Colorado Supreme Court Opinions



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2015 CO 62. No. 13SC712. Chavez v. People.

Mandatory Sentencing—Crimes of Violence—Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act.

Defendant appealed his indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for 15 years to life on a class 3 felony conviction for sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust—pattern of abuse. A class 3 felony carries a presumptive penalty range of four to 12 years’ imprisonment. The Supreme Court held that where a defendant is convicted of a sex offense that is also a crime of violence, he must be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of  incarceration with a minimum term in the enhanced, crime-of-violence range. The trial court was therefore required to sentence defendant to incarceration for a minimum term of eight to 24 years, and a maximum term of his life. Because defendant’s sentence satisfies those requirements, the Court affirmed the court of appeals’ judgment upholding the legal sentence.
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2015 CO 63. No. 13SC497. Oasis Legal Finance Group, LLC v. Coffman, Colorado Attorney General.

Uniform Consumer Credit Code—Litigation Finance Transactions—Loans.

The Supreme Court held that litigation finance companies that agree to advance money to tort plaintiffs in exchange for future litigation proceeds are making “loans” subject to Colorado’s Uniform Consumer Credit Code even if the plaintiffs do not have an obligation to repay any deficiency if the litigation proceeds are ultimately less than the amount due. These transactions create debt, or an obligation to repay, that grows with the passage of time. The court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

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2015 CO 64. No. 14SA302. In the Matter of Water Rights as Applied for by Meridian Service Metropolitan District: Meridian Service Metropolitan District v. Ground Water Commission.

Subject Matter Jurisdiction—Designated Ground Water—Claim Preclusion.

Meridian Service Metropolitan District (Meridian) principally asked the Supreme Court to decide whether storm runoff may be classified as “designated ground water” subject to administration and adjudication by the Colorado Ground Water Commission (Commission), or whether such water is in or tributary to a natural stream, vesting jurisdiction in the local water court pursuant to the Water Right Determination and Administration Act of 1969, CRS §§ 37-92-101 to -602. Meridian also made claim preclusion and public policy arguments and asserted that the Colorado Groundwater Management Act, CRS §§ 37-90-101 to -143, is unconstitutional. The Court concluded that because this case presented a question as to whether the water at issue met the statutory definition of “designated ground water,” the Commission had jurisdiction to make the initial determination of the issue presented. The Court further held that the Commission, and the district court on de novoreview, correctly found that a portion of the water at issue met the statutory definition of “designated ground water” and was therefore subject to administration by the Commission. The Court concluded that Meridian’s remaining arguments were not supported by the record or applicable law. The district court’s order was affirmed.

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2015 CO 65.No. 12SC820. People v. Childress.

Complicity—Mental State Requirement of Complicitor Liability—Applicability of Complicitor Liability to Strict Liability Offenses.

The People petitioned for review of the court of appeals’ judgment vacating defendant’s conviction of vehicular assault while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Although it was undisputed that defendant was not driving the vehicle in question, the jury was instructed that he could be found guilty as a complicitor. The court of appeals concluded that because vehicular assault while under the influence is designated a strict liability offense, it requires no culpable mental state on the part of the driver. It further found that the Supreme Court had previously held complicitor liability inapplicable to crimes lacking a culpable mental state requirement.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals. The Court reconsidered and clarified the reach and requirements of complicitor liability in this jurisdiction and determined that, as clarified, complicitor liability can extend to strict liability offenses. It remanded the matter to the court of appeals with directions to address any other of defendant’s assignments of error possibly impacting his conviction of vehicular assault.

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2015 CO 66. No. 13SC930. Ritzert v. Board of Education of the Academy School District No. 20.

Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act—Procedure for Dismissal—Insubordination.

In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether a school board’s decision to dismiss a non-probationary teacher for insubordination, despite a hearing officer’s recommendation that the teacher be retained, was arbitrary, capricious, or legally impermissible under the Teacher Employment, Compensation, and Dismissal Act of 1990. When a teacher faces charges of insubordination, the hearing officer and school board must consider whether the teacher has intentionally refused to obey a “reasonable order.” The Court held that whether a school district’s order is reasonable is a finding of ultimate fact within the discretion of the governing school board. Still, that finding must be fully warranted by the hearing officer’s findings of evidentiary fact. This requires a school board to assess reasonableness on a case-by-case basis after consideration of all facts found by the hearing officer. The Court concluded that the school board in this case failed to adequately assess the reasonableness of the school district’s order, and therefore its decision to dismiss the teacher for insubordination was arbitrary and capricious. The Court reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to the school board to reinstate the teacher.

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2015 CO 67. No. 15SA129. People v. Swietlicki.

Warrantless Seizures—Plain View Exception—Fellow Officer Rule.

In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order  suppressing evidence found on defendant’s laptop computer after police seized the laptop without a warrant. The Court held that the warrantless seizure was justified under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. In so holding, the Court clarified that the “immediately apparent” requirement of the plain view exception demands only that the seizing officer have probable cause to associate the item with criminal activity without conducting a further search. The Court also determined that the fellow officer rule applies to probable cause determinations in the context of plain view seizures.

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2015 CO 68. No. 13SC495. People v. Nelson.

Criminal Law—Sentencing and Punishment—Costs—Restitution.

The Supreme Court held that a court may not authorize a refund of costs, fees, and restitution to a defendant who was acquitted after a new trial unless it has statutory authority to do so. The trial court may not issue a refund because the statutes governing the fines, fees, and restitution imposed in this case do not empower it to do so. Exonerated defendants may only seek a refund of costs, fees, and restitution through a separate civil proceeding governed by CRS §§ 13-65-101 to -103. 

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2015 CO 69. No. 13SC496. People v. Madden.

Criminal Law—Sentencing and Punishment—Costs—Restitution.

The Supreme Court held that a trial court may not authorize a refund of costs, fees, and restitution to a defendant after his conviction is vacated and the prosecution elects not to retry him, unless it has statutory authority to do so. None of the statutes governing the costs, fees, and restitution imposed in this case empowers a trial court to issue a refund. Similarly, procedural rules for defendants seeking post-conviction relief do not address the possibility of a court-ordered refund from public funds. Therefore, a trial court does not have authority under these statutes and rules to issue a refund. Exonerated defendants may only seek a refund of costs, fees, and restitution through a separate civil proceeding governed by CRS §§ 13-65-101 to -103.

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2015 CO 70. No. 12SC605. People v. Johnson.

Resentencing—Applicability of Presumption of Vindictiveness—Applicability of Sentence Propriety Appeal Statute.

Defendant originally received an aggregate sentence of 20 years to life on three convictions. After defendant appealed and succeeded in having two of his convictions vacated, the trial court on remand resentenced defendant to 12 years on the remaining conviction—double the original sentence for that count.

The Supreme Court concluded that CRS § 18-1-409, which prohibits a trial court from increasing a sentence on remand unless it learns of matters of aggravation in addition to those known at the time of the original sentencing, only applies if, in the original appeal, the defendant challenged that particular sentence’s propriety under the statute.

Regarding defendant’s due process claim, the Court held that a sentence increases for purposes of applying the presumption of vindictiveness only if the new aggregate sentence is harsher than the original aggregate sentence. Applying the aggregate approach to this case, the Court concluded that the presumption of vindictiveness does not apply because defendant’s aggregate sentence decreased from an indeterminate sentence of 20 years to life to a determinate sentence of 12 years. In addition, the Court held that the trial court did not act out of actual vindictiveness. For these reasons, the Court concluded that the trial court did not violate defendant’s due process rights.


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