Court Opinions: Colorado Supreme Court Opinions for Sept. 12

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

People v. Raider

The Colorado Supreme Court en banc reversed a decision in a case involving a forced specimen collection and DUI.

Colorado’s Expressed Consent Statute says a person who drives a motor vehicle on the roads of the state has consented to a breath or blood test and needs to cooperate and take one if a police officer has probable cause the person is driving under the influence. The statute further states a law enforcement officer cannot physically restrain a person in order to obtain a specimen unless the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect committed criminally negligent homicide, vehicular homicide, third-degree assault or vehicular assault.

This case considered whether the prohibition against forced specimen collection applies to all searches of people suspected of DUI or only warrantless searches. The high court concluded it only applies to warrantless searches holding the statute has no bearing on searches executed with a warrant.

A Fort Collins police officer arrested Charles Raider, Jr. for alleged DUI and Raider refused to give a blood or breath test. After learning Raider had several DUI convictions, police received a warrant to draw blood and use reasonable force if necessary to get it. Raider had been transported to the hospital. Court records say Raider refused to cooperate so hospital personnel put him in a four-point leather restraint and officers held him down while blood was drawn. Testing revealed Raider’s blood was above the legal limit. 

Raider was charged with felony DUI. The trial court denied Raider’s pre-trial motion to suppress the blood test results concluding the Expressed Consent Statute’s prohibition against forced specimen collection doesn’t apply when a blood draw is authorized by a warrant. Raider was found guilty of felony DUI.

The court of appeals reversed, holding under the plain language of subsection (3) of the Expressed Consent Statute, aside from the exceptions, officers cannot force a suspect in a DUI case to take a blood test even if a warrant is obtained. The appeals court went on to say the use of the term “except” with the four exceptions indicates the only circumstances where officers can use force to give one of those tests 

The high court reversed. After going through the motor vehicle code, which houses the Expressed Consent Statute, the Supreme Court found a different statute within the code which essentially said the motor vehicle code only governs warrantless searches. The court continued, writing that the reason why the Expressed Consent Statute doesn’t mention warrants is because warrants aren’t relevant to the issue of consent; by definition, a warrant is an independent constitutional ground for conducting searches.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for more proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Justice Richard Gabriel dissented, arguing under the statute a law enforcement officer cannot physically restrain someone to get a specimen, unless it falls under the exceptions mentioned previously.

“Today, however, notwithstanding the plain and unambiguous legislative language and the careful balancing of interests that our legislature has adopted, the majority effectively adds to section 42-4-1301.1(3) a fifth exception, namely, one that allows a forced specimen draw if a law enforcement officer obtains a warrant,” Gabriel wrote.

People v. Gorostieta

The state high court en banc unanimously affirmed a case on proving a defendant’s identity. 

The case clarified what a prosecutor must prove to establish a defendant’s identity as a perpetrator of a prior crime when the defendant’s conviction of that prior crime is an element or sentence enhancer of the present offense. The Supreme Court concluded that for a prosecution to prove a defendant’s identity, the prosecution needs to establish a link between the previous conviction and the defendant. 

The prosecution needs to present documentary evidence along with corroborating evidence of identification connecting the defendant to the prior felony conviction, the court held. 

The question then became whether the prosecution satisfied that in this case and carried its burden proving Enrique Gorostieta was convicted of a prior felony as alleged in this case. The Supreme Court surmised the prosecution did present enough evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find Gorostieta had been convicted of the prior felony.

In El Paso County, witnesses heard multiple gunshots fired from a vehicle parked at a neighbor’s house. Officers identified Gorostieta as the driver and took him and the passenger into custody, later interviewing Gorostieta. Officers also searched the vehicle and found two guns, one Gorostieta admitted to purchasing. A prosecutor charged Gorostieta with possession of a weapon by a previous offender, alleging he had a prior felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance.

At trial, the court admitted by stipulation some self-authenticating court records showing a person named Enrique Ernesto Gorostieta, who had the same birthdate as the defendant, had previously been convicted for possession of a controlled substance. The jury was also able to observe him and compare his physical appearance to the description in a prior case. Gorostieta was convicted on the POWPO charge. 

Gorostieta appealed arguing the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence to prove he was the same person convicted of the drug felony, but the appeals court affirmed, citing a sufficient amount of evidence. The Supreme Court agreed and affirmed the judgment.

People in the Interest of E.A.M.

The Supreme Court en banc unanimously reversed a decision in a custody case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In this dependency and neglect case, the high court addressed the notice provisions in the Indian Child Welfare Act. Those provisions apply when a court knows or has reason to know a Native American child is involved in a custody proceeding, which includes a dependency and neglect proceeding. Whether a court knows a child is Native American is straightforward, but whether the court has a reason to know the child is Native American, isn’t.

The Supreme Court held that mere assertions of a child’s Native American heritage, including those that specify one tribe or multiple, without more, are not enough to give a juvenile court a reason to know the child is Native American. Instead, those assertions trigger the due diligence requirement in Colorado’s ICWA implementing statute 19-1-126(3). 

The high court continued, writing since the juvenile court correctly found it didn’t have reason to know E.A.M. is Native American, it correctly directed the Denver Human Services Department to exercise due diligence in getting more information that would assist in determining whether there was reason to know E.A.M. was Native American. The Supreme Court thus reversed the appeals court’s decision to vacate the juvenile court’s termination judgment and remanded the case to the court of appeals for more proceedings consistent with the opinion.

In this dependency and neglect case, a juvenile court terminated a mother’s parental rights for E.A.M. The mother appealed, contending the court failed to comply with the ICWA by not ensuring the petitioning party, DHSD, provided notice of the proceeding to tribes she and other relatives identified as being part of E.A.M.’s heritage.  

DHSD and child’s guardian ad litem contended the assertions of Native American heritage by the mother and other relatives had not given the juvenile court reason to know the child is Native American. Instead, they maintained those assertions had triggered the due diligence requirement in 19-1-126(3) and so DHSD contended it had done its due diligence. 

The appeals court agreed with the mother, vacated the termination agreement and remanded with directions to ensure compliance with ICWA’s notice requirements, with the Supreme Court reversing the appeals court decision. The Supreme Court also remanded to allow the appeals court to consider the mother’s outstanding claim, which alleges DHSD failed to undertake reasonable efforts to rehabilitate her.

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