Court Opinions: Colorado Court of Appeals Opinions for Nov. 9

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

People v. Jones

Applying the division’s analysis in People v. Toler, the Colorado Court of Appeals held the trial court properly refused to give a self-defense instruction under subsections (2)(b) and (2)(c) of the self-defense statute. The trial court properly recognized that giving such an instruction would be based only on the actual belief of the defendant. The self-defense statute takes into account both the reasonable belief and the actual belief of the defendant, the opinion noted.

According to the opinion, Heather Jones shot one of her friends while staying at the victim’s home in early 2018. The victim died from complications caused by the gunshot wound eight months later. Jones asserted the defense of self-defense based on her mistaken belief that the victim was an intruder.

The jury wasn’t persuaded by Jones’s defense and found her guilty of second-degree murder. The trial court sentenced her to 24 years in prison.

Jones appealed. She contended the trial court erred by declining to instruct the jury on the affirmative defense of force against intruders and the affirmative defense of self-defense under subsections (2)(b) and (2)(c) of the self-defense statute; the trial court violated her rights under the confrontation clause of the U.S. Constitution by admitting testimonial statements of the victim that the defense’s expert witness considered; and the prosecution committed misconduct during voir dire. 

After evaluation, the Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

Judge Terry Fox and Judge Neeti Pawar concurred.

People v. Munoz-Diaz

Ricardo Munoz-Diaz appealed his conviction of felony murder, second-degree murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of burglary. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed.

Munoz-Diaz was suspected of killing his neighbor in her home, stealing her safe, selling her valuables and then fleeing to Mexico. A detective was able to reach Munoz-Diaz in Mexico by phone. During their recorded conversation, Munoz-Diaz admitted to the homicide and the theft. He was then extradited to Colorado and charged with first-degree murder after deliberation and numerous other crimes, the opinion noted.

Pretrial, Munoz-Diaz moved to suppress the statements he made during the phone call, arguing his admissions were involuntary and thus inadmissible under the U.S. and Colorado Constitutions. The district court denied the motion, and Munoz-Diaz’s statements were presented to the jury. Further, these statements led to the discovery of the victim’s purse, which was near a hardware store where Munoz-Diaz had purchased a dolly he allegedly used to move the victim’s safe. The purse and surveillance footage of Munoz-Diaz purchasing the dolly was also presented to the jury.

Additionally, the people presented police testimony that four of the victim’s watches had been sold to pawnshops under Munoz-Diaz’s name. Munoz-Diaz’s former roommate and coworker also testified Munoz-Diaz looked “violent” and “scared” on the day of the murder. And finally, the prosecution presented DNA evidence linking Munoz-Diaz to the crime scene.

At trial, Munoz-Diaz didn’t dispute he killed his neighbor in her home and took her safe. Rather, he sought to negate the element of intent by proving he was intoxicated. The jury acquitted Munoz-Diaz of first-degree murder after deliberation but found him guilty of felony murder, second-degree murder and other crimes related to the theft.

Munoz-Diaz contended his statements over the phone were involuntary under the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article II, sections 18 and 25 of the Colorado Constitution. The Court of Appeals disagreed.

After evaluation, the conviction was affirmed.

Judge David Furman and Judge Michael Berger concurred.

People v. Mickey

Tommy Mickey appealed the district court’s order requiring him to pay restitution. The Colorado Court of Appeals vacated the order. In so doing, it concluded the error in entering a restitution order after the expiration of the statutory 91-day period, without an express, timely finding of good cause pursuant to People v. Weeks, can’t be harmless.

Mickey pleaded guilty to second-degree burglary and vehicular eluding. On Oct. 7, 2020, he was sentenced to six years in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections. On June 29, 2021, more than 250 days after the sentencing hearing, the district court ordered Mickey to pay restitution for unrecovered stolen property. The district court didn’t make an express finding that there was good cause to determine restitution more than 91 days after the sentencing hearing.

Mickey argued the restitution order was untimely) and must be vacated. The Court of Appeals agreed and reviewed de novo issues of statutory interpretation.

After evaluation, the order was vacated.

Judge Karl Schock and Judge Dennis Graham concurred.

Gebert v. Sears Roebuck & Co.

In this personal injury action, Jacqueline Gebert sued Sears, Roebuck & Co., and its local home repair branch after being electrocuted by her stove, which a Sears repair person had incorrectly wired. A jury awarded Gebert $2.7 million in damages. Sears appealed the district court’s admission of evidence regarding its initial denial and later admission of negligence. Gebert cross-appealed the district court’s reduction of her noneconomic damages to the statutory cap in section Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-102.5(3)(a). Nonparties to the litigation filed three amicus briefs — one in support of Sears on the evidentiary issue and two taking opposing stances on the constitutionality of Colorado’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages.

As to the evidentiary issue, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded the district court erred by admitting evidence of Sears’ denial and later admission of negligence because it wasn’t relevant to any material issue at trial. The Court of Appeals also concluded any error in the admission of the evidence was harmless.

Although binding precedent has upheld the constitutionality of Colorado’s statutory cap on noneconomic damages, the appeals courts considered, as a matter of first impression, whether the statutory cap infringes on the right to a civil jury trial as guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Because the Seventh Amendment hasn’t been applied to the states, and because the Colorado Constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to a civil jury trial, the Court of Appeals concluded the statutory damages cap is constitutional.

Perceiving no abuse of the district court’s discretion in declining to exceed the cap, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded the court properly capped Gebert’s noneconomic damages at the statutory limit. 

After evaluation, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.

Judge David Furman and Judge Neeti Pawar concurred.

CORRECTION NOTE: A previous version of this article listed the wrong name for one of the concurring judges in People v. Munoz-Diaz. This was corrected on Nov. 14. Law Week regrets the error. 

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