Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Sotelo 14SA71

Decision here.

   Sotelo was the driver of a rental car, but not the renter of said car.  Her passenger also was not the renter, and neither of them were listed as authorized drivers (although her passenger would later claim to know the renter...).  They were stopped by the State Police for a traffic violation.

   The trooper contacted the rental car company, who asked him to tow the car.  He did so.  There were some giftwrapped packages in the car, which Sotelo claimed were presents that she was going to give her daughter.  Although Sotelo and her companion were allowed to leave, they were not allowed to take the packages because the trooper wanted to have a K9 do a "free air sniff" on them first (I don't know why he's trying to screw up K9 sniffs for the rest of us).  Ninety minutes later (!), a dog alerted on the packages.  Instead of letting Sotelo take them, he got a search warrant.

   They contained so much marijuana that it's even illegal in Colorado.

   At trial, Sotelo moved to suppress the marijuana, arguing that the search of the car and the search of the packages both violated her Fourth Amendment rights.  The people argued that since she was an unauthorized driver of the rental car, she did not have standing to challenge a search of the car (this issue remains undecided in Colorado, but the majority of courts agree with that proposition.  The reasoning behind it is that you can't vicariously invoke someone else's Fourth Amendment rights in order to suppress evidence that you don't yourself have a reasonable expectation of privacy in, and the reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car rests with people who are authorized to possess it).  The court suppressed the evidence, and the people filed an interlocutory appeal.

   The Colorado Supreme Court declined to decide whether or not an unauthorized driver has standing to challenge the search of a car, but held that Sotelo did have a reasonable expectation of privacy in her property within the car (namely, the giftwrapped packages which she had made no bones about claiming as hers).  Accordingly, she had standing to challenge that search whether or not she could challenge the search of the car.  The lower court's suppression order was affirmed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals People v. Valdez 11CA1659

Decision here.

   Not much to say about this one... Valdez was convicted of DUI and ADARP (driving while a habitual traffic offender) after being found passed out drunk behind the wheel of a car (which now had a dead battery).  The keys were in the ignition, his feet were near the pedals, and when the police contacted him he tried to start the car before they dragged him out of it.

   Valdez appealed, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction.  Anyone care to guess how this one ends?

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Liggett 14SA88

Decision here.

   Liggett was being investigated for involvement in his mother's death.  He ran from the cops, crashed his car, ran on foot, was caught, and was arrested.  He was taken to the station where he was interviewed.  Early in the interview he asked if they could call a public defender over right now, and the investigator just answered "no."  Afterwards, LIggett signed a Miranda Waiver.

   The interview went on for a long time, with the investigators speaking to Liggett in a conversational tone and Liggett claiming that he's crazy and claiming that his mother committed suicide (his story was that he found her dead and concealed her death so he could keep using her credit cards).  Eventually he was charged with murder.

   The trial court held that Liggett had unequivocally invoked his right to counsel when asking if they could call a public defender.  The trial court also held that Liggett's statements were involuntary.  The people filed an interlocutory appeal.

   The Colorado Supreme Court rolled out the standard list of factors to determine the voluntariness of statements, and held that most of them suggested that Liggett's statements were involuntary, but that since the police didn't actually overbear Liggett's will the statements were actually voluntary.  The Court never addresses the potential Miranda violation, saying that the question here is whether the statements were voluntary.

   The order suppressing LIggett's statements was reversed.

Colorado Supreme Court People v. Vaughn 12SA70

Decision here.

   A police officer saw Vaughn make an illegal turn, and checked his license plate against the DMV database.  There was no DMV record.  The officer pulled Vaughn over.  During the traffic stop, Vaughn's license was found to be suspended (the officer found this information in the DMV's database, and then confirmed it by calling a DMV 24 hour hotline).

   Vaughn was arrested, and his car was towed.  While inventorying the car, the officer found crack cocaine packaged for distribution.  The traffic charges were now the least of Vaughn's problems.

   The trial court, however, suppressed the drug evidence.  Their "reasoning" was that since the officer wasn't required to arrest Vaughn for driving on a suspended license, and could have chosen to just issue him a summons, and since there wasn't probable cause to believe that the car contained contraband, the evidence was inadmissible.

   As is only reasonable when faced with a judge who apparently gets his legal expertise from TV cop dramas, the people filed an interlocutory appeal.  The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the suppression order.  The Court ruled that the initial traffic stop was justified by reasonable suspicion (the officer witnessed a traffic violation, and the officer found that there was no DMV record of the license plate.  Either one of these facts would have justified the stop independently).  The Court ruled that there was probable cause to arrest Vaughn for driving on a suspended license, so the arrest was valid.  Whether or not the officer was required to make an arrest is irrelevant, because the arrest was supported by probable cause.  And finally, the Court ruled that the inventory of Vaughn's car was conducted pursuant to a standardized department procedure.

   Vaughn also argued that the arrest was invalid because his license wasn't actually suspended (apparently there was a clerical error at the DMV).  The officer was entitled to good faith reliance on the DMV's records, though, so the information available to him at the time off the arrest supported probable cause.  Vaughn also argued that opening the locked glove box (using a key found in the car) exceeded the scope of an inventory search.  The Court held that the search of the locked glove box was valid because it was done in compliance with the department's procedures for inventorying vehicles.

   Suppression order reversed, case remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this ruling.