Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Aug. 5

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


People v. Steven Curtis

In a mail-in ballot forgery case, the Colorado Court of Appeals considered if the state legislature meant to limit prosecution in the mail ballot offense statute, section 1-13-112 CRS 2020. The court rejected the appeal and ruled that the mail ballot offense statute does not meet all criteria established by People v. Bagby to limit prosecution. 

Steven Curtis of Weld County filled out his ex-wife’s mail-in-ballot and forged her signature on the return envelope ahead of the 2016 general election. The forgery was caught when his former spouse requested an absentee ballot, raising red flags at the county clerk’s office. After court-ordered DNA and handwriting samples proved Curtis sealed the return envelope and filled out the address and signature, state prosecutors charged him with forgery and a mail-ballot offense. 

A jury rejected Curtis’ trial defense that blood sugar blackouts, the result of chronic diabetes, meant he “did not possess the mental state” required to commit the crimes and convicted him on both charges. 

On appeal, Curtis presented People v. Bagby to argue that the state legislature intended to limit prosecution for conduct related to ballots, and therefore he was improperly charged with forgery. 

Since Bagby in 1987, only two statutes have been identified that bar prosecutors from charging a defendant under the general criminal statute. To determine if there is clear legislative intent to limit prosecution a statute must invoke the full extent of the state’s police powers, be part of a comprehensive and thorough regulatory scheme and define different offenses in detail. 

Reviewing the statute language and context, the Court of Appeals found that it did not meet the first Bagby criteria and therefore does not limit prosecution. Rejecting Curtis’ other contentions, the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. 

People v. Adrienne Marie Stone

The Colorado Court of Appeals considered if the Fourth Amendment’s consent exception extends to re-entry of the home if a law enforcement officer briefly left it. The court ruled that when the entrances are closely related in time and purpose, the initial consent covers the re-entry. 

Arvada Police Sergeant Betsy Westbrook responded to a report that Adrienne Marie Stone threatened her 17-year-old son with a knife. At Stone’s house, her son agreed to speak with Sergeant Westbrook and invited her into the home. The reporting officer noticed extreme, hazardous clutter and after taking photos of the knife with her cell phone, left to retrieve her department-issued camera to take photos of the home interior. Sergeant Westbrook re-entered the home. 

A handful of other officials including a school resource officer, a caseworker from protection services and an additional police officer arrived at the home to document its conditions. Only two of the officials, Westbrook and the school resource officer, had permission from Stone’s son to enter the house. All testimony and photographs from the other officials were excluded in trial, but based on the allowed testimony, Stone was convicted by a jury of felony menacing, multiple counts of child abuse and one count of violating a protection order. 

Stone appealed her conviction, arguing, among other contentions, that Westbrook’s re-entry into her house was not covered by the consent exception to the Fourth Amendment and that her testimony should have been excluded. 

Finding no evidence that officer Westbrook’s permission to enter the house was revoked or conditional, the court concluded that the re-entry was constitutional and upheld the conviction. 

Mary Walker v. Women’s Professional Rodeo Association 

The Colorado Court of Appeals considered whether members of a nonprofit membership corporation are entitled to judicial review of the corporate board’s application of internal rules.

Two professional barrel racers — Mary Walker and Carley Cervi — sued the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association after the non-profit allegedly violated association rules that affected the riders’ ranking and barred them from prize money. After a district court dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the barrel racers appealed.

In 2019, both barrel racers competed in the Sheridan, Wyoming rodeo. Due to heavy rains, most contestants did not compete citing dangerous arena conditions. After Walker and Cervi performed, the rodeo judges declared the arena dangerous and canceled the competitions. 

Because of the cancellation, Colorado-based Women’s Professional Rodeo Association applied its “day money” rule which does not pay first or second place award money and has amended rules for how points are counted overall. Cervi and Walker filed a grievance with the Rodeo Association’s board of directors, asking for a larger sum of compensation and that the points earned during their competition count towards future rodeo qualifications. The board agreed to count the points but not award the increased compensation. 

Claiming the Pro Rodeo Association did not follow its own procedures for the grievance, the riders filed a lawsuit. 

The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with the district court and upheld the dismissal, finding that in cases without fraud, arbitrary conduct or bad faith, judicial review is not appropriate. It did, however, disagree in part with the lower court’s award of attorneys fees without a timely hearing. The case was remanded for a hearing to determine reasonable attorney fees.

CORRECTION NOTE: This story was updated on Oct. 17 to clarify Sergeant Westbrook did not have a camera upon reentry.

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