be under subpoena at the time of contact with the defendant. Rather, the witness or victim could be subject to any type of legal process.

The Supreme Court now holds that while the tampering statute offers protection to a broad class of persons, each subsection prohibits specific conduct. When a defendant is charged under § 18-8-707(1)(b), the prosecution must prove the victim or witness was "legally summoned." Thus, the victim or witness must be under some obligation to the tribunal to appear at an official proceeding. Defendant here was charged under subsection (b), and the jury was so instructed. There was no evidence offered that the victim was under some obligation to appear in court. Accordingly, there was insufficient evidence on which to sustain the conviction. The Supreme Court, therefore, affirms the Court of Appeals in reversing the conviction.

No. 03SC782. People v. Cunefare.
Tampering—Witness or Victim—Legally Summoned—Testimony—Forgery—Forged Letter—Legal Right, Status, Obligation, Interest—Legal Efficacy of Instrument.

In this case, defendant was convicted of witness tampering and forgery based on his efforts to have charges against him dismissed by contacting the victim and urging her to recant her otherwise truthful allegations, and by preparing and executing a falsified letter from the victim to the prosecution. The Court of Appeals reversed both convictions.

The Supreme Court now holds that tampering charges under CRS § 18-8-707(1)(a) require neither proof that the witness or victim had been legally summoned to an official proceeding nor proof that the defendant’s actions were interfering with actual testimony. Subsection (1)(a) requires only that the prosecution establish that defendant attempted to influence a victim or witness within the meaning of § 18-8-702 to testify falsely or to unlawfully withhold testimony. There was sufficient evidence in this case to the effect that defendant attempted to induce the victim to recant or withhold truthful prospective testimony.

With respect to the forgery conviction, the Court now holds that CRS § 18-5-102 can include forgery of an instrument intended to affect defendant’s legal status in a criminal prosecution. There was sufficient evidence from which a jury could have concluded that defendant falsified a letter recanting the victim’s statement and signed her name without her knowledge or consent, with the intent to defraud the prosecutor and have the charges against him dismissed. The Court thus reverses the Court of Appeals and reinstates both the conviction against defendant for tampering and the conviction for forgery.

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions