Court Opinions: Colorado Supreme Court Opinions for June 3

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

People v. Honstein

In this appellate Rule 21 appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court determined the standard courts must apply when deciding whether a participating prosecutor must testify in response to a defendant’s subpoena. The court held a defendant who wishes to call a participating prosecutor as a witness must demonstrate a compelling and legitimate reason to do so. Applying this standard de novo, the state Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred in ordering the prosecutor to testify. 

The court made its rule to show cause absolute and remanded the case.

People v. Johnson

The equal protection clause prohibits excluding prospective jurors from jury service based on their race. 

Although the Supreme Court’s three-step Batson framework helps courts enforce equal protection rights in jury selection, it is not always clear when a peremptory strike is based on a juror’s race. 

In this case, a prosecutor explained her peremptory strike against a Black potential juror was based in part on the juror’s written statement in a questionnaire that law enforcement had been disrespectful to her or those close to her based on race. Was the prosecutor’s strike race-neutral under Batson’s second step? Under the circumstances here, the Colorado Supreme Court said yes.

It reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals to the contrary and remanded the case.

People v. Austin

This opinion is a companion to People v. Johnson. 

Consistent with its reasoning in Johnson II, it reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, which held the prosecution violated Sterling Dwayne Austin’s rights under Batson v. Kentucky and remanded the case.

Tarr v. People

Under Colorado’s expressed consent statute, every driver in the state is “deemed” to have consented to take a breath or blood test to determine alcohol levels simply by getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. However, the law is silent as to whether a driver can revoke that statutory consent by, for example, unequivocally telling the police, “You’re not taking my blood.”

The Colorado Supreme Court in this case held a driver can revoke statutory consent. Here, after Christopher Oneil Tarr told the police he didn’t consent to having his blood drawn, they should have obtained a warrant, the court noted. Otherwise, the blood draw would violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches or seizures, and evidence obtained would be inadmissible unless one of the exceptions to the exclusionary rule applied. 

The court reversed and remanded for consideration of any outstanding arguments concerning the admissibility of the evidence in this case.

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