Colorado Supreme Court Opinions: Sept. 24, 2018

by Tony Flesor
court opinions

Editor’s Note: Court opinions are summarized by Law Week Colorado.

Casillas v. People
Colorado law requires certain juvenile offenders to submit to collection of their DNA for testing unless the offender is granted a deferred adjudication. In 2008, a juvenile probation officer swabbed the cheek of Petitioner Ismael Casillas, then a juvenile, to collect a DNA sample, in violation of section C.R.S. section 19-2-925.6(1) because Casillas had been granted a one-year deferred adjudication. His genetic markers were nevertheless uploaded to the federal Combined DNA Index System.

Several months after Casillas successfully completed the terms of his deferred adjudication and his juvenile case had been dismissed, law enforcement investigators matched DNA evidence recovered from a stolen vehicle with the sample in the CODIS database, and Casillas was identified and charged in connection with a carjacking. Before trial, Casillas moved to suppress all evidence derived from the DNA match, arguing that evidence derived from the unauthorized cheek swab should be excluded as the fruits of an unlawful search in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury later convicted Casillas of criminal mischief.

Casillas challenged the trial court’s suppression ruling on appeal, and the Court of Appeals affirmed Casillas’ conviction, with the majority holding that suppression was unwarranted because the officer who performed the cheek swab was “performing nothing more than a supervisory function under the direction of the juvenile court,” and therefore, suppression “would have no deterrent value.” The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision and remanded with instructions to vacate Casillas’s conviction.

Bewley v. Semler
Parker Semler, a member of a condominium association, filed a breach-of contract claim against the law firm that employed the association’s attorney. He alleged that the attorney had a contract with the association’s president not to represent one association member against another. He also alleged that the attorney had, on behalf of other association members he was representing, acquired a deed conveying ownership of parking spaces over which Semler also claimed ownership, breaching the contract and damaging Semler.

The trial court dismissed the claim for lack of standing, and a division of the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that Semler had sufficiently alleged a breach-of-contract claim as a third-party beneficiary. The division concluded that the strict privity rule, which “precludes attorney liability to non-clients absent fraud, malicious conduct, or negligent misrepresentation,” did not bar the claim. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision, concluding that the strict privity rule bars Semler’s breach-of-contract claim, meaning he lacks standing to assert it.

Estate of Daniel Brookoff v. Clark
Colorado’s “Dead Man’s Statute” has served since 1870 to prevent a party in a case from offering self-serving uncorroborated testimony about statements made by a person who cannot come into court and confirm or rebut that testimony. The statute has been amended many times over the years to expand the scope of the Dead Man’s Statute, removing language that limited its application to only certain types of cases. Today, self-serving testimony from a party about what a now-deceased person allegedly once said is permitted “in any civil action” only when specific, statutorily-prescribed conditions are met.

Because the language of the statute is clear, the Supreme Court reversed the contrary decision of the Court of Appeals and rejected the “insurance exception” employed by the Court of Appeals to allow an interested person to provide uncorroborated testimony regarding oral statements made by a deceased person.