Court Opinions- May 18, 2020

Halaseh v. People


John Halaseh was charged with one count of theft of $20,000 or more from the Social Security Administration, committed over a three-year period from January 2008 to January 2011. He was convicted of that charge, which at the time was a class 3 felony, and was sentenced to probation with a condition requiring payment of restitution.

Halaseh then petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals’ remand order in his underlying appeal, which directed the district court to enter four convictions for class 4 felony theft in place of the single conviction of class 3 felony theft reflected in the charge and jury verdict. The intermediate appellate court reversed the conviction for class 3 felony theft on the grounds that when the statutory authorization for aggregating separate acts of theft was properly applied, there was insufficient evidence to support a single conviction for theft of $20,000 or more. It also found, however, that there was sufficient evidence to support four separate convictions for aggregated thefts with values qualifying as class 4 felonies, and that substituting these four class 4 felony convictions for the vacated class 3 felony conviction was necessary to fulfill what it understood to be its obligation to maximize the effect of the jury’s verdict.

Because no theft offense requiring the aggregation of two or more separate instances of theft was a lesser included offense of the class 3 felony of which Halaseh was actually charged and convicted, no such offense was implicitly found by the jury and therefore none could be entered in lieu of the reversed conviction without depriving the defendant of his right to a jury trial. The remand order of the Court of Appeals is therefore disapproved, and the Colorado Supreme Court remanded the case with directions to simply reverse the conviction for class 3 felony theft.

People v. Clark

The People filed this interlocutory appeal, contesting the trial court’s order suppressing certain statements that Bradley Clark made to law enforcement during the execution of a search warrant at his home and prior to his formal arrest. The People contended that the trial court erred in finding that Clark was in custody so as to trigger the requirements of Miranda v. Arizona when he made the statements at issue.

The statements were made after Durango firefighters reviewed surveillance footage relating to the investigation of a fire at a grocery store and identified Clark as a suspect. After first obtaining a search warrant, four officers from the Durango Police Department went to Clark’s home. The officers advised Clark they were there to execute a search warrant, first providing him with a copy before speaking about the items from the warrant. While the officers were executing the warrant, a detective questioned Clark about his visits to the grocery store and achieved little success in getting responses before requesting he speak with Clark outside. One of the officers said, “You’re not going to be arrested, we’re not arresting you outside. We’re stepping outside so we’re not talking in front of your family.” 

After struggling to pull information from Clark and growing more frustrated with his apparent lack of cooperation, officers arrested Clark outside of his home and offered him sweats, socks and shoes and allowed him to speak with his wife. It was noted through audio recordings of the encounter that detectives remained calm, professional and conversational with Clark throughout the duration of speaking with him.

The People charged Clark with criminal attempt to commit first degree arson, second degree arson and criminal mischief. Clark pleaded not guilty and moved to suppress all of the statements that he made during the encounter for the execution of the search warrant, arguing these statements were made in the course of a custodial interrogation without the benefit of Miranda warnings. The trial court agreed and concluded “no reasonable person would think that they had not been deprived of their freedom at the point where they would have to go outside in their underwear without their shoes on.” The court thus granted in part Clark’s motion to suppress and suppressed any statements that Clark made after he went outside with the detective.

The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the People. It reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded this case to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Russell v. People

Derick Russell was sentenced to six years in community corrections for an offense in Douglas County to be served concurrently with a three-year sentence incurred in Jefferson County. Before completing his concurrent sentences, on May 26, 2016, Russell was unsuccessfully terminated from community corrections in both cases and immediately confined in the Denver County Jail. 

On June 1, 2016, the Jefferson County District Court resentenced Russell to serve the remainder of his three-year sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Four months later, on Oct. 13, 2016, the Douglas County District Court also resentenced Russell to the Department of Corrections to serve the remainder of his six-year Douglas County sentence, again to be served concurrently with the Jefferson County sentence. The Douglas County District Court, however, did not award Russell any PSCC for the time he was confined between his Jefferson County resentencing on June 1 and his Douglas County resentencing on Oct. 13.

The Colorado Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the following issue: When the defendant was terminated from his concurrent community corrections sentences from Jefferson and Douglas Counties, and resentenced to concurrent prison sentences in both counties, whether he is entitled to presentence confinement credit in Douglas County for time served in prison after his Jefferson County resentencing but before his Douglas County resentencing.

 This case highlights that the Supreme Court prior decisions applying the PSCC statute are not easy to reconcile with each other and are inconsistent with the statutory language. People v. Torrez broke from Massey v. People and Massey’s companion case, People v. Freeman, by establishing a but-for causation test for PSCC that is not supported by the plain language of the statute. 

The causation test outlined in Massey and Freeman relied on a geography-based distinction that finds no purchase in the statutory language and that it disavowed in Torrez. 

While the Supreme Court recognized the importance of stare decisis, it found its prior cases construing the PSCC statute cannot be squared with each other or with the language of the statute. 

Here, consequently, it concluded a defendant is entitled to PSCC for each day served where there is a substantial nexus between the conduct or charges for which he is confined and the sentence ultimately imposed. 

Second, causation, not geography, is the defining question in determining if there is a substantial nexus. And third, a defendant is not entitled to duplicative PSCC.

It also clarified that a substantial nexus exists where the defendant would have remained confined on the charge or conduct for which credit is sought in the absence of any other charge. In other words, the court should ask what would happen if only the sentencing charge existed; in such a scenario, would the defendant have remained confined? If the answer to this question is yes, a substantial nexus exists, and the defendant is entitled to PSCC so long as it is not duplicative. 

Consequently, it reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded for correction of Russell’s PSCC award consistent with this opinion.

Yeadon v. People

In this case and its companion case, Waddell v. People, the Colorado Supreme Court addressed questions surrounding the imposition of surcharges after a sentencing hearing. Here, it held that the drug offender surcharge, which it long ago declared a form of punishment, is statutorily mandated and, thus, the trial court’s failure to order it in open court rendered Gerald Yeadon’s sentence on his class 6 felony drug conviction illegal and subject to correction at any time pursuant to Crim. P. 35(a). Therefore, the trial court’s imposition of that surcharge after the sentencing hearing did not violate Yeadon’s rights under the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the United States and Colorado Constitutions. Because it remanded the case to give Yeadon an opportunity to request a waiver of the drug offender surcharge assessed, it did not reach the merits of his due process claim.

The Court of Appeals arrived at the same conclusion in this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed its judgment.

Waddell v. People

The companion case to Yeadon v. People addressed questions surrounding the imposition of surcharges after a sentencing hearing. Here, the Supreme Court first held that the drug offender surcharge is statutorily mandated and the trial court’s failure to order it in open court rendered David Waddell’s sentence on his level 1 drug felony conviction illegal and subject to correction at any time pursuant to Crim. P. 35(a). Therefore, the trial court’s imposition of that surcharge after the sentencing hearing did not violate Waddell’s rights under the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the United States and Colorado Constitutions.

It further held the trial court’s imposition of five other surcharges after the sentencing hearing did not infringe Waddell’s double jeopardy rights either. Even assuming these five surcharges constitute punishment, it concluded they are statutorily mandated and the trial court’s failure to impose them in open court rendered Waddell’s sentences illegal and subject to correction at any time pursuant to Crim. P. 35(a).

The court assumed, without deciding, Waddell’s sentences were final at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing. As such, it did not address issues related to Waddell’s expectation of finality at the end of the sentencing hearing.

Finally, because it remanded the case to give Waddell an opportunity to request a waiver of the surcharges assessed, it did not reach the merits of his due process claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ judgment. 

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