Court Opinions- Jun 29, 2020

People v. Figueroa-Lemus


Both the People and Eswin Figueroa-Lemus petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals’ judgment affirming the denial of Figueroa-Lemus’s Crim. P. 32(d) motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Prosecutors challenged the appellate court’s jurisdiction on the grounds that until the defendant is actually sentenced and judgment of conviction enters, there can be no final judgment from which an appeal would lie. Figueroa-Lemus challenged the appellate court’s ultimate conclusion on the merits that he was not entitled to an advisement by his counsel to the effect that he would be detained without bond during the pendency of any deportation proceedings initiated against him by the federal government.

Because a guilty plea taken pursuant to a statutorily sanctioned stipulation to defer judgment and sentence does not become a final, appealable judgment unless and until the deferral is revoked, sentence is actually imposed and judgment of conviction enters, Figueroa-Lemus was without any immediate right to appeal the denial of his Crim. P. 32(d) motion, and the Court of Appeals was therefore not authorized to entertain his claim. The Colorado Supreme Court chose to exercise original jurisdiction in this case and found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Figueroa-Lemus’s motion.

People v. Gutierrez and People v. Carrillo-Toledo

The Colorado Supreme Court held that section 42-4-903(4), C.R.S. (2019), requires a driver to activate his or her vehicle’s turn signal before moving left or right to change lanes. Accordingly, when an officer observes a driver activate the turn signal once his or her vehicle’s tires are already partially over the dashed line between lanes, that officer may reasonably conclude that he or she has witnessed a traffic violation and may lawfully stop the vehicle. In both of these cases, the trial court erred when it concluded that the initial traffic stop was unlawful and suppressed evidence of criminality found during a search of the vehicle as stemming from that unlawful stop. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019–2020 #315 and In re Title, Ballot Title & Submission Clause for 2019–2020 #293

In this opinion, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the actions of the Title Board in setting the title and the ballot title and submission clause for Initiative #315 and Initiative #293, that proposes to add section 22 to article X of the Colorado Constitution and to amend certain statutory provisions in Titles 24 and 39 of the Colorado Revised Statutes in order to create a new preschool program. This program would be created by reallocating revenue generated by existing state taxes on tobacco products and tobacco litigation settlements and by levying a new sales tax on tobacco-derived nicotine vapor products.

The court concluded that the titles that the Title Board set for Initiative #315 and Initiative #293 presents a single subject, namely, the creation and administration of a Colorado preschool program funded by state taxes on nicotine and tobacco products. It further concluded that the title satisfies the clear title requirement because it describes the initiatives’ central features succinctly, accurately and fairly and in a manner that will not mislead voters. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Title Board’s actions in setting the title for Initiative #315 and Initiative #293.

Archuleta v. People

This case, along with People v. Wester-Gravelle, required the Colorado Supreme Court to consider when a trial court must give the jury a so-called “modified unanimity instruction.” Specifically, in this case involving a charge of child abuse resulting in death, the court had to determine whether Sandra Archuleta was entitled to a modified unanimity instruction requiring that the jurors either unanimously agree that she committed the same act or acts underlying the child abuse charge or that she committed all of those acts.

Because the prosecution charged and tried this case on the theory that Archuleta had committed the offense at issue by engaging in a single criminal transaction resulting in the child’s death, and because (in light of the prosecution’s theory) the Supreme Court saw no reasonable likelihood that the jurors disagreed on which specific act caused the child’s death, it concluded that Archuleta was not entitled to a modified unanimity instruction here.

People v. Wester-Gravelle

In this companion case to People v. Archuleta, the Colorado Supreme Court considered the question of when a trial court must either require the prosecution to elect an act or acts on which it will rely for conviction or provide the jury with a so-called “modified unanimity instruction.” Specifically, in this case involving one count of forgery against De Etta Wester-Gravelle, the court needed to decide whether a division of the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that the prosecution had an obligation to elect the specific document or documents on which it would rely for conviction or, alternatively, that Wester-Gravelle was entitled to a modified unanimity instruction requiring the jurors to agree unanimously that she had committed the same underlying act of forgery or that she had committed all of the underlying acts.

In addressing this question, the court first concluded, contrary to the People’s assertion, that Wester-Gravelle did not waive her assertion that either an election or a modified unanimity instruction was required. The court concluded that the trial court did not plainly err when it did not, sua sponte, require an election or give a modified unanimity instruction here because any error was neither obvious nor substantial. Accordingly, it reversed the judgment of the division below, and remanded this case to the appellate court for consideration of Wester-Gravelle’s remaining contentions on appeal.

People v. Wheeler

In November, while driving his marked patrol car on the outskirts of Walsenburg at about 3 a.m., Deputy Morgan Chapman observed a Subaru turn left into a remote area with no structures, facilities or buildings around it. 

Because the Subaru’s location at such a late hour raised red flags, Chapman took County Road 525 as well and as he did so, he contacted Captain Craig Lessar and Deputy Bill LaPorte by radio, and they responded in separate vehicles. Chapman momentarily lost sight of the car, but Lessar indicated that he had a visual on the car, which had taken a two-track road and stopped on private property. He added that the car had turned off its lights and was parked next to a stock tank and a windmill. 

With Lessar’s assistance, Chapman located the car. Concerned about possible poaching “due to the time of year” and possible tampering with the stock tank and windmill, Chapman approached the car intending to speak with the occupants. As he neared, the driver turned the headlights back on, shifted into reverse and started driving backwards. Chapman thus activated his patrol car’s emergency equipment and the car stopped. 

LaPorte arrived shortly after and contacted the driver of the car, Mia Raymond, and Chapman contacted her boyfriend, Walter Wheeler, who was in the front passenger seat. On the dashboard of the vehicle, Chapman observed in plain view a white crystalline substance that he suspected was methamphetamine. 

He then noticed a bag of what appeared to be methamphetamine protruding from the top of Wheeler’s shoe. After stepping out of the car for a weapons pat-down, Wheeler admitted that he was in possession of methamphetamine. 

During subsequent searches of his person and the car, the deputies recovered approximately 38.5 grams of methamphetamine and $4,700 in cash. Wheeler was arrested and transported to a police station.

In this interlocutory appeal brought by the People, the Colorado Supreme Court considered whether the district court correctly granted Wheeler’s pretrial motion to suppress after finding that deputies with the Huerfano County Sheriff’s Office conducted an unlawful investigatory stop of the Subaru. 

The Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the court erred, holding that the totality of the circumstances, and the rational inferences therefrom, provided the deputies reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that the occupants of the Subaru were committing, had committed or were about to commit a crime. Therefore, the suppression order was reversed.

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