Court Opinions: Colorado Supreme Court Holds a REDDI Tip Justified Police Stop

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

Martinez v. People

Facing a charge of reckless manslaughter, Justin Brendan Martinez raised the force-against-intruders defense. At issue is whether the trial court erred by instructing the jury that this defense was an element-negative traverse, rather than an element-adding affirmative defense. 

The Colorado Court of Appeals concluded the trial court properly instructed the jury to treat Martinez’s force-against-intruders defense as a traverse rather than an affirmative defense. 

The Colorado Supreme Court, following its long line of precedents holding that self-defense is a traverse to crimes involving reckless conduct, held that the force-against-intruders defense is a traverse to crimes involving reckless conduct.  

According to the opinion, the court does so because the force-against-intruders defense, like self-defense, only protects defendants who acted justifiably and reasonably. These requirements make the defense irreconcilable with reckless conduct, which is intrinsically unjustifiable and unreasonable. 

Martinez’s defense that he acted justifiably and reasonably under the force-against-intruders statute directly conflicted with—or traversed over—the prosecution’s burden of proving that he acted recklessly, according to the opinion. 

The court affirmed. 

People v. Cerda 

Martin Otonoel Cerda has been charged with first-degree murder in Boulder County. In this interlocutory appeal, the prosecution challenged the district court’s suppression of statements Cerda made during custodial interrogation following his arrest. 

Although the detectives properly advised Cerda of his Miranda rights, the district court found that they failed to scrupulously honor Cerda’s right to remain silent once he invoked it. The court also found that Cerda’s statements were involuntary, and, therefore, wholly inadmissible at trial. 

The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the portion of the district court’s order concluding that the detectives failed to scrupulously honor Cerda’s invocation of his right to remain silent but reversed the portion concluding that Cerda’s statements were involuntary. It remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

People v. Matthew Lopez 

Matthew Rodolfo Vansant Lopez was charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of second-degree kidnapping, one count of possession of an incendiary device and two crime of violence counts. Lopez retained Dennis Hartley, a private criminal defense attorney, as counsel. 

At the time he entered his appearance as Lopez’s counsel, Hartley was being prosecuted for a misdemeanor DUI by the same DA that was prosecuting Lopez. During Hartley’s representation of Lopez, he was also charged with driving under restraint, which the same DA also prosecuted. 

According to the opinion, nothing in the record indicates that the court addressed Hartley’s conflict of interest directly with Lopez. Nor does it appear that the conflict was ever addressed in open court in Lopez’s presence. 

The jury ultimately found Lopez guilty of all of the charges except kidnapping. The court subsequently sentenced Lopez to a controlling term of 20 years to life. 

Thereafter, Lopez, now represented by appellate counsel, filed a notice of appeal. Appellate counsel requested a limited remand to determine whether the trial court, the prosecution and Hartley had discussed Hartley’s conflict, and what information concerning the conflict should have been included on the record. 

Appellate counsel made clear that it was her intent to raise on appeal a denial of Lopez’s right to conflict-free counsel if the record was sufficient after the limited remand. 

The Colorado Court of Appeals granted Lopez’s motion. The case was then remanded, and the trial court held a status conference to address the remand order. The case was then recertified to the appeals court, and Lopez argued his conviction should be reversed because Hartley had represented him while acting under a conflict of interest and Lopez didn’t knowingly, voluntarily or intelligently waive that conflict. 

A division of the appeals court agreed with Lopez, reversed his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. 

The Colorado Supreme court granted certiorari to consider whether a defendant who argues, for the first time on appeal, that his constitutional right to conflict-free counsel was violated by the simultaneous prosecution of defense counsel and defendant by the same prosecutor must prove that an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his representation. 

To answer this question, the court had to decide whether to adopt the division’s analysis in the Colorado Court of Appeals case People v. Edebohls, in which the division concluded that pending criminal charges against defense counsel in the same district in which counsel was representing a defendant created an actual conflict of interest that, absent a valid waiver, required a reversal; or to require a showing that an actual conflict of interest existed and adversely affected a defendant’s representation, as it has required in cases involving different forms of attorney conflicts. 

The court concluded Edebohls has been superseded by subsequent case law, which has limited the categories of errors deemed to mandate reversal without a showing of prejudice. 

It concluded that the proper framework for analyzing a conflict like the one at issue in this case is the framework set forth in its decision in West v. People. Under this framework, unless a matter falls within one of the limited scenarios in which the U.S. Supreme Court has presumed prejudice, which the court concluded it didn’t in this case, a defendant must show both a conflict of interest and an adverse effect resulting from the conflict. 

Because the record is insufficient to allow the court to conduct this analysis, it remanded the case with instructions to return the case to the trial court to develop a sufficient factual record and to determine whether Lopez has shown an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his representation. 

If the court concludes that Lopez has met this burden, then the judgment shall be reversed, subject to any further appeals, and the prosecution may retry Lopez. If the court concludes that Lopez hasn’t met this burden, then the judgment shall stand affirmed, subject to Lopez’s right to pursue a further appeal. 

The court reversed the judgment and remanded. 

Justice Monica Marquez, joined by Justice Melissa Hart, dissented. 

Marquez wrote that the majority now rejects the approach taken in Edehbols and instead concludes that conflicts of this nature must be reviewed in the same manner as more typical conflicts arising from multiple representation. But the framework applied by the majority fails to account for the unique nature of the actual conflict in this case, according to Marquez’s dissent. 

Instead, she would conclude that where, as here, an Edebohls-like actual conflict is not knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived by a defendant, that actual conflict results in per se ineffective assistance of counsel. She would affirm the division’s judgment and reverse Lopez’s conviction, albeit under somewhat different reasoning.

People v. Dacus 

In this interlocutory appeal, the People challenged the district court’s order suppressing certain evidence obtained by a police deputy after the deputy was alerted to a possible drunk driver through a Report Every Drunk Driver Immediately Report. 

In particular, the People contend that the district court erred in concluding that the REDDI report in this case constituted an anonymous tip requiring corroboration to justify an investigatory stop and that the People had presented insufficient corroborating evidence. 

In the People’s view, the tip at issue was not anonymous, and even if it were, law enforcement had developed reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop. Alternatively, the People contend that the stop at issue was consensual. 

The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that the tipster in this case wasn’t anonymous and the tip alone established reasonable suspicion to justify the stop. But even if the tip were anonymous, the court also concluded that on the facts presented, reasonable suspicion supported an investigatory stop in this case. 

The court reversed the district court’s suppression order and remanded. 

Matter of the Title, Ballot Title and Submission Clause for Proposed Initiative 2023-2024 #175

Section 1-40-107(2) of the Colorado Revised Statutes requires parties seeking the Colorado Supreme Court’s review of a Title Board decision on a motion for rehearing to file an appeal within seven days. 

In this case, Wayne Goodall and Darcy Schoening appealed the Title Board’s April 3 ruling on April 24. They asserted that the seven-day timeline doesn’t run from the date of the challenged Title Board decision, but instead from the date the petitioner obtains a certified copy of the underlying Title Board proceedings, which was on April 23. 

The court has previously held that the filing deadline in these matters begins running on the date of the allegedly erroneous Title Board decision, and it perceived no reason to depart from that holding. 

The court held the filing was untimely and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. 

In the Matter of the Title, Ballot Title, and Submission Clause for Proposed Initiative 2023-2024 #188 

In this appeal, Mark Chilson asked the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse the Title Board’s decision to set a title for Proposed Ballot Initiative 2023-2024 #188. Chilson invoked the court’s jurisdiction pursuant to Section 1-40-107(2) of the Colorado Revised Statutes. But in a Section 1-40-107(2) proceeding, this court can only review a Title Board action taken after a properly filed motion for rehearing. 

Chilson asserted that the Title Board erred in determining that Initiative #188 — which proponents resubmitted pursuant to Article V, Section 1(5.5) of the Colorado Constitution — complied with Section 1(5.5)’s requirements. According to the opinion, this claim is not included in the statutory grounds for a rehearing. 

The court concluded it lacked jurisdiction to consider Chilson’s arguments, dismissed the case and left the underlying ruling of the Title Board undisturbed. 

Salah v. People 

After a jury convicted Abdullahi Salah of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl, the trial court sentenced him to sex offender intensive supervision probation. 

The court included, as conditions of his probation, provisions that prohibited Salah from contacting or living with minor children, except for his own children, his minor-age siblings and any child with whom he had a parental role. 

Salah’s probation was subsequently revoked, following a hearing, after his probation officer discovered that Salah was living with his adult sister and her infant son. 

Salah appealed, contending that the probation conditions prohibiting him from contacting or living with his sister and nephew violated his constitutional right to associate with family members. More precisely, he argued that the right to familial association automatically extends to all members of a probationer’s biological family and that a blood relationship is dispositive of constitutional protection. 

He also asserted that the court erred by failing to make specific findings identifying the compelling circumstances that justified the imposition of these conditions. 

In a unanimous, published decision, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals rejected Salah’s argument that the scope of the right to familial association in this context is determined entirely by the existence of a blood relationship between a probationer and a minor child. The appeals court also concluded that, because Salah didn’t present any evidence at his probation revocation hearing regarding his relationship with his nephew, the probation conditions didn’t violate his right to familial association and the trial court didn’t err by failing to make specific findings. 

The Colorado Supreme Court also rejected Salah’s argument that a biological connection alone is dispositive of whether a probationer has a constitutional right to familial association in this context. 

The court held that whether a probation condition implicates a probationer’s constitutional right to familial association with an extended relative depends, as a threshold matter, on whether the probationer demonstrates the nature of their relationship with the family member. The threshold showing is necessary so that a trial court reviewing a claim of familial association can determine where on the spectrum of protection the relationship falls, according to the opinion. 

In the proceedings, Salah didn’t present any evidence demonstrating the nature of his relationship with his nephew, according to the opinion. The court concluded the trial court didn’t err by prohibiting Salah from contacting or living with his nephew or by failing to make specific findings identifying the compelling circumstances that justified the imposition of these restrictions. 

The court affirmed. 

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