Monday, May 20, 2013

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Fuerst 13SA39

Decision here.

   Police responded to a call of a protection order violation at the Fuerst residence (Fuerst's wife had a protection order which prohibited Fuerst from being there at all).  When they arrived, there was no answer at the door.  They called Fuerst's wife, who answered the door, told them that both she and Fuerst were present, gave consent for the police to enter, and told them which bedroom Fuerst was in.

   The door to that bedroom was locked, but the police were able to disable the lock and gain entry.  While they were doing that, Fuerst remained silent in the room.  When they entered the room, they found Fuerst there.  They also found some guns.  Fuerst was arrested for violating the protection order, and when the police learned that he was a convicted felon he was also charged with POWPO.

   The trial court ruled that Fuerst's wife had freely and voluntarily consented to the search, but that by remaining silent behind a locked door Fuerst had refused consent.  Fuerst's refusal was held to to outweigh Fuerst's wife's consent (like in Randolph), at least as it relates to Fuerst.  In other words, incriminating evidence found during the search would only be admissible against Fuerst's wife (who gave consent), but inadmissible against Fuest (who refused consent by hiding behind a locked door).  All evidence related to the search (meaning the guns and the officers' observations that Fuerst was actually there) were suppressed.

   The prosecution filed an interlocutory appeal.

   The Colorado Supreme Court reversed this ridiculous ruling.  Applying Randolph and Strimple, the court explained that when two people with authority over the premises are present, then if one of them expressly refuses consent, that refusal prevails over the valid consent given by the other.  The key phrase there is expressly refuses.

   If the non-consenting party just isn't asked for consent, or doesn't object to the consent given by someone else, that's not a refusal.  The court reasoned that requiring officers to try to ask everyone who might have authority to consent would limit their ability to respond to legitimate opportunities in the field.  The court also pointed out that Fuerst might not have even been in the room (he could have fled through a window, or his wife could be covering for him while he was in a different room, or he could have been asleep or otherwise unconscious).  Whatever the case, Fuerst saying nothing while hiding behind a locked door was not an express refusal, and therefore his wife's valid consent prevails.  The suppression order was reversed, and the case was sent back to the trial court.

   There's a concurring opinion in this case.  Three of the justices would have preferred not to decide whether or not Fuerst's silence constituted an express refusal, and would have held that since Fuerst was restrained from being there he didn't have any authority to give or refuse to give consent, and therefore it didn't matter what he thought (and so his wife's consent would still be enough to justify the search).  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tenth Circuit Roosevelt-Hennix v. Prickett

Decision here.

   Prickett assisted another officer on a traffic stop, during which Roosevelt-Hennix was arrested for DUI.  While she was in the back seat of the patrol car, she started to freak out because she is claustrophobic (there's no indication in the decision that she was combative or that she resisted other than banging her head on the car window and thrashing around in the back seat).  She also had a previous back injury which she had mentioned to the officers.

   The officers decided to hobble Roosevelt-Hennix (so far, I'm okay with it).  They opened the back door and orderered Roosevelt-Hennix to put her feet out of the car.  Here's where Prickett's version and Roosevelt-Hennix's version of the facts really diverge.  Roosevelt-Hennix says that she told them that she couldn't lift herself up and turn to put her feet out.  Prickett says that she just wedged her feet under the cage so that he couldn't pull them out.

   Either way, Roosevelt-Hennix's feet remained in the patrol car.  Then Prickett tased her (which is where they lose me.  Seriously???).  After tasing her, Prickett and his partner were able to gain control of the handcuffed prisoner, restrain her feet, and take her to the station.  She complained that she couldn't feel her legs.

   At the station, she was evaluated by medics.  She was taken to the hospital where she underwent surgery the next day for lower-extremity paralysis.  Unsurprisingly, she sued.

   Prickett moved to dismiss based on qualified immunity, and the district court denied.  He appealed, and the tenth circuit denied.  The tenth cited factual disputes as the reason qualified immunity was denied (although I'd wager that it would have been denied even if there were no factual disputes.  Tasing a handcuffed cripple in the back seat of a patrol car is pretty over-the-top, but that's my assessment and not the court's).

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Colorado Court of Appeals People v. Perez 10CA0587

Decision here.

   Some lady who was on unemployment got a call from her caseworker because she was supposedly working at a barbecue restaurant.  Turned out that it was just Perez working at said restaurant using her social security number, and that he had been doing this for a few years at various restaurants.  Perez was arrested.

   He was charged with identity theft and criminal impersonation.  He was convicted, and he appealed.

   The court of appeals reversed his conviction.  Regarding identity theft, there was never any evidence presented that he actually knew the social security number belonged to someone (as opposed to simply being fictitious).  Without that proof, they were missing an element.

   The court's reasoning for reversing criminal impersonation was that the prosecution never presented evidence that he couldn't have been employed without providing a social security number, so therefore he wasn't using the fake number in a fictitious capacity.  Yeah, I know.  It doesn't make sense to me, either.  In any event, after Perez was charged the Criminal Impersonation statute has been updated, effectively closing this weird little loophole for all future cases.

Colorado Court of Appeals People v. Luna 11CA1085

Decision here.

   Luna got himself arrested for disorderly conduct.  Short version: he was being detained for an assault and attempted robbery, but the victim decided not to press charges.  While being detained, he was acting the fool.  Once he was released, he hung around to act the fool some more.  And then he was arrested.

   While in the back seat of a patrol car, he spat in the face of one of the arresting officers.  He was charged with (among other things) Second Degree Assault.  The relevant portion of 18-3-203(1)(f.5)(I) says:

[w]hile lawfully confined in a detention facility within this
state, a person with intent to infect, injure, harm, harass,
annoy, threaten, or alarm a person in a detention facility
whom the actor knows or reasonably should know to be
an employee of a detention facility, causes such employee
to come into contact with . . . saliva.

   He was convicted, and he appealed.  His argument was that the back seat of a police car is not a detention facility for the purposes of this statute.  The Court of Appeals disagreed with him, and his conviction was upheld.