Colorado Supreme Court Opinions

September 17, 2018

2018 CO 72. No. 16SC81. James v. People.

James sought review of the Court of Appeals’ judgment affirming his conviction for possession of methamphetamine. Upon realizing that it had failed to discharge the alternate juror before the jury retired to deliberate, the district court recalled and dismissed the alternate, instructed the jury to continue with deliberations uninfluenced by anything the alternate may have said or done, and denied the defense motion for dismissal or mistrial. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court’s error in allowing the alternate juror to retire with the jury and the juror’s presence for part of the deliberations were harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and, after rejecting James’s other assignments of error, affirmed his conviction. The Supreme Court held that the evidence proving defendant’s guilt of the offense of possession was overwhelming, and therefore the district court’s failure to recall an alternate juror for approximately 10 minutes amounted, under the facts of the case, to harmless error. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals was affirmed.

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2018 CO 73. No. 16SC114. Johnson v. Schonlaw.

Johnson sought review of the Court of Appeals’ judgment reversing jury verdicts in his favor on personal injury claims against Schonlaw and VCG Restaurants. At the close of the case, the district court overruled the objections of Schonlaw and VCG to its announced decision to allow the alternate to deliberate to verdict with the other jurors. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court had erred in allowing an alternate juror to participate in jury deliberations over the objection of a party, and that the error gave rise to a presumption of prejudice, which remained unrebutted by Johnson, and therefore  required reversal.

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the error did not affect the substantial rights of any defendant, it should have been disregarded as harmless, as required by CRCP 61.


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2018 CO 74. No. 17SC115. Perfect Place, LLC v. Semler.

In this quiet title action, the Supreme Court reviewed whether the owner of a garage condominium unit validly subdivided the unit under CRS § 38-33.3-213 of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act by merely painting or marking lines on the garage wall, and thereafter separately conveying the spaces thus marked as individual condominium parking units. Because CRS § 38-33.3-213(3) provides that “no subdivision of units shall be effected” without executing and recording the necessary amendments to the condominium declaration, and because no documents were recorded in connection with his purported subdivision, the Court held that the owner did not accomplish a valid subdivision of the garage unit in this case. The Court further held that a quitclaim deed obtained from the owner was not void for fraud in the factum. Although evidence in the record suggests the owner may have been deceived as to the purpose of the deed, fraud in the factum requires proof that the grantor was ignorant as to the nature of the instrument itself. Here, the owner understood that he was signing a quitclaim deed, even if he failed to appreciate the ramifications of his act. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings to determine the resulting chain of title for the disputed parking units.

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2018 CO 75. No. 17SA183. People v. Gutierrez.

In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying the People’s request to have their witness testify remotely via Skype. Trial courts have broad discretion to control the manner in which witnesses offer testimony, and a decision to prohibit a witness from testifying is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Because the trial court worked extensively to accommodate the witness, the People were on notice about the importance of the witness appearing in-person, and because denying the People’s request to allow the witness to testify remotely is not outcome determinative, the Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.

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2018 CO 76. No. 17SC241. Lewis v. Taylor.

The Supreme Court held that under the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (CUFTA), an innocent investor who profits from his investment in an equity-type Ponzi scheme, lacking any right to a return on investment, does not provide reasonably equivalent value based simply on the time value of his investment. Here, an investor unwittingly invested in a Ponzi scheme. Before the scheme’s collapse, he withdrew his entire investment, plus a profit. A court-appointed receiver sued to claw back the investor’s profits under CUFTA, CRS § 38-8-105(1)(a), which provides that a “transfer made . . . by a debtor is fraudulent as to a creditor . . . if the debtor made the transfer . . . [w]ith actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud any creditor of the debtor.” The investor raised an affirmative defense, CRS § 38-8-109(1), contending that he could keep his profit because he “took in good faith and for a reasonably equivalent value.” Because the time value of money is not a source of “value” under CUFTA and equity investors have no guarantee of any return on their investments, the Court concluded that the investor did not provide “reasonably equivalent value” in exchange for his profit. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment.

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2018 CO 77. No. 18SA90. People v. Brooks.

This case required the Supreme Court to determine whether Colorado’s recently enacted sentencing scheme for juvenile offenders who received unconstitutional mandatory sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP) violates the Special Legislation Clause of the Colorado Constitution.

The Court assumed without deciding that the revised sentencing scheme, which the General Assembly enacted in response to U.S. Supreme Court cases deeming unconstitutional mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile offenders, is subject to the Special Legislation Clause and implicates one of the provisions enumerated therein. The Court then concluded that the revised sentencing scheme does not run afoul of the Colorado Constitution’s prohibition of special legislation because the statute creates a genuine class and its legislative classifications are reasonable. The Court rejected the People’s contentions that the class must be deemed illusory because it is “closed” and that the class is, in fact, closed to future members.

Accordingly, the Court discharged the rule to show cause.

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