COLORADO COURT OF APPEALS
February 7, 2019
2019 COA 16. No. 14CA1958. People v. Ramirez. Criminal Law—Jury Instructions— Waiver—Forfeiture.
Defendant was convicted in one trial of charges stemming from four consolidated criminal cases. This case was remanded from the Supreme Court to reconsider the disposition of the conviction for first degree assault in light of People v. Rediger, 2018 CO 32.
On remand, defendant argued that the trial court's jury instruction on deadly physical force, which related to the charges of first degree assault, second degree assault, and third degree assault, was improper. It was error for the court to instruct the jury on deadly physical force because defendant was not accused of causing death. By giving an inapplicable instruction and incorporating it into the elemental instruction for first, second, and third degree assault, the court would have caused the jury to have an incorrect understanding of the elements of those charges. The prior Court of Appeals' division concluded that defendant had waived his contention of instructional error because his defense counsel stated he believed the instruction to be "a correct statement of the law," and therefore declined to consider it. Defense counsel apparently lacked awareness of the error. Under these circumstances, the Court of Appeals could not conclude that counsel intentionally relinquished a known right on defendant's behalf. Here, defense counsel's error in declining to object to the jury instruction amounted to a forfeiture, not a waiver. Accordingly, the trial court committed plain error.
The conviction of first degree assault was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial solely as to that charge. In all other respects, the judgment was affirmed.
2019 COA 17. No. 16CA2198. People v. Burlingame. Attempting to Influence a Public Servant—False Reporting—Outrageous Governmental Conduct—Work Product Privilege.
Defendant alleged that she went out drinking one night with a coworker and then went with him to his home. She reported that later that evening the coworker's roommate raped her.
DNA evidence conclusively showed that it could not have been the roommate who had sexual contact with defendant; rather, the coworker had had sexual contact with defendant. Two prosecutors, a prosecutor's office investigator, and a police detective interviewed defendant about these results at her home. The interview was conducted in the presence of family members and friends and was recorded on video. During the interview, defendant became upset and told the investigators and prosecutors to leave, and they did. Prosecutors charged defendant with two counts of attempting to influence a public servant and one count of false reporting.
At a hearing, defendant argued that the videotape of the interview should be suppressed and the case should be dismissed because the government's conduct was outrageous. Prosecutors repeatedly used the work product privilege to block evidence showing why they chose to videotape the interview or that might explain their decision making process in filing the charges. The trial court dismissed the case against defendant based on a finding of outrageous government conduct.
On appeal, the People asserted that the trial court erred in concluding that there was outrageous government conduct warranting dismissal of the charges against defendant. Outrageous governmental conduct is conduct that violates fundamental fairness and shocks the universal sense of justice. Here, the trial court concluded, without evidentiary support, that videotaping the defendant was improper. Further, the prosecutor's proper use of the work product privilege cannot from the basis for a finding of outrageous conduct. In addition, the trial court found a violation of the Victim Rights Act without identifying the specific section violated, and the videotape shows that defendant was treated with respect and was not harassed or abused. While the government's behavior might be considered poor judgment or even legal error, the trial court's findings of fact do not support its conclusion that the government's conduct was outrageous. Because the trial court's findings of fact are not supported by the record, they were arbitrary and thus an abuse of discretion.
The order dismissing the case was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to reinstate the charges and to consider the motions still pending before it, including whether the interview should be suppressed because the totality of the circumstances surrounding it constituted psychological coercion.
2019 COA 18. No. 17CA0938. Martin Trust v. Board of County Commissioners of La Plata County.
Taxation—Property Tax—Residential Property—Vacant Land.
The Martins bought two adjacent parcels of land in La Plata County. The east parcel (the residential parcel) contains the Martins' home on a .62-acre lot, and the west parcel (the adjacent lot) is an unimproved .72-acre lot that adjoins the residential parcel's western boundary. For tax year 2014, the Martin Family Partnership, LLLP (the partnership) held the tide to the adjacent lot and the Martins held the title to the residential parcel as joint tenants. The partnership and the Martins thereafter transferred title to both parcels to the Martin Trust (the Trust), which held the titles for tax years 2015 to 2016.
The County Assessor classified the adjacent lot as vacant land for tax years 2014 to 2016, and the Trust sought to have it reclassified as residential. It appealed the Assessor's decision to the Board of Equalization of La Plata County and the Board of County Commissioners of La Plata County (collectively, the Boards). The Boards denied both appeals. The Trust appealed those decisions to the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA). The BAA upheld the County Assessor's 2014 classification of the adjacent lot as vacant land, finding that the parcels were not under common ownership because they were separately titled and the owners were "separate and distinct legal entities." For the 2015 to 2016 classifications, the BAA partially granted the Trust's appeal, stating it was persuaded by the Trust's claim that there would be a loss of views if a residence was constructed on the adjacent lot. But the BAA determined that only two-thirds of the adjacent lot was used as a unit in conjunction with the residential parcel for maintaining views from that parcel, and on that basis, it ordered that only the two-thirds portion of the adjacent lot be reclassified as residential.
On appeal, the Trust contended that the BAA erred when it concluded that the adjacent lot was vacant land for tax year 2014 and party vacant land for tax years 2015 to 2016. Conversely, the Boards contended that the BAA erred when it reclassified the adjacent lot as residential land for tax years 2015 to 2016. The majority concluded that for two contiguous parcels of land to both qualify as "residential land" (1) one parcel must have a residence on it, (2) the other must have a man-made structure or water rights that are an integral part of the use of the residence on the neighboring parcel, and (3) the land must be used as a unit in conjunction with the residential improvements on the parcels. Further, the requirement that contiguous parcels be used as a unit does not include the "use" of vacant land by looking across it at objects beyond the land. Here, there is no evidence that there are any structures on the adjacent lot that are an integral part of the residence on the residential parcel. Therefore, the adjacent lot does not qualify as residential land.
The BAA's order for tax year 2014 denying residential land designation regarding the adjacent lot was affirmed, and the order for tax years 2015 to 2016 granting such designation for the adjacent lot was reversed. The case was remanded for issuance of an order consistent with the majority's opinion.
2019 COA 19. No. 17CA1257...