Court Opinions- May 04, 2020

Coke v. People

A 15-year-old victim disclosed a sexual assault to police and surrendered his cell phone, which showed text messages between himself and Pamela Coke. 

Two plainclothes officers arrived at Coke’s office. They knocked on the door, and Coke invited them in. After identifying themselves as police officers, they explained that she was not under arrest and did not have to speak with them. She responded that she had retained a lawyer and didn’t want to speak to them without her lawyer present. 

The officers asked for the lawyer’s contact information so they could attempt to schedule an interview with both her and the lawyer. They also asked her what her phone number was, and she provided it. 

Seeing a cell phone sitting on Coke’s desk, one of the officers informed her that they were going to have to take it as possible evidence. They elaborated that they would hold it until they could obtain a search warrant to examine its contents. Upon confirming that the phone was passcode protected, the officers asked Coke to help them put the phone in airplane mode to preserve its contents. Coke asked how long the officers would need to keep her phone. They explained that they weren’t sure, and that ultimately that decision would be up to the district attorney, but they assured her that the process would go faster if they had her passcode. She gave them the code.

The officers took the phone, obtained a warrant and searched the phone’s contents. That search revealed that Coke’s phone was the source of the text messages in question.

Before trial, Coke moved to suppress her statements made after asserting her right to counsel and the evidence found on her phone. She asserted the statements were involuntary and taken in violation of her right to counsel, and the search warrant permitted an unconstitutional exploratory search. After a hearing, the trial court concluded Coke’s statements were taken in violation of her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the statements were involuntary and the search warrant was overbroad.

Accordingly, the court suppressed the statements and any evidence obtained from the cell phone. The prosecution then brought this interlocutory appeal challenging the suppression order.

The Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the trial court’s suppression of statements Coke made to the police and evidence obtained from her cell phone. The court concluded because Coke was not in custody at the time she made the statements at issue and because there is no evidence of government coercion, the statements were not taken in violation of Coke’s right to avoid self-incrimination and were voluntary. It also concluded the search warrant permitting the search of Coke’s cell phone was constitutionally overbroad because it authorized a search of virtually the entire contents of Coke’s phone. Therefore, the search violated the particularity requirement of the Fourth Amendment. The court reversed the portion of the trial court’s order suppressing her statements, affirmed the portion suppressing the evidence from Coke’s cell phone and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Amica Life Insurance Company v. Wertz

The case required the Colorado Supreme Court to answer this question from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals: May the Colorado General Assembly delegate power to an interstate administrative commission to approve insurance policies sold in Colorado under a standard that differs from Colorado statute?

The certified question arose from a dispute in which Amica Life Insurance Company sought a declaratory judgment that it is not required to pay Michael Wertz benefits under a life insurance policy naming Wertz as the beneficiary. The policy, which was issued in compliance with a standard enacted by the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission, contained a two-year suicide exclusion, and the insured committed suicide more than one year but less than two years after Amica had issued the life insurance policy to him. Wertz contended the policy’s two-year suicide exclusion is unenforceable because it conflicts with a Colorado statute, which provides that the suicide of a policy holder after the first policy year of any life insurance policy issued by any life insurance company doing business in this state shall not be a defense against the payment of a life insurance policy, whether said suicide was voluntary or involuntary, and whether said policy holder was sane or insane. Wertz asserted the Colorado General Assembly could not properly delegate to the Commission the authority to enact a standard that would effectively override this existing statute.

Answering the certified question narrowly, the court concluded the General Assembly did not have the authority to delegate to the Interstate Insurance Product Regulation Commission the power to issue a standard authorizing the sale of life insurance policies in Colorado containing a two-year suicide exclusion when a Colorado statute prohibits insurers doing business in Colorado from asserting suicide as a defense against payment on a life insurance policy after the first year of that policy.

Yakutat Land Corp. v. Langer

This case and its companion, Langer v. Board of Larimer County Commissioners, arose out of a contentious zoning dispute that has pitted neighbor against neighbor. That dispute involves the propriety of constructing a gravity-based mountain roller coaster in a part of the Estes Valley in which “significant view sheds, woodlands, rock outcroppings, ridgelines, other sensitive environmental areas and low-density residential development comprise the predominant land use pattern.” But in neither case do the parties ask the Colorado Supreme Court to weigh in on the merits of placing the mountain coaster in its proposed location. 

Instead, the court was asked only whether the local authorities tasked with making and reviewing zoning determinations abused their discretion in interpreting and applying the Estes Valley Development Code when they determined that the proposed mountain coaster could be constructed.

Applying the deferential standard of review required for an action brought pursuant to C.R.C.P. 106(a)(4), the court concluded that they did not abuse their discretion.

The Supreme Court was also asked to consider whether the constitutionality of the Estes Valley Development Code could be appropriately raised or considered on appeal to district court in a suit brought exclusively as a C.R.C.P. 106 claim. C.R.C.P.106 proceedings are reserved for challenges to the judicial and quasi-judicial actions of government actors rather than the law itself. As such, the court concluded the constitutionality of the Estes Valley Development Code could not be appropriately raised or considered in district court in a C.R.C.P.106 action. 

The judgment of the district court was reversed.

Langer v. Board of County Commissioners

This case is a companion to Yakutat Land Corp.v. Langer, and like that case, Langer was transferred from the Court of Appeals to the Colorado Supreme Court. Here, the court was asked to decide whether a Board of County Commissioners misconstrued applicable law and abused its discretion in finding that defendant’s mountain coaster project was properly classified as a Park and Recreation Facility, rather than as an Outdoor Commercial Recreation or Entertainment Establishment. 

The Supreme Court concluded the BOCC correctly construed the applicable code provisions, and, applying the deferential standard of review mandated here, the court further concluded that the BOCC did not abuse its discretion in classifying the mountain coaster project as a Park and Recreation Facility. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

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