COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS
March 8, 2018
2018 COA 28. No. 15CA0683. People v. Robles-Sierra.
Child Pornography—Constitutional Law—Sixth Amendment—Public Trial—Distribution—Publishing—File Sharing Software—Expert Testimony—Jury Instruction.
Sheriff’s department detectives found over 600 files of child pornography—in both video recording and still image form—on various electronic devices defendant owned. In each instance, defendant had downloaded someone else’s file to his computer using ARES peer-to-peer file sharing software. Defendant downloaded the files in such a way that other users downloaded hundreds of defendant’s files. Defendant admitted that he’d downloaded and looked at the sexually exploitative material, but stated as a defense that he hadn’t knowingly violated the law because he did not know how ARES software works. A jury found defendant guilty of four counts of sexual exploitation of a child.
On appeal, defendant challenged all the convictions. He first argued that the district court violated his constitutional right to a public trial by closing the courtroom during the presentation of parts of certain exhibits. Two of the prosecution’s witnesses testified about videos and still images taken from defendant’s devices, describing them in graphic terms. Over defense counsel’s objection, the prosecutor displayed the videos and still images using a screen that could be seen by the witnesses and the jurors, but not by anyone in the courtroom gallery. That portion of a trial when evidence is presented should be open to the public, but that right does not extend to the viewing of all exhibits by the public as those exhibits are introduced or discussed. The right concerns the public’s presence during or access to the trial; where no one is excluded from the courtroom, the right is not implicated. Here, the district court didn’t exclude any member of the public during the presentation of the evidence. Because the court didn’t close the courtroom, there wasn’t any violation of defendant’s right to a public trial.
Defendant also challenged all convictions on the basis that the district court erred by allowing the prosecution’s experts to testify to ultimate legal conclusions that were the jury’s sole prerogative to decide. Even assuming all of the challenged testimony was improper, any error fails the plain error test.
Defendant further challenged his two convictions for publishing, offering, or distributing sexually exploitative material because the prosecution’s theories of publishing and distributing were “legally insufficient.” He alleged that the mere downloading of sexually exploitative material to a share-capable file isn’t publication or distribution, and because we don’t know if the jury convicted on either basis or some proper basis, the verdicts on these counts can’t stand. The Court of Appeals analyzed the meaning of “publishing” and “distribution” and concluded that defendant’s downloading of sexually exploitative material to his computer using peer-to-peer file sharing software, and his saving of that material in sharable files or folders accessible by others using the same software, constituted both publishing and distributing the material within the meaning of the statute.
Finally, defendant challenged his two convictions for publishing, offering, or distributing sexually exploitative material because the jury instruction defining “offer” had the effect of directing a verdict against him on these charges. Here, the instruction was an accurate statement of the law and described a factual circumstance that would constitute an offer. The fact that the jury could have found that factual evidence existed from the evidence presented doesn’t mean the instruction directed a verdict.
The judgment was affirmed.
2018 COA 29. No. 16CA1369. Taylor v. HCA-HealthONE LLC.
Medical Malpractice— Service—CRCP 4(m)—CRCP 60(b)—Excusable Neglect.
Plaintiff fled a medical malpractice action but failed to serve defendants within the CRCP 4(m) deadline. The district court dismissed the action without prejudice, and because the statute of limitations had run, plaintiff could not refile the lawsuit. She moved to set aside the judgment under CRCP 60(b) based on excusable neglect. Without holding a hearing, the district court concluded that counsel’s docketing errors did not amount to excusable neglect and denied the motion.
On appeal, plaintiff first argued that the district court’s dismissal order was invalid under CRCP 4(m) because the delay reduction order was premature. Although the rule requires notice before dismissal, it does not require notice after expiration of the service deadline. Thus, plaintiff was not entitled to additional notice beyond the delay reduction order and the district court’s order of dismissal was valid.
Plaintiff also argued that the court erred in failing to apply the three-factor test in C r a i g v . Rider, 651 P.2d 397 (Colo. 1982), in evaluating her Rule 60(b) motion to set aside the order of dismissal. That test requires the district court to consider not just whether the neglect that resulted in the order of dismissal was excusable, but also whether the plaintiff has alleged a meritorious claim and whether relief from t he order would be consistent with equitable considerations. The district court abused its discretion in failing to analyze the Rule 60(b) motion under the three-part Craig test.
The order was vacated and the case was remanded to the district court to apply the Craig test.
2018 COA 30. No. 16CA1524. Abu-Nan-tambu-El v. State.
Sexual Assault—Kidnapping—Felony—Misdemeanor—Exoneration Statute—Wrongful Conviction—Compensation.
Defendant was convicted of first degree sexual assault (a class 3 felony), second degree kidnapping (a class 2 felony), and third-degree assault (a class 1 misdemeanor) in the same case, all arising out of an incident in which the victim claimed that defendant had raped her. Thereafter, the felony convictions were vacated based on defendant’s successful Crim. P. 35(c) motion claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied the Crim. P. 35(c) motion as to the misdemeanor conviction. Based on the order vacating his felony convictions, defendant fled a petition for compensation pursuant to the Exoneration Statute. The State moved to dismiss and the district court granted the State’s motion.
On appeal, defendant contended that the district court erred when it concluded that his misdemeanor conviction precluded him from fling a petition for compensation. He argued that because the Exoneration Statute addresses only wrongly convicted felons, the legislature could not have meant to include misdemeanor convictions within its parameters. The Court of Appeals concluded that the General Assembly intended to require that all convictions in a case be vacated or reversed for a petition for compensation to qualify for the district court’s consideration.
The judgment was affirmed.
2018 COA 31. No. 16CA1869. In re Marriage of Yates and Humphrey. Dissolution of Marriage—Receiver—Colorado Medical Marijuana Code—Retail Marijuana Code.
Petitioner-Appellee Yates fled a petition to dissolve her marriage to respondent-appellee Humphrey. She requested the appointment of a receiver over marital property, which included marijuana businesses. A number of these marijuana businesses were licensed medical and recreational marijuana entities. The court appointed Sterling Consulting Corporation, including its principal Richard Block, as the receiver. When the court entered the receivership order, neither Block nor his employees held the licenses required by the Colorado Medical Marijuana Code and the Colorado Retail Marijuana Code to own, operate, manage, control, or work in a licensed marijuana business.
After learning of the receivership order, the Colorado Department of Revenue, officially acting as the State Licensing Authority (SLA), moved to intervene and modify the receivership order by removing the receiver, at least until Block and his employees obtained the requisite licenses. The court granted the motion to intervene, but denied the motion to modify.
On appeal, SLA challenged the court’s authority to appoint receivers who are not licensed to operate marijuana businesses. A district court may only appoint a receiver for a marijuana business who complies with Colorado’s marijuana licensing laws.
The order appointing the receiver was reversed and the case was remanded with directions.
2018 COA 32. No. 17CA0019. Meardon v. Freedom Life Insurance Co. of America. Health Insurance Policy—Mandatory Arbitration—Conformity Clause—Federal Arbitration Act—CRS § 10-3-1116(3)—McCarran-Ferguson Act—Federal Supremacy—Preemption—Reverse Preemption.
Defendants Freedom Life Insurance Company of America and Robert J. Pavese (collectively, Freedom Life) denied health insurance benefits claimed by plaintiff Meardon under a health insurance policy (policy) issued to her by Freedom Life. The policy contained a mandatory arbitration clause to resolve disputes. The policy also contained a “conformity clause” stating that a policy provision that conflicts with the laws of the policyholder’s state is amended to conform to the minimum requirements of such laws. Freedom Life moved to compel arbitration and to dismiss the case, relying on the mandatory arbitration clause. The trial court denied the motion, relying on CRS § 10-3-1116(3), which allows denied claims to be contested in court before a jury.
On appeal, Freedom Life contended that (1) CRS § 10-3-1116(3) cannot be applied because it is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)...