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.



Attorney Penix Argues Before Colorado Court of Appeals

Posted by Chelsey Bradley - April 8, 2018 - Appeals, Criminal Appeals, Uncategorized

On April 3, 2018, managing attorney Kimberly Penix argued before the Colorado Court of Appeals in Denver on behalf of Defendant-Appellant Craig Edward Nelson in The People of the State of Colorado v. Craig Edward Nelson. The primary issue in the case was whether the People shifted the burden of proof to Nelson by cross-examining him on whether he could prove his factual contentions, and arguing in closing that Nelson enjoyed “no special deference” at trial. Video of Attorney Penix’s oral argument is available here:

https://cojudicial.ompnetwork.org/shows/15ca1874?iframe_mode=true

The Colorado Court of Appeals has yet to issue a decision in the matter.

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



What is a Colorado Direct Appeal?

Posted by Chelsey Bradley - November 29, 2017 - Uncategorized

In Colorado, a direct appeal is an appeal from a trial court decision, filed immediately following entry of judgment within the trial court. On direct appeal, Colorado appellants may only argue alleged legal errors made by the lower court. Commonly alleged trial court errors include the improper admission of evidence, an incorrect jury instruction, or a conviction based on insufficient evidence. Importantly, a defendant cannot argue that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in a direct appeal.

Generally, an appellant filing a direct appeal argues that, due to an error committed by the trial court, a particular judgment should be reversed. Even if the reviewing court finds error, however, reversal is not guaranteed. Most errors are reviewed for harmlessness, meaning that an error will only require reversal where there is a reasonable probability that the error had an impact on the outcome of the case.

Appellants must be aware that a “win” on direct appeal – reversal of a judgment – often results in a remand of the case to the trial level court where the case may be re-tried. This is an especially important consideration for criminal defendants, who may face new charges and longer sentences should a new conviction be entered on remand.

A losing party is only afforded one direct appeal. For example, a loss in the district court may be appealed once to the court of appeals. While it is true that a loss in the court of appeals may be appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, the supreme court has discretion to decide whether or not it will hear your case.

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



Should My Trial Attorney Write My Appeal?

Posted by Chelsey Bradley - November 15, 2017 - Uncategorized

After going through the lengthy trial process, most litigants presume that their trial level attorney will handle the appeal. After all, who knows the case better than he or she does? In reality, however, most trial level attorneys will not handle appeals as a rule. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t seek out an appellate specialist to handle your case at the trial level, so why would you pursue an appeal with a trial specialist?

Your trial level attorney will still be an important part of your appeal. It is common practice for an appellate attorney to discuss a case with the trial level attorney in order to determine what he or she believes to be important issues for appeal. Moreover, the trial level attorney will be responsible for forwarding the case file to the appellate attorney.

Your appellate attorney will look at the case with an objective, fresh eye, and a working knowledge of effective appellate arguments. In some cases, the best post-conviction argument will be that the trial attorney made an error, rendering his or her assistance as ineffective. Although attorney errors are common, it would be difficult for an attorney to argue that his or her own performance was deficient.

Moreover, appellate practice requires careful attention to appellate rules and procedures. Appellate specialists have a solid working knowledge of these rules and procedures because they work with them daily. Therefore, it takes them less time to draft compliant appellate documents. While a trial attorney can certainly look up and follow appropriate rules and procedures, there is no substitute for experience.

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



How Do Appeals Work in Colorado?

Posted by Chelsey Bradley - November 1, 2017 - Appeals, Civil Appeals, Criminal Appeals

In any jurisdiction, an appeal is a legal proceeding through which a party that received an adverse decision seeks review of that decision in a higher court. An appeal is not an opportunity to re-litigate a case or present new evidence, but rather to point out an error that occurred in the trial court.

The first step to filing an appeal is determining what court has jurisdiction to hear your appeal, and when the deadline is to file your notice of appeal. It is vital that you file your notice of appeal within the correct deadline with the correct court. In most cases, failure to do so will be fatal to an appeal.

The reviewing court will decide your appeal based on the record. The record contains pertinent documents evidencing what happened at the trial level, including pleadings, transcripts, and orders. Generally, a litigant cannot add newly discovered materials to the record. It is important to show that the alleged error has been preserved – meaning that you or your attorney pointed out the error via objection or motion, and the trial court had an opportunity to issue an appropriate ruling.

The process of an appeal is lengthy and uneventful. You or your attorney will review the record, then make your argument in writing (your opening brief). The appellee will have an opportunity to file a written answer to your opening brief, after which you may (but are not required to) file a reply brief. Following submission of these three briefs, neither party is permitted to file any additional materials. In most cases, the court will decide the case based on the briefs and record, then file a written decision.

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



Who are the Colorado Supreme Court Justices?

Posted by Chelsey Bradley - October 18, 2017 - Appeals, Civil Appeals, Criminal Appeals

The Colorado Supreme Court is made up of seven justices who serve ten-year terms. The current seven justices are Chief Justice Nancy E. Rice, and Justices Nathan B. Coats, Allison H. Eid, Monica M. Márquez, Brian D. Boatright, William W Hood, III, and Richard L. Gabriel.

To become a justice, an attorney must be recommended by the Colorado Supreme Court Nominating Commission. The nominating commission is made up of seventeen members, eight of which are non-attorneys. To serve on the commission, a potential member must apply with the nominating commission liaison. Of the nominees, the Governor of Colorado will appoint one to serve. The appointed nominee will serve an initial term of ten years, and then must earn retention through a general election.

Because of the nomination scheme, judicial terms will expire periodically as a particular justice’s term ends. A justice who achieves initial retention will then begin serving a ten-year term. Justices may seek retention at the end of any ten-year term, but must retire at age 72.

Photographs, biographies, and contact information for current supreme court justices can be found on the Colorado Judicial Branch’s Web page, here.

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



Who are the Judges on the Colorado Court of Appeals?

Posted by Chelsey Bradley - October 4, 2017 - Appeals, Civil Appeals, Criminal Appeals

The Colorado Court of Appeals consists of 22 judges each serving an eight-year term. To become a judge, an attorney must be nominated by commission, and then appointed by the Governor of Colorado. A newly nominated judge will serve a two-year term, and then must achieve retention through a general election. Judges who achieve retention will then begin serving their eight-year term.

Because of this nomination scheme, judicial appointments expire periodically as a particular judge’s eight-year term comes to a close. At the end of this term, the judge may seek retention for another term or retire. Judicial retirement is mandatory at age 72.

The judges hear and decide cases in panels of three. The chief judge – who is appointed to serve indefinitely by the Colorado Supreme Court – makes all case assignments. Currently, the honorable Alan M. Loeb serves as chief judge.

Photographs, biographies, and contact information for each judge can be found on the Colorado Judicial Branch Web page, here.

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