Court Opinions for July 3

by Law Week
court opinions

Colorado Supreme Court

People v. Stock

In 2011, a jury convicted Susan Stock of third degree burglary and theft for stealing money from vending machines at the hotel where she worked. The Court of Appeals reversed Stock’s convictions, concluding that the trial court erroneously denied Stock’s motion to suppress statements she made to a police officer who had entered the hotel room where she lived.

The Supreme Court reviewed the Court of Appeals’ opinion, which reversed Susan Stock’s convictions, and remanded for a new trial. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erred in denying Stock’s motion to suppress statements she made to a police officer inside the hotel room where she lived. The police officer had entered the hotel room after Stock’s father, who did not live in the hotel room, opened the door in response to the officer’s knock. Stock’s father, who was an invited guest in the room, opened the door on Stock’s behalf in response to the officer’s knock, and moved aside to allow the officer to step a few feet inside the hotel-room door. The officer then requested and obtained Stock’s express permission to come further into the room to speak with her.

The Court of Appeals concluded that suppression was required because Stock’s father lacked authority to consent to the officer’s entry.

This case did not require the Supreme Court to decide whether Stock’s father had authority to consent to a full-blown search of the room; rather, the narrow question before the court was whether Stock’s father could consent to the officer’s limited entry a few feet inside the door.

The Supreme Court concluded that the trial court properly denied the motion to suppress because the officer’s limited entry into Stock’s hotel room, in her immediate presence and without her objection, did not violate Stock’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

Keim v. Douglas County School District

In 2013, Douglas County School District used public funds to commission a white paper, the Hess Report, supportive of the District’s reform agenda. The Hess Report referenced an upcoming school board election and briefly profiled existing school board members, all of whom supported the reform agenda. The District included a link to the Hess Report in an email distributed to 85,000 Douglas County residents several weeks before the November 2013 school board election.

The Supreme Court reviewed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that the school district did not make a prohibited contribution in a school board election campaign under Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act and the definition of “contribution” in the Colorado Constitution.

The Supreme Court held that under the act, a “contribution” requires that something of value be given to a candidate, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of promoting the candidate’s nomination, retention, recall or election.

The school district commissioned and paid for the Hess Report supportive of the district’s reform agenda using public funds. However, because the school district did not give something, directly or indirectly, to any candidate when it publicly disseminated an email containing a link to the report, the Supreme Court concluded the school district did not make a prohibited “contribution”under the Colorado campaign finance provisions. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Justice Rich Gabriel did not participate in the opinion.

People v. Kendrick

Prosecutors from the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office twice brought Maurice Dee Kendrick to trial on numerous charges related to allegations that he threatened several women with a gun and then fired the gun at two occupied houses.

Each trial ended in a mistrial, and after ordering the second mistrial, the district court found, pursuant to Colorado Revised Statute section 20-1-107(2) that “special circumstances” rendered it unlikely that Kendrick would receive a fair trial if he were tried again. Accordingly, the court disqualified the district attorney from re-prosecuting the case and ordered that a special prosecutor be appointed to try Kendrick a third time.

The People then filed what they deemed an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Colorado Appellate Rule 4.1, requesting that the Supreme Court reverse the disqualification order.

As a threshold matter, the court noted that the People erred in filing the current proceeding under Rule 4.1. That rule enumerates specific grounds for interlocutory appeals in criminal cases, and district attorney disqualification is not one of those grounds. However, Colorado Revised Statute section 16-12-102(2) specifically allows the People to file an interlocutory appeal in the circumstances presented here, and the court treated the People’s appeal as having been filed under that statute. Turning to the merits, the court concluded that the district court misinterpreted the “special circumstances” prong of section 20-1-107(2) in finding that the circumstances of this case satisfied the high burden required to bar an entire district attorney’s office from prosecuting a defendant.

The Supreme Court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying the district attorney and therefore unanimously decided to reverse the district court’s order and remand the case for further proceedings.