Court Opinions – Oct 21, 2019

People v. Quezada-Caro

Dolores Quezada-Caro appealed his judgment of conviction for felony driving under the influence. Among other things, he contended he was entitled to have a jury determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether he had prior convictions for impaired-driving offenses. If section 42-4-1301(1)(a), C.R.S. 2019, is interpreted otherwise, he argued, it violates his right to equal protection because it proscribes the same conduct as section 42-4-1307(6), C.R.S. 2019, but carries harsher penalties.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the felony DUI statute does not require prior convictions to be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The court rejected Quezada-Caro’s contention that section 42-4-1301(1)(a) violated his right to equal protection. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

People v. Harmon

Is a passenger in a vehicle that is lawfully stopped for a traffic infraction seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment?

In prior cases, People v. Jackson and People v. Fines, the Colorado Supreme Court held that such a passenger is not seized when the vehicle is lawfully stopped. But the U.S. Supreme Court has reached a different conclusion. In Brendlin v. California, the Supreme Court held that a passenger in a car is “seized from the moment [the] car c[o]me[s] to a halt on the side of the road.”

The Colorado Supreme Court has recognized that Brendlin overruled the contrary Fourth Amendment holding from Colorado but has not explicitly done the same with respect to Fines.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Brendlin also abrogated the contrary holding in Fines, as Fines is expressly predicated on Jackson.

The continued viability of Fines matters in this case because defendant, Sarah Harmon, was a passenger in a vehicle that was lawfully stopped by the police. Under the Supreme Court’s holding in Brendlin, because the traffic stop was lawful, Harmon was seized “from the moment [the] car came to a halt.” 

Because it is uncontested that the stop was lawful under the Fourth Amendment, there was no basis to suppress the fruits of the seizure unless some other unconstitutional seizure was effected by the police.

Recognizing this problem, Harmon contended that when the police directed her to a spot away from the car, separating her from the driver and the other passenger, a separate Fourth Amendment seizure occurred. 

She argued that because that seizure was supported by neither probable cause nor reasonable suspicion, all fruits of that seizure must be suppressed.

The Court of Appeals rejected Harmon’s argument not because it is legally unsound under the facts she posited, but because those alleged facts are not supported by the record. Because there was no separate seizure, there was no basis to suppress the fruits of the seizure, and the trial court correctly denied Harmon’s motion to suppress.

The court also rejected Harmon’s other claims of error and affirmed the judgment of conviction

People in the interest of KNBE

This is a dependency and neglect case. K.B.E. (the mother) appealed the juvenile court’s judgment terminating her parent-child legal relationships with twins K.N.B.E. and M.B.B.E. (the children). 

K.B.E. argued that the juvenile court erred by allowing testimony and evidence from a qualified expert witness obtained in an interview with her because she didn’t have her attorney with her during that interview. 

The Court of Appeals concluded, however, that K.B.E. didn’t have a right to have counsel present during the interview, and therefore affirmed.

Peoples v. ICAO

In a workers’ compensation case, after an employer files a final admission of liability and learns of an overpayment, the Workers’ Compensation Act of Colorado requires the employer to “attempt to recover” that overpayment from a claimant within one year of learning of its existence.

This workers’ compensation case asked the Court of Appeals to determine whether an employer’s listing of an overpayment on the FAL satisfies the “attempt to recover” term of the statute of limitations when a claimant’s temporary total disability and permanent partial disability benefits exceed the statutory cap. 

The Court of Appeals concluded it does not because, in this circumstance, the claimant did not receive ongoing benefits from which the employer could recoup an overpayment.

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