Published Court Opinions for April 24

Editor’s note: Summaries are pulled from court opinions and edited for style, clarity and space. 

Opinions for April 24

People v. Jacobson
In this case, the Supreme Court determined whether a trial court abused its discretion by refusing to poll the jury about whether jurors had seen a prejudicial news report that had aired the night before and been posted online. Because the trial court gave repeated, specific admonitions — including on the day of the newscast — to jurors to avoid “newscasts” and “newspaper sites,” and these were the only places on which the prejudicial report was available, the Supreme Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to poll jurors. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

People v. Larsen
This case, a companion to People v. Jacobson, required the Supreme Court to determine whether a trial court abused its discretion by refusing to poll the jury about whether jurors had seen a news report about the case that had been posted online and ran in a local newspaper. Here, the trial court gave repeated admonitions not to seek out news about the case — including just before the newspaper released the story. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to poll the jury after a newspaper published a prejudicial news report with limited distribution. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Denver School District v. Denver Classroom Teachers Association
In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether the Innovation Schools Act precludes a local school board from approving an innovation plan submitted by a “new” innovation school, that is, a school that has not previously opened as a non-innovation school and has yet to hire teachers.

The Supreme Court concluded that the Innovation Schools Act does not preclude approval of innovation plans from such “new” innovation schools. Accordingly, the  judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed.

People v. Reyes-Valenzuela
This interlocutory appeal required the Supreme Court to answer whether an officer, with a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal behavior is afoot, must consider the possible innocent explanations for otherwise suspicious behavior before conducting an investigatory stop. The Supreme Court held that, because case law from the court and the U.S. Supreme Court does not require an officer to consider every possible innocent explanation for criminal behavior, the officers in this case justifiably performed an investigatory stop on the defendant based on a reasonable, articulable suspicion of ongoing criminal activity. The Supreme Court therefore reversed the trial court’s suppression order and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

City and County of Denver v. Expedia, Inc.
Denver petitioned for review of the Court of Appeals opinion reversing the judgment of the district court and remanding with directions to vacate the subject tax assessments against Expedia and the other respondent online travel companies. The district court had largely upheld a Denver hearing officer’s denial of protests by Expedia and the other OTCs to Denver’s claim for unpaid taxes, interest and penalties, assertedly due according to Denver’s ordinance imposing a lodger’s tax. Unlike the hearing officer and district court, the Court of Appeals concluded that the city lodger’s tax article was at least ambiguous with regard to both the purchase price paid or charged for lodging, upon which the tax is to be levied, and the status of the OTCs as vendors, upon which the ordinance imposes the responsibility to collect the tax and remit it to the city; and the intermediate appellate court considered itself obligated to resolve all ambiguities in the lodger’s tax article, being a tax statute, in favor of the OTCs.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. A majority of the court agreed that Denver’s lodger’s tax article imposes a duty on the OTCs to collect and remit the prescribed tax on the purchase price of any lodging they sell, to include not only the amount they have contracted with the hotel to charge and return but also the amount of their markup.

Rocky Mountain Retail Management v. City of Northglenn
The Supreme Court reviewed the district court’s order declaring a provision of the City of Northglenn’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance unconstitutionally vague and finding that the city’s denial of a medical marijuana center license to an applicant in reliance on that provision was arbitrary and capricious.

The Supreme Court held that Northglenn City Code, which allows the local licensing authority to consider the “number, type, and availability” of existing medical marijuana facilities near the proposed facility before approving or denying an application for a local license, is not unconstitutionally vague. The phrase “number, type, and availability” provides sufficient notice to applicants and reasonably constrains the exercise of the city’s discretion.

The Supreme Court further held that the city’s decision to deny the license application in this case was supported by substantial evidence in the record, and therefore was not arbitrary and capricious.

People v. Beauvais
The Supreme Court considers whether a trial court must make express findings about the credibility of a party’s reasons for exercising a peremptory challenge when the other party has challenged that strike under Batson v. Kentucky. The Supreme Court also considers when two or more jurors are similarly situated for comparison under Batson such that the dismissal of one but not the other indicates impermissible discrimination. The Supreme Court holds that although express credibility findings significantly aid appellate review, they are not strictly necessary if the trial court’s ultimate Batson ruling is otherwise reviewable on the record. The Supreme Court also holds that appellate courts may rely on comparative juror analyses in reviewing Batson rulings, but only where the record facilitates comparison of the jurors in all respects that reportedly motivated the peremptory strike. The Supreme Court concluded that the record here supports the trial court’s Batson ruling and that the trial court did not clearly err in denying defendant’s Batson challenges. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals in its entirety.

People v. Jefferson
This case concerns the scope of a trial court’s discretion to permit, deny or restrict the jury’s access during deliberations to a DVD containing the recorded statement of a child sexual assault victim, which DVD was admitted as an exhibit in a criminal trial.

The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not employ the requisite caution to ensure that the DVD would not be used in such a manner as to create a likelihood that the jury would accord it undue weight or emphasis. Specifically, the trial court relied on the Court of Appeals division’s analysis in People v. DeBella, but the Supreme Court reversed the decision in that case. By relying on an analysis that the Supreme Court later rejected, the trial court misapplied the law and abused its discretion. Moreover, because the nature of the DVD and its importance to the case’s resolution left the Supreme Court with grave doubts as to the effect that unfettered access had on the verdict and the fairness of the proceedings, the court cannot deem the error harmless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Martinez v. People
In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed for plain error a trial court’s decision to allow the jury unfettered access, during its deliberations, to the out-of-court statements of three sexual assault victims. These statements were memorialized in three DVDs and three transcripts thereof, all of which had been admitted as exhibits in the petitioner’s criminal trial.

The Supreme Court concluded that even if the trial court erred in allowing the jury unfettered access to the victims’ statements, on the facts of this case, any such error did not so undermine the fundamental fairness of the trial itself as to cast serious doubt on the reliability of the petitioner’s convictions and, thus, was not plain. Accordingly, the court affirms the judgment of the Court of Appeals division and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. •