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Colorado Supreme Court Opinions
March 28, 2005

No. 02SC885. Auman v. People.
Felony Murder—Immediate Flight Instruction—Arrest of Co-Participant—Intervening Cause Instruction—Instruction on Predicate Felony—Erroneous Theft Instruction—Plain Error.

In this felony murder case, the Supreme Court holds that, as a matter of law, a defendant’s arrest, by itself, does not terminate a co-participant’s liability for felony murder when a death occurs at the hands of another participant who remains in flight. Whether a co-participant’s arrest terminates his or her immediate flight from the commission of the predicate felony while another participant remains in flight is a question for the jury to decide. In this case, the Supreme Court holds that the defendant’s liability for felony murder was properly left to the jury.

Because proof of the predicate crime is an essential element of the crime of felony murder, the Court also determines whether an admittedly erroneous theft instruction requires reversal of the defendant’s second-degree burglary conviction. This crime served as the predicate crime for the defendant’s felony murder conviction. Based on a review of the record, the Court concludes that the improper theft instruction may have deprived the defendant of her right to a full and fair jury consideration of her defense to burglary. The Court therefore reverses the defendant’s conviction for second-degree burglary and, in turn, reverses her conviction for felony murder, which conviction was based on the burglary conviction. The case is remanded for a new trial.

No. 03SA173. People v. Harlan.
C.A.R. 21—Death Penalty—First-Degree Murder—Extraneous Information Improperly Before Jury—Unauthorized Introduction of Bible and Biblical Death Penalty Passage into Jury Room—C.R.E. 606(b)—Four-Step Process for Death Sentence Jury Deliberations—Objective Typical Juror Test for Ascertaining Prejudice to Defendant—Factors for Ascertaining Prejudice to Defendant—Supreme Court’s Independent Review of Death Penalty, CRS § 16-11-103(6)(b)—Influence of Passion, Prejudice, or Other Arbitrary Factor—Life Imprisonment Without the Possibility of Parole.

In 1995, a jury convicted Robert Harlan of firstdegree murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and assault for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Rhonda Maloney and the shooting of her would-be rescuer, Jaquie Creazzo. The jury rendered a unanimous death penalty decision.

Harlan appealed. On initial review, the Colorado Supreme Court upheld the death penalty. In that appeal, the Supreme Court did not have before it evidentiary findings subsequently made by the trial court. On remand of the case following the direct appeal, the trial court found that at least one juror, without authorization by the court, brought a Bible into the jury room and, before the death penalty verdict was reached, shared with another juror a biblical passage commanding the death penalty as the required punishment for murder. The trial court found that unauthorized introduction and use of this written text in the jury room violated applicable Colorado laws.

On review, the Supreme Court applies C.R.E. 606(b) and applicable statutory and case law. In cases of improper jury consideration of extraneous prejudicial materials, the test developed in previous decisions is an objective test looking at the reasonable possibility of influence on a typical juror. A conviction or sentence must be reversed if such misconduct creates a reasonable possibility that the verdict was influenced to the detriment of the defendant.

The Supreme Court concludes that unauthorized introduction into the jury room of the Bible and its text commanding the death sentence for murder could influence a typical juror to vote for death instead of life imprisonment. Under Colorado law, the death penalty is not required for first-degree murder, and it takes the vote of only one juror to refuse the death sentence when the state is seeking the defendant’s execution.

Applying the objective test for ascertaining prejudice to a defendant from juror use of improper, extraneous, and prejudicial materials, the Supreme Court upholds the trial court’s order vacating Harlan’s death sentence and imposing a sentence to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In light of the trial court’s evidentiary findings and exercising its duty to independently review the death penalty, the Supreme Court finds that it can no longer say that the death penalty verdict was not influenced by passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor.

The Supreme Court discharges the rule. The trial court’s judgment vacating the death sentence and imposing a life sentence without the possibility of parole is upheld.

No. 03SC787. Washington County Board of Equalization v. Petron Development Company.
Colo. Const. Art. X, § 3—Uniformity—Unprocessed Material—Taxation—Assessment—Valuation of Oil and Gas Leaseholds for Taxation—Selling Price at the Wellhead—CRS § 39-7-101(1)(d)—Statutory Construction—Netback Method—Property Tax Administration.

In this property tax case, the Colorado Supreme Court holds that the processing costs incurred on an oil leasehold site are properly deducted from the sales price of the oil in valuing the unprocessed material at the wellhead. The constitutional provision applicable to this case is Article X, § 3(1)(b), which provides that the valuation of a producing oil or gas leasehold for taxation purposes is "based upon the value of the unprocessed material." The Colorado General Assembly, by CRS § 39-7-101(1)(d), implemented this provision by basing tax assessment on the taxpayer’s declaration of the "selling price at the wellhead"in his or her annual taxation statement.

Washington County disallowed Petron Development Corporation’s claimed deductions for gathering, processing, and transportation costs Petron incurred on the leasehold site. The Supreme Court rules that these costs were necessary to prepare the unprocessed material into marketable oil that could be sold from storage tanks on the leasehold property. The netback method for reporting "selling price at the wellhead,"allowing for deduction of these costs to arrive at the value of the unprocessed material, effectuates the intent of the constitutional and statutory provisions. Judgment by the Court of Appeals is upheld.

No. 04SA178. People v. Turner, Jr.
CRS § 13-90-107, Privileges—Scope—Domestic Violence—Victim Advocate—Waiver—Due Process—Confrontation Clause—Compulsory Process.

In this criminal domestic violence case, the Colorado Supreme Court was asked, for the first time, to determine the scope of the victim advocate privilege, embodied in CRS § 13-90-107 (k) (I). The Court reverses the trial court and remands the case.

Defendant Robert Turner, Jr. was charged with domestic violence against a particular individual, M.P. Turner issued a subpoena duces tecum to the Alliance Against Domestic Violence ("Alliance"), a private domestic violence organization, demanding production of records of M.P.’s contact with the organization. The Alliance moved to quash the subpoena. Following a hearing on the defendant’s Motion to Compel production, the trial court ordered the organization to produce a broad outline of the type of assistance provided to M.P. The Alliance petitioned the Supreme Court pursuant to C.A.R. 21 for review of that order. The Court issued a Rule to Show Cause, which it now makes absolute.

The Supreme Court now holds that the records of assistance provided to M.P. by Alliance are within the scope of the statutory privilege and are, therefore, protected. The Court first looked to the statutory language protecting "any communications"made by the victim to the advocate, and concluded that such language would include the initial contact made by the victim with the agency, as well as communications generated from that contact. The Court next took direction from legislative history indicating that the legislature intended a broad sweep of confidentiality in an effort to encourage domestic violence victims to seek assistance. Accordingly, the Court concluded that the privilege would protect the records sought, absent a showing of express or implied waiver of the privilege by the victim, which was not present in this case.

Also, the Court held that defendant’s due process rights were not violated by denying him access to the records. Likewise, the Court rejected defendant’s contention that his right to compulsory process requires that Alliance comply with his subpoena. It reasoned, among other things, that the statute sufficiently protects the defendant’s right to compulsory process by excluding records held by law enforcement victim advocates.

No. 04SA376. Envirotest Systems, Corp. v. Colorado Department of Revenue.
Judicial Review of Agency Action—Judicial Review of Interlocutory Hearing Officer Ruling—Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies—Irreparable Injury—Constitutional and Statutory Authority of Agency—Injunctive Relief—Administrative Procedures Act.

In this case, plaintiff ("Envirotest") is challenging $833,200 in fines the Colorado Department of Revenue levied against it for alleged violations occurring during motor vehicle emissions tests. The Supreme Court holds that the district court lacked authority to entertain injunctive relief in regard to a hearing officer’s ruling during an ongoing administrative hearing. The Court finds that the hearing officer’s order denying issuance of certain requested subpoenas was not final agency action for purposes of judicial review under the Administrative Procedures Act, § 24-4-106(2). The order also did not meet the requirements of the finality exception of § 24-4-106(8), because Envirotest did not show irreparable injury and did not allege that the agency’s actions were beyond the agency’s constitutional and statutory authority. Accordingly, the district court did not have authority to grant injunctive relief.

No. 04SA6. Concerning the Application for Water Rights of the State of Colorado: East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District v. Rangeview Metropolitan District.
Water Law—Anti-Speculation Doctrine.

East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District ("East Cherry Creek") appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court from an order of the water court, construing and modifying a 1985 decree that adjudicated use rights to nontributary Arapahoe aquifer ground water. In its order, the water court authorized Rangeview Metropolitan District ("Rangeview"), the state’s lessee, to construct additional wells as necessary to withdraw the state’s full, decreed entitlement, and it removed the volumetric limits of the original decree on individual wells. The court reasoned that statutory and rules changes subsequent to the decree would permit Rangeview greater flexibility in exercising the water use right than was contemplated by the decree, and that absent a showing of injury, there was no impediment to modifying the prior decree.

Because the state was entitled to an adjudication of its right to use the full amount of available nontributary ground water underlying its lands, without making a threshold showing of a nonspeculative, beneficial use; and because it complied with the procedural requirements for such an adjudication, the Supreme Court affirms the water court’s order.

No. 04SC100. Argus Real Estate, Inc. v. E-470 Public Highway Authority.
Res Judicata—Claim Preclusion—Quiet Title—Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities Act.

The Supreme Court addresses whether the Colorado Statutory Rule Against Perpetuities Act provides an exception to the common law principles of claim preclusion such that a party may raise a statutory reformation claim pursuant to CRS § 15-11-1106(2) in a separate action when the claim could have been raised in a previous quiet title action. The Supreme Court holds that in absence of the General Assembly’s clear intent to abrogate the common law principles of claim preclusion, § 15-11-1106(2) does not provide such an exception and consequently the previously adjudicated quiet title action bars a separate statutory reformation claim. The decision of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

Colorado Supreme Court Opinions