Category: Colorado Appeals

The Cumulative Error Doctrine in Colorado Appeals

Posted by Kimberly Penix - May 21, 2020 - Appeals, Civil Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Constitutional Issues, Criminal Appeals, Practice

The first step in a direct appeal is to ask the court of appeals to provide relief for specific legal errors made at the trial level. But sometimes, the trial court made only a series of smaller errors, rather than a severe error that would alone warrant reversal. In these cases, the cumulative error doctrine may be of help in finding relief.

The court of appeals considers de novo whether the cumulative effect of multiple errors at trial requires reversal, even if any one of those errors individually may not warrant relief. Kogan v. People, 756 P.2d 945, 961 (Colo. 1988), abrogated on other grounds by Erickson v. People, 951 P.2d 919 (Colo. 1998). Under a cumulative error analysis, “regardless of whether any error was preserved or unpreserved . . . reversal is warranted when numerous errors in the aggregate show the absence of a fair trial, even if individually the errors were harmless or did not affect the defendant’s substantial rights.” Howard-Walker v. People, 443 P.3d 1007, 1011-1012 (Colo. 2019).

In Colorado, the cumulative error doctrine has only been applied in criminal appeals. The court of appeals has thus far declined to extend the doctrine to civil cases. Neher v. Neher, 402 P.3d 1030 (Colo. App. 2015) (holding the court “decline[s] to extend [the cumulative error doctrine] to civil cases.”)

To speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your appeal, contact the Alderman Law Firm today for a free consultation.

Am I Entitled to a Hearing on My Colorado 35(c)?

Posted by Kimberly Penix - March 17, 2020 - 35(c), Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Criminal Appeals, Ineffective Assistance

After a Colorado criminal defendant has exhausted the direct appeal process, he may turn to filing a pro se motion for relief pursuant to Colo. Crim. P. 35(c). Often, this is where he alleges that his trial counsel was ineffective.

Upon receipt of a 35(c) motion, the reviewing court must consider whether “the motion and the files and record of the case show to the satisfaction of the court that the defendant is not entitled to relief.” Colo. Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(IV). If not, the court must appoint counsel to represent the defendant and order briefing from both parties. Colo. Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V). After briefing, the district court “shall grant a prompt [evidentiary] hearing on the motion unless, based on the pleadings, the court finds that it is appropriate to enter a ruling containing written findings of fact and conclusions of law.” Colo. Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V).

To obtain the hearing contemplated in Colo. Crim. P. 35(c)(3)(V), a “defendant need only assert facts that if true would provide a basis for relief under Crim. P. 35.” White v. Denver Dist. Court, Div. 12, 766 P.2d 632, 635 (Colo. 1988). The reviewing court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in the 35(c) motion, and a defendant need not set forth evidentiary support for his allegations or show how he intends to prove them. White, 766 P.2d at 635. If there is any doubt about whether “the motion, the files, and the record clearly establish that the allegations in the motion lack merit and do not entitle the defendant to relief,” an evidentiary hearing must be held. See People v. Wiedemer, 852 P.2d 424, 440 n.15 (Colo. 1993); see also People v. Germany, 674 P.2d 345, 350 (Colo. 1983) (explaining that constitutional due process requires a meaningful opportunity to challenge an allegedly unconstitutional conviction).

To speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your appeal, contact the Alderman Law Firm today for a free consultation.

Issue Preservation in Colorado Appeals: Was my issue preserved for appeal?

Posted by Kimberly Penix - March 3, 2020 - Civil Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Criminal Appeals, Issue Preservation

With few exceptions, a legal issue must be preserved in the trial court in order to raise it on appeal. This means that the issue must have been brought to the attention of the trial court and the court must’ve been given the chance to make the correct decision.

The most common means of preservation is through objection, either written or oral. Objections should state the basis for the objection – alerting the trial court to what law it should consider in deciding whether to correct the problem. Vague or nonspecific objections are often insufficient to preserve an issue – the basis for the objection must be clear. Regardless of the means of alerting the court, the issue must have been raised in a timely, specific way, and the raising of and ruling on the issue must be on the record. People v. Salazar, 964 P.2d 502, 507 (Colo. 1998)

But there are exceptions that cut both ways. If the party raising the argument invited the error or later waived the issue, that issue will be deemed not properly preserved. On the other hand, subject matter jurisdiction and standing may be raised for the first time on appeal. Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis, Inc. v. Adams, 718 P.2d 508, 513 (Colo. 1986) (subject matter jurisdiction); Tising v. State Personnel Bd., 825 P.2d 1011, 1012 (Colo. App. 1991) (standing) And, in criminal cases, even unpreserved issues may be reviewed for plain error. Crim. P. 52(b); Hagos v. People, 2012 CO 63.

The timeliness and sufficiency of preserving issues at the trial level can be a bit tricky, particularly in Colorado civil cases. For instance, affirmative defenses need to be raised in the complaint, and responsive arguments need to be raised in the responsive pleadings. For summary judgment motions, denials are generally not reviewable once the final judgment has been issued. So the party must-reraise the issue later in the proceedings via a timely directed verdict motion or motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Feiger, Collison & Killmer v. Jones, 926 P.2d 1244, 1251 (Colo. 1996). Even in criminal cases, an argument that two cases were improperly joined must be renewed at the close of evidence in order to preserve the issue for apepal. Bondsteel v. People, 2019 CO 26.

To speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your appeal, contact the Alderman Law Firm today for a free consultation.

Speedy Trial Rights in Colorado Criminal Appeals

Posted by Kimberly Penix - February 21, 2020 - Appeals, Colorado Appeals, Constitutional Issues, Criminal Appeals, Speedy Trial

C.R.S. § 18-1-405(1) requires that, if a defendant is not brought to trial within six months of the entry of his not guilty plea, the charges must be dismissed. The statutory language is “mandatory and leaves no room for court discretion.” Carr v. District Court, 543 P.2d 1253, 1254, 190 Colo. 125 (Colo. 1975). This statutory protection is distinct from (albeit in addition to) the guarantee of a speedy trial under the US Constitution, which is less protective of criminal defendants than Colorado’s speedy trial. The only exceptions to the Colorado speedy trial rule are those delineated in the statute. Id., see also Harrington v. District Court, 559 P.2d 225, 228, 192 Colo. 351, 354 (Colo. 1977).

Where a delay in bringing a case to trial is “caused at the insistence of the defendant,” however, the period of this delay is excluded from the six-month period. C.R.S. § 18-1-405(6)(f). “Any express consent to the delay or other affirmative conduct by the defendant is treated as a waiver of the right to a speedy trial.” People v. Brewster, 240 P.3d 291, 298 (Colo. App. 2009); citing People ex. rel. Gallagher v. Dist. Court, 933 P.2d 583, 588 (Colo. 1997).

Examples of the kind of delays attributable to the defendant include defense counsel’s scheduling conflicts, defendant’s mental hospital confinement to determine competency, substitution of counsel due to defendant’s not cooperating with his attorney, or defendant’s request for additional time. Hills v. Westminster Mun. Court, 245 P.3d 947, 951 (Colo. 2011); People v. Jones, 677 P.2d 383, 384 (Colo. App. 1983) aff’d in part and rev’d in part on other grounds, 711 P.2d 1270 (Colo. 1986); People v. Scales, 763 P.2d 1045, 1048 (Colo. 1988); People v. Spencer, 512 P.2d 260, 262, 182 Colo. 189, 194-195 (Colo. 1973).

Meanwhile, delays deemed not attributable to defendant have included those caused by congested dockets, last minute recusal, the prosecution’s failure to secure defendant’s transfer, and the prosecution’s requests for continuance without fulfilling the conditions of the statutory exception to the 6-month limit. People v. Bell, 669 P.2d 1381, 1386-1387 (Colo. 1983); People v. Arledge, 938 P.2d 160, 166 (Colo. 1997); People v. Murphy, 515 P.2d 107, 109, 183 Colo. 106, 110 (Colo. 1973); Sweet v. Myers, 612 P.2d 75, 77-78, 200 Colo. 50, 53-54 (Colo. 1980).

Where defendant did not exhibit express consent or affirmative conduct to waive his constitutionally rooted and statutorily protected right to a speedy trial, the only remedy is dismissal of the charges. Rodman v. County Court of Adams County, 694 P.2d 871, 873 (Colo. App. 1984). If the appellate court finds the defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial has been violated, the remedy is to reverse a defendant’s judgment of conviction and dismiss the charges.

To speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your appeal, contact the Alderman Law Firm today for a free consultation.