Court Opinions – Jul 06, 2020

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners v. Polis

In recent decades, Colorado has been the setting of two of the nation’s most notorious mass shootings: Columbine High School in 1999 and the Aurora movie theater in 2012. In both attacks, the shooters used large-capacity ammunition magazines. Collectively, the shooters killed over two dozen people and wounded scores more.

In response to these shootings, the Colorado General Assembly in 2013 passed House Bill 1224, which limits the capacity of magazines. Relevant here, the bill generally prohibits the sale, transfer or possession of any “large-capacity magazine,” defined to include “[a] fixed or detachable magazine, box, drum, feed strip or similar device capable of accepting, or that is designed to be readily converted to accept, more than fifteen rounds of ammunition.”

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the National Association for Gun Rights and John A. Sternberg challenged this law as an infringement on the right to bear arms — not under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but under article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution. RMGO construed House Bill 1224’s definition of “large-capacity magazine” to encompass all magazines with removable base pads because such magazines can be “readily converted to accept[] more than fifteen rounds of ammunition.” They argue that the bill therefore operates to ban practically all detachable magazines, violating Coloradans’ state constitutional right to bear arms in defense of home, person and property.

The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that RMGO’s interpretation of the definition of “large-capacity magazine” is inconsistent with the provision’s plain text because it ignores the narrowing language, “designed to be readily converted to accept[] more than fifteen rounds of ammunition.” Relying on its longstanding test under Robertson v. City & County of Denver, for examining challenges brought under article II, section 13 of the Colorado Constitution, the court held that the organizations failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that House Bill 1224 violates the state constitutional right to bear arms. Accordingly, it affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

People v. Monroe

Following an altercation involving a stabbing in alleged self-defense on a city bus, Monroe was convicted of first-degree assault and attempted first-degree murder. During closing arguments, the prosecution repeatedly reiterated that Monroe first had a duty to retreat and since she did not, did not act in reasonable self defense. 

A division of the Court of Appeals reversed her convictions. It abstained from deciding whether it’s ever proper to argue that a defendant’s failure to retreat undermines the reasonableness of a defendant’s self-defense claim, but it concluded that the prosecution’s arguments impermissibly imposed on Monroe a duty to retreat. It then remanded this case for a new trial. 

The Colorado Supreme Court addressed the question the Court of Appeals left for another day and held that the prosecution may not argue that a defendant acted unreasonably in self-defense because she failed to retreat from an encounter. Thus, the trial court erred by permitting the prosecution’s arguments regarding Monroe’s failure to retreat. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals on different grounds, reversed Monroe’s judgment of conviction and remanded this case for a new trial.

In re Lucy & Meresa

People v. Lucy and People v. Meresa are unrelated cases from Gilpin County. Both cases are pending in front of the same county court judge. 

In Lucy, the prosecution charged Maurice Lucy with criminal mischief, a class 2 misdemeanor. Lucy pled not guilty on June 12, 2019, but subsequently requested a continuance of his trial on Oct. 9, 2019. As a result, his six-month speedy trial period was set to expire on April 9, 2020. The county court scheduled his jury trial to commence on March 17, 2020, within the speedy trial deadline. 

In Meresa, the prosecution charged Desta Meresa with violation of a criminal protection order and unlawful sexual contact, both class 1 misdemeanors. Meresa pled not guilty on Oct. 9, 2019, which meant that his six-month speedy trial period was set to expire on April 9, 2020, the same day Lucy’s speedy trial period was set to expire. The county court scheduled Meresa’s jury trial to commence on March 17, the same day Lucy’s case was scheduled for trial. 

In this original proceeding, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether a trial court may grant the prosecution’s contested request for a continuance with a tolling of the statutory speedy trial period based on a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Supreme Court held that, absent the defendant’s consent, section 18-1-405(6)(g)(I), C.R.S. (2019), authorizes a trial court to grant the prosecution a continuance with a tolling of the speedy trial period for up to six months if the prosecution establishes that as a result of a public health crisis, evidence material to its case is unavailable; it has exercised due diligence to obtain that evidence; and there are reasonable grounds to believe that the unavailable evidence will be available on the new trial date. 

Because the county court erred, the Supreme Court made the rule to show cause absolute and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. 

Ritchie v. Polis

Since declaring a state of emergency in March, the Governor has relied on his authority under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act to issue various executive orders suspending certain statutes, rules and regulations in an effort to prevent further escalation of the pandemic and mitigate its effects. Among these is Executive Order D2020065, which suspends the operation of certain statutes governing the ballot initiative process that require signature collection to take place in person, and authorizes the Secretary of State to create temporary rules to permit signature gathering by mail and email.

In this per curiam C.A.R. 50 appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed whether the act authorizes the Governor to create, by executive order, an exception to the requirement that signatures on petitions used to place initiatives on the ballot be collected in person. The court concluded that article V, section 1 of the Colorado Constitution requires that ballot initiative petitions be signed in the presence of the petition circulator. Because that requirement cannot be suspended by executive order, the Governor is not authorized to create an exception to that requirement. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court on this matter.

Boyle v. Bristol West Insurance Company

Robert Boyle was a passenger in a Toyota insured by Bristol West Insurance Company. The Toyota and another vehicle, a jeep, were involved in an incident of road rage, during which both vehicles were driven aggressively, cutting each other off and suddenly braking in front of each other. After both vehicles came to a stop, Boyle emerged from the Toyota and the driver of the Jeep struck Boyle with his car and dragged him for some distance, causing Boyle severe injuries. 

Boyle’s insurance policy included uninsured motorist coverage, and it insured any “person while occupying, maintaining or using [the owner’s] covered auto.” After settling for the respective policy limits with both his own insurer and with the insurer of the Jeep, Boyle sought underinsured motorist benefits from Bristol West. Bristol West denied his claim and Boyle filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in district court. Both parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted Bristol West’s motion, ruling that, because Boyle was not “using” the Toyota when he was injured, he was not entitled to benefits from Bristol West. The district court denied Boyle’s motion.

Boyle contended that the district court erred by granting Bristol West’s motion for summary judgment because Boyle “used” the Toyota when he was injured. This appeal required a division of the Court of Appeals to decide, apparently for the first time, whether a passenger in a motor vehicle involved in a road rage incident is “using” that vehicle for purposes of underinsured motorist coverage if he is injured after getting out of the vehicle to confront the driver of another vehicle. Because it concluded that Boyle was not using the vehicle when he was struck by the other vehicle, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

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