Summaries of Published Opinions, 0620 COBJ, Vol. 49, No. 6 Pg. 89

PositionVol. 49, 6 [Page 89]

49 Colo.Law. 89

Summaries of Published Opinions

Vol. 49, No. 6 [Page 89]

Colorado Lawyer

June, 2020


April 2, 2020

2020 COA 56. No. 18CA0673. People v. Anderson.

Criminal Law—Competency—Constitutional Law—Due Process.

Defendant was charged with 11 counts related to sexual assaults on three children and various sentence enhancers. During his case, defendant made multiple requests for appointment of new counsel and to proceed pro se. Over the course of the case, nine attorneys were appointed to represent defendant or to serve as advisory counsel. The majority of these attorneys withdrew because of defendant’s refusal to work with them and lack of communication. Defendant was also generally disruptive throughout the case. In evaluating defendant’s competency to stand trial, two psychologists found that defendant did not have a mental disability that would prevent him from interacting with counsel or understanding the facts surrounding the charges against him. Based on these evaluations and its own questioning of defendant, the district court concluded that defendant was competent to proceed. He was eventually tried and convicted of all charges.

On appeal, defendant contended that the court erred in finding him competent to stand trial. A person is incompetent to proceed in a criminal case if he or she lacks a rational and factual understanding of the criminal proceedings or the sufficient ability to consult with his or her lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding to assist in the defense. Here, while defendant’s statements appear somewhat delusional on their face, they reflect a larger, yet atypical, anti-government belief system shared by others in the country. An atypical belief system cannot by itself be the basis upon which a defendant is incompetent to stand trial. Given the contents of the evaluations, the lack of any objection by defendant or his counsel to the conclusions stated therein, and the court’s ability to observe defendant, the court did not abuse its discretion in determining him competent to stand trial.

Defendant also argued that the court misapprehended the governing law, as demonstrated by its determination that he was competent to proceed but not competent to waive his right to a lawyer and represent himself. While the court occasionally stated that defendant was not competent to represent himself, when considered in context, the court did not misapprehend the competency standard.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed

2020 COA 57. No. 18CA2295. People v. Bryce.

Criminal Procedure—Post conviction Remedies— Sentence Reduction—Limited Remand on Appeal.

Defendant was sentenced on October 18, 2018. He moved for a limited remand of his pending appeal to allow the district court to consider an emergency motion for a reduction of sentence, which he intended to file under Crim. P. 35(b). Defendant sought immediate release due to the health risk arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the plain language of Crim. P. 35(b), defendant was required to seek sentence reconsideration within 126 days of his sentence date or, alternatively, no more than 126 days after the issuance of the appellate mandate. Because more than 126 days had passed since sentencing and the Court of Appeals had not yet issued its mandate, defendant’s proposed motion did not fall within either time period. It was therefore either untimely or premature.

Defendant must wait until the mandate issues in this case to file a motion for reconsideration.

The motion for a limited remand was denied.

2020 COA 58. No. 18CA2307. Western Stone & Metal Corp. v. DIG HP1, LLC.

Contracts—Prevailing Party—Fee-Shifting Provision.

The commercial lease agreement between landlord, DIG HP1, LLC (DIG), and tenant, Western Stone & Metal Corp. (WSMC), contained a fee-shifting provision that awards attorney fees to the “prevailing party” as defined in the contract. WSMC initiated litigation for a number of claims that all arose under the lease. The district court found in WSMC’s favor on some claims and in DIG’s favor on others. On competing requests for an attorney fees award, the court found that neither party was the prevailing party, but it awarded WSMC damages on one claim that it described as arising from the controlling issue in the case.

On appeal, DIG argued that the court erred in applying the common law definition of “prevailing party” instead of the definition specified in the parties’ contract. Here, the court applied a definition from case law analyzing contracts that does not resemble the lease at issue, which lays out in detail which party should be deemed “prevailing” under a number of specific circumstances. Thus, the court’s analysis defies the interpretive principle that this provision must be enforced as written. Therefore, the court erred in applying the common law definition of “prevailing party.”

The order was reversed and the case was remanded for the court to determine which party, if either, is entitled to attorney fees and costs according to the lease’s prevailing party provision.

2020 COA 59. No. 19CA0124. Huffman v. City and County of Denver. CRS § 24-72-708(1)(a) (II)—Sealing Municipal Conviction for Domestic Violence.

Huffman pleaded guilty to a single count of municipal assault where the underlying facts involved domestic violence. He successfully completed his supervised probation and has incurred no additional charges or convictions since then. Huffman petitioned the district court to seal his municipal conviction. The court found his conviction ineligible for sealing because it involved domestic violence, and it denied his petition.

Huffman contended on appeal that the court misinterpreted CRS § 24-72-708(1)(a)(II) by applying its domestic violence prohibition to all municipal convictions. He argued that the statute’s plain language only applies this prohibition to defendants who have committed a new offense and whose convictions would not otherwise qualify for sealing under CRS § 24-72-708(1)(a)(I). CRS § 24-72-708 authorizes a district court to seal a defendant’s municipal criminal conviction records. Based on its plain language and structure, CRS § 24-72- 708(1) (a)(II) applies only to petitioning defendants who have been charged with or convicted of a new offense following their original municipal conviction, and it does not categorically bar the sealing of all municipal convictions involving domestic violence. Huffman satisfied all of the criteria under CRS § 24-72-708(1)(a)(I) and was thus eligible to file a petition to seal the municipal conviction. Accordingly, the court erred.

The order was reversed and the case was remanded.

2020 COA 60. No. 19CA0349. Credit Service Co., Inc. v. Skivington. Civil Procedure—CRCP 12(b)(5)—Appeal ability.

Skivington suffered a stroke and went to a University of Colorado Health hospital (the hospital) for treatment. The hospital billed him $30,536.10. He didn’t pay the bill and the account was assigned to plaintiff, Credit Service Co., Inc. (CSC), a collection agency.

CSC sued Skivington. Skivington filed two CRCP 12(b)(5) motions to dismiss: one maintained that the complaint was invalid because CSC hadn’t filed a response to his answer; the second alleged that the evidence showed that the hospital treated not him, but another person, so the complaint failed to state a plausible claim for relief. The district court denied both motions, and the case was tried before the court. The court ruled in CSC’s favor. Skivington filed a CRCP 59 motion for a new trial, which the court denied.

On appeal, Skivington first contended that it was error to deny his Rule 12(b)(5) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. However, a denial of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is not reviewable on appeal following a trial on the merits.

Skivington also argued that the court erred by admitting CSC’s Exhibit 2, which showed inputs of his personally identifiable information, and Exhibit 4, an itemization of the hospital’s charges. Exhibit 2 was properly admitted for the limited purpose of rebutting Skivington’s defense that he was wrongly identified, and there was no showing that Skivington was prejudiced by its admission. Further, neither exhibit violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); Skivington didn’t raise this issue in the trial court, but even if he had, and HIPAA was found to apply, the proper remedy would have been to redact portions of the exhibit containing personal information or receive it under seal, not exclude it.

Skivington further contended that the trial court erred by denying his Rule 59 motion for a new trial because irregularities in the trial proceedings prevented him from having a fair trial, and he produced a newly discovered report that he couldn’t have reasonably discovered before trial that would change the trial’s result. Skivington’s claims about trial irregularities were unsupported by the record, and the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion by denying his motion because the report wouldn’t have changed the trial’s outcome.

The judgment and order were affirmed

April 9, 2020

2020 COA 61. No. 15CA0126. People v. Rojas.

Criminal Law—Theft—Res Gestae—Evidence— Retroactive Application of Amended Statute.

Defendant began working as a restaurant manager on January 1, 2013. Later that month she applied for food stamps, and from February 1, 2013 to July 31, 2013, she received $1,000 per month in food stamps. During this same period, she received over $29,000 in work income. The Department of Human Services (Department) sent monthly notices reminding her that she was required to report if her household’s gross monthly income exceeded $3,785...

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