Saturday, August 17, 2013

Colorado Court of Appeals People v. Johnson 11CA2366

Decision here.

   Charles Ray Johnson escaped from prison in 1975, after being convicted of second degree murder.  He was apparently arrested in 1990 in California for public intoxication, but that went nowhere.  Other than that, he evaded capture until 2007.

   He was convicted of escape, and appealed his conviction.  He argued that the statute of limitations had expired (since his escape was completed over 30 years ago).  The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that escape is a continuing offense, and that as long as an escaped prisoner has not yet been returned to custody in Colorado, he is still committing the crime of escape.  Accordingly, the statute of limitations didn't start until Johnson was caught in 2007, and his conviction stands.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tenth Circuit US v. Sanchez 12-2084

Decision here.

   I hate reading decisions based on federal drug investigations.  The facts are always so convoluted, and while some of what's being addressed is important to this blog, a lot of it really isn't.

   In this case, Sanchez was not the target of a DEA investigation.  His daughter was.  The DEA got a warrant for what they thought was his daughter's house (based on some faulty information that made it into the search warrant affidavit).  Turned out that it was Sanchez's house, and they found evidence tying him to the drug trafficking conspiracy.  Sanchez was convicted by a jury, we'll fast forward to the appeal.

   Sanchez argued that the evidence should have been suppressed because the warrant contained faulty information.  In order to get a search warrant tossed out for something like that, the defendant has to satisfy both parts of a two prong test: 1- he has to show that the affiant made a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth.  2- He has to show that absent the false information, the affidavit would not establish probable cause.  

   In this case, the false information in the warrant was apparently just some minor mistakes of fact as to the height of a fence, the number of security cameras on a residence, and exactly how much of the ongoing surveillance was directed at Sanchez's residence.  And the affidavit supported probable cause even without the mistaken info.  So the warrant was good (enough).

   The court also pointed out that there's no rule that says that properly seized evidence can only be used against someone who was the target of the investigation at the time the search was initiated.  And finally, the decision contains some information about when phone calls can be admitted as evidence, but it's pretty fact-specific and more important to prosecutors than it is to cops, so I'm leaving that alone.

   Sanchez's conviction was upheld.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tenth Circuit US v. Esquivel-Rios 12-3141

Decision here.

   A Kansas trooper saw Esquivel-Rios driving a van down the highway.  The van was displaying a Colorado temp tag, and the trooper called the tag into dispatch to have it checked against all the various databases that we use for that sort of thing.  The dispatcher informed the trooper that there was no record found for the tag, and that Colorado temp tags usually have no record.  Based solely on the information that there was no record found, the trooper stopped the van.  During the traffic stop, he received consent to search the van and found a hidden compartment with a lot of meth.

   Esquivel-Rios was subsequently convicted of federal drug charges.  At the trial (and in his appeal), he argued that the stop was unreasonable and everything found as a result of the stop should be suppressed.

   The trial court denied his motion to suppress, and the Tenth Circuit sort of decided not to decide.  The Tenth observed that they and other courts have upheld stops based on there being no record of a plate.  The idea behind that is that when a government database for license plates doesn't contain information about a particular license plate being used, it "raises a non-trivial possibility that the tag wasn't lawfully issued in the first place but falsified in some way."  So ordinarily a stop based solely on information from a database is good to go.  The problem is that in this case, the evidence suggests that the problem was likely to be with the database.

   When the dispatch said that records of Colorado temp tags usually don't come back, this suggests that there's some explanation other than wrongdoing on Esquivel-Rios' part.  Maybe Colorado doesn't put temp tags into a database (until recently, Colorado didn't).  Maybe there's some other bug between the Colorado database and the Kansas one.  Or maybe the tag is suspicious and there's just a lot of fake Colorado temp tags in Kansas.  The trial court didn't really look into it.

   The Tenth found that the "no record" issue could go either way.  It could still meet the standard or reasonable suspicion, or it could fall far short of it.  It all depends on facts which weren't explored by the trial court because the trial court just ignored Esquivel-Rios' challenges to the database's reliability.  So rather than decide this case, the Tenth sent it back to the trial court to more fully develop the record as to what the dispatcher meant by "usually," and as to what the trooper's previous experience with Colorado temporary tags has been.

   I bet the dispatcher wishes he could take that remark back now that it's getting picked apart in court.

Colorado Court of Appeals People v. Reed 08CA2700

   Reed was convicted of killing his girlfriend, stealing her car, and criminally possessing four or more financial transaction devices with two different victims (because when he was caught he had a bunch of her credit cards and also a gift car which belonged to someone else).  He appealed, arguing prosecutorial misconduct over witnesses alluding to his criminal history.  That argument didn't work out for him, but it isn't really within the scope of this blog.

   Reed also argued that because there were no funds available on the gift card, the evidence was not sufficient to support his criminal possession of a financial transaction device conviction.  The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, because there was no evidence presented that the gift card was usable (and without that, it didn't meet the statutory definition of a financial transaction device).  The court ruled that the evidence did support a conviction on the lesser included charge of criminal possession of a financial transaction device (four or more devices, one victim).  The case was sent back to the lower court for resentencing on that one charge, everything else about his conviction stands.