Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Aug. 12

By Jessica Folker and Clara Geoghegan

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

People v. Michael Thomas Jean Wright

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As a matter of first impression, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the crime of harassment is a “crime against another person.” 

Michael Wright appealed her conviction and sentencing for second-degree burglary, child abuse, resisting arrest, obstruction of a peace officer, harassment and possesion of drug paraphernalia. The conviction came after Wright broke into an apartment and assaulted its resident while frantically looking for her daughter. Before entering the apartment, Wright knocked on the door and was told by the resident that her daughter was not inside. 

On appeal, Wright argued that under CRS 18-9-111(1)(a) harassment can not be a predicate offense for second-degree burglary since it is not “‘a crime against another person.’” She pointed to the location of the harassment statute — nested in in “Offenses Against Public Peace, Order and Decency” rather than “Offenses Against the Person” — as evidence. She also asked the court to consider the circumstances of her case and recategorize her harassment, pointing to a 2013 decision in People v. Poindexter that advised courts to take such an approach. 

Reading Poindexter to mean that fact-based inquiry into criminal circumstances is only sometimes appropriate and looking at the plain language of the statute, the court disagreed and upheld her burglary conviction. 

Wright also appealed her sentence for the burglary charge. Based on a handful of previous felony convictions, including possession of a weapon by a previous offender, the court deemed Wright a habitual offender and sentenced her to forty-eight years in custody. An abbreviated proportionality review was conducted at the request of Wright to decide if the sentence was appropriate. The review dubbed three of Wright’s previous crimes, including the possession conviction, serious crimes that supported the sentence. 

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals found the proportionality review incorrectly deemed the weapons charge a serious crime and did not consider the conviction circumstances. The court vacated the 48-year sentence and remanded the case for a correct proportionality review. 

Yen, LLC v. Jefferson County Board of Commissioners

The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that county tax assessors have limited powers to correct errors in real property evaluations. 

A Jefferson County tax assessor issued a notice of valuation just shy of $100,000 for a four-car, self-service car wash owned by Yen, LLC. The initial evaluation was sent two weeks before the statutory notice of valuation deadline, May 1. After the first valuation, for unknown reasons, the local assessors decided the estimate was too low and issued a new valuation of $299,099, nearly three times the value originally sent. Importantly, the revised valuation was sent after the statutory deadline. 

Yen protested the decision to the county assessor, which was denied. In response, the company petitioned Jefferson County for an abatement or refund claiming that the assessor did not have authority to issue a corrected valuation after the statutory deadline. The petition was refused and in response the case was once again escalated, this time to the Jefferson County Board of Assessment Appeals. The appeals board ruled in favor of Yen and its reasoning, further concluding that the case did not fall under any statutory exceptions to the May 1 valuation deadline. 

Jefferson County appealed the ruling and asked the Colorado Court of Appeals to weigh in on the assessor’s power to correct errors after statutory deadlines. The county argued that it can issue a corrected valuation any time before delivering tax warrants to the state treasurer the following January. 

Looking at the plain language interpretation of relevant statutes, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the board’s ruling in favor of Yen. It clarified that county tax assessors “do not have broad constitutional authority to correct any and all errors.”

Town of Vail v. Village Inn Plaza-Phase V Condominium Association

In this dispute between the Town of Vail and a condominium association, the Court of Appeals concluded a town ordinance that imposes restrictions on the use of condominium units violates the anti-discrimination provision of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act.

The CCIOA, which governs homeowners’ associations, condominiums, co-ops and other common interest communities, says that no ordinance may impose any requirement upon a condominium or co-op that it wouldn’t impose on a physically identical development under a different type of ownership.

A Vail ordinance from 1987 includes conditions for developers building within the special district where Phase V of the Village Inn Plaza development is located. One of the conditions is that condominium units in phases IV or V must remain in the short-term rental market to be used as temporary accommodations available to the public. Owners’ personal use of their condo units is limited during high season, and violators face fines. 

The Village Inn Plaza Phase V Condominium Association adopted a condominium declaration that incorporated these restrictions. However, in 2013 and 2014 the association amended its rules to say it would no longer enforce the limitations on condominium units.

In 2014, Staufer Commercial, a commercial owner in Phase V, sought declaratory judgment that the association’s rule change to no longer enforce the restrictions violates the condominium declaration. The Town of Vail filed a cross-claim seeking a declaration that the association’s amended rules violate the 1987 ordinance and a section of the Town Code that also includes the restrictions on condominium units.

The association sought to dismiss Vail’s claims, arguing that the ordinance violates CCIOA’s non-discrimination provision. The town countered that the CCIOA provision, which went into effect in 1992, does not apply retroactively to the 1987 ordinance and that, even if it does, the association showed no evidence to prove discrimination against condominium ownership.

The Court of Appeals, affirming the district court, sided with the association. The court found that Vail’s attempts to enforce the restrictions triggered an exception making the CCIOA’s anti-discrimination provision retroactive. The court also concluded the language of the ordinance is, on its face, discriminatory because it singles out condominiums and imposes restrictions that would not apply to identical units under a different form of ownership.

People v. Chad W. Brothers

The state appealed a trial court order dismissing felony charges and habitual criminal sentence enhancers against Chad Brothers following a preliminary hearing. Because Brothers was released from custody after appearing in court following the filing of charges, the state argued, he was not entitled to demand a preliminary hearing under Crim. P 7(h)(1) and section 16-5-3-1(1)(b)(II), C.R.S. 2020. 

The state asserts that Brothers was eligible to demand a preliminary hearing on Nov. 4, 2019, the day after he was charged with various drug and other offenses, but he lost that right when he was released on a personal recognizance bond later that day.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the lower court’s order. The intermediate court concluded that the seven-day deadline for requesting a hearing set out in Rule 7(h)(1) doesn’t apply to Brothers’ situation because he was on bond and thus “could not have meritoriously requested a preliminary hearing” for most of the seven days following his court appearance.

In reaching its decision, the intermediate court looked to the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2019 decision in People v. Rowell. In that case, the high court held that when a defendant is in custody for offenses for which a preliminary hearing is requested, “he may demand and must receive a preliminary hearing within a reasonable time” if the offenses meet certain criteria. The court in Rowell also concluded that because he was on bond during the seven-day timeframe, Rowell could not have meritoriously requested a preliminary hearing on the charges in a timely fashion.

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