Court Opinions- Jun 01, 2020

People v. Espinoza

Martin Espinoza was charged with first-degree arson, third-degree assault and attempted first-degree murder (extreme indifference), with corresponding crime-of-violence counts, arising out of an incident in which a fire raged through his mother’s apartment. As pertinent to the question presented on certiorari, he was convicted of 10 counts of attempted extreme indifference murder, for which he was sentenced consecutively to a total term of 160 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.

Evidence was presented at trial essentially showing Espinoza started a fire on the balcony of his mother’s apartment in March 2014, which spread throughout the apartment building and to a neighboring building. The 10 people named victims of the attempted murder counts were able to escape and survive. 

In imposing sentences for the attempted murder convictions, the sentencing court considered itself bound by section 18-1.3-406(1)(a), which requires a sentencing court to impose consecutive sentences for offenses arising out of the same incident committed as separate crimes of violence. As to each of the defendant’s attempted murder convictions, the sentencing court specified that the conviction applied to a different count and a different victim, noted that the offense was found to be a crime of violence and imposed a 16-year sentence to the Department of Corrections to be served consecutively with the other nine attempted murder convictions. Espinoza appealed, challenging the trial court’s imposition of consecutive sentences. The intermediate appellate court reversed. 

The Colorado Supreme Court granted the people’s petition for certiorari review to consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in finding that the defendant’s 10 attempted murder convictions were supported by identical evidence and for that reason were not separate crimes of violence giving rise to mandatory consecutive sentencing. 

The Supreme Court reversed, holding that even according to the intermediate appellate court’s understanding of the term “separate crimes of violence,” Espinoza’s convictions required consecutive sentences pursuant to section 18-1.3-406(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), because offenses defined in terms of their victimization of another and committed against different victims are not capable of being proved by identical evidence within the contemplation of section 18-1-408(3), C.R.S. (2019).

People v. Perez

Rafael Perez appealed the trial court’s order of restitution after being convicted of second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, asserting both that the trial court lacked authority to enter a restitution order more than 91 days after sentencing and that there were no extenuating circumstances justifying the prosecutor’s delay in submitting the information to the court. 

A division of the Court of Appeals previously addressed this appeal, however, the Colorado Supreme Court vacated that opinion and remanded for reconsideration in light of its recent decision in Fransua v. People. 

A division of the Court of Appeals rejected Perez’s first claim, concluding — contrary to decisions of other divisions of the court — that nothing in the restitution statute sets a deadline by which the trial court must enter an order for restitution. However, the division agreed that the trial court erred by ordering restitution without finding extenuating circumstances for the prosecution’s untimely submission of the restitution information. In addition, the division rejected Perez’s contention that his statutory and constitutional rights were violated when the trial court declined to disclose Crime Victim Compensation Board records. Because of the lack of a finding of extenuating circumstances, the division vacated the restitution order and remanded for further proceedings. 

Day v. Secretary of State

Michael Day filed a complaint alleging a campaign finance violation in October 2018, after a decision from the court had been released about this issue and also after the Secretary of State promulgated the new rules. His complaint was reviewed by the Elections Division, which dismissed it because it was filed outside the ninety-day statute of limitations. Day appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals, not the district court. The Secretary of State moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the Court of Appeals lacks jurisdiction because Day was required to appeal the Elections Division’s decision to the district court. 

The Court of Appeals, without weighing in on the campaign finance violation complaint, concluded that Day was required to file his appeal in district court and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Centura Health Corp v. French

Centura Health Corporation and Catholic Health Initiatives Colorado, doing business as St. Anthony North Health Campus, appealed the judgment entered on a jury verdict finding that Lisa French was only liable to the Hospital for the “reasonable value” of its services rather than the Hospital’s bill.

On appeal, the Hospital argued the trial court erred by ruling that the hospital services agreement French signed was ambiguous and allowing the jury to decide the parties’ contractual intent. A division of the Court of Appeals agreed with the Hospital that the HSA’s price term unambiguously referred to its charge master rates and was sufficiently definite to be enforceable. The division reversed the trial court’s judgment that the term was ambiguous, and because it reversed on this issue, it no longer needed not address the Hospital’s remaining contention that the trial court erred by denying the Hospital’s motions for a directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and its motion to amend its complaint.

People in Interest of K.C.

In May 2018, the Logan County Department of Human Services filed a petition in dependency and neglect regarding the then-one-month-old twin children. D.C., the twins’ mother, reported that she did not have Indian heritage, but the children’s father indicated that he had “Chickasaw” heritage. 

The Department sent notice to the Nation, which responded in a letter, indicating that the father and both children were “eligible for citizenship” through the lineage of the paternal grandfather who was an enrolled citizen. The Nation further stated that once “either the biological father or the children are enrolled, the children will qualify as ‘Indian Children.’” Presumably aware that their current status did not make the children Indian children as defined by Indian Child Welfare Act, the Nation’s letter went on to request the children’s enrollment as members of the Nation, attached forms for enrollment and tribal citizenship and demanded assistance in completing these forms from the children’s parents or legal guardian, the latter of which, at all relevant times, was the Department. Specifically, the Nation directed “the parent or legal custodian to complete the enclosed application for Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood and Chickasaw citizenship application for the children” and return the application to the Chickasaw Nation’s Tribal Government Services Office. The Nation added that,“[a]though the ICWA does not yet apply in this case, we have a vested interest in the welfare of children who are eligible for citizenship with the Chickasaw Nation.” 

The Department did not notify the juvenile court of the Nation’s request at that time nor did it enroll the children. In April 2019, the Department moved to terminate the parents’ rights. In its motion regarding ICWA, the Department asserted that D.C. had no Indian heritage, it had sent notice to the Nation based on its knowledge of father’s Chickasaw heritage, and the Nationhad responded that the children were not Indian children under ICWA until or unless the father or the children enrolled. Attached to the motion, and for the first time brought to the attention of the juvenile court, was the Nation’s letter and the uncompleted citizenship applications and enrollment forms. Following a hearing, the juvenile court terminated D.C.’s parental rights. As relevant here, the court found that the father had not enrolled himself, neither parents had enrolled the children, the children were not Indian children and ICWA did not apply.

A division of the Court of Appeals concluded that to meet its responsibilities under the ICWA and the reasonable efforts requirements under sections 19-1-103(89) and 19-3-208, C.R.S. 2019, the Department must deposit with the juvenile court, at the earliest possible time upon receipt, any tribal response indicating the tribe’s interest in obtaining citizenship or membership of an enrollment-eligible child. The division further concluded that once the response from the tribe has been deposited with the juvenile court, it must set the matter for an enrollment hearing to determine whether it is in the child’s best interests to be enrolled in the tribe. Because the county department here failed to timely deposit with the juvenile court the Chickasaw Nation’s response indicating its desire to enroll the children and the juvenile court had no opportunity to hear or determine whether enrollment in the Chickasaw Nation was in the children’s best interests, the division vacated the judgment and remanded for the court to conduct an enrollment hearing.

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