GRANBY — Middle Park High School students got a taste of the Colorado judicial system on Tuesday when the Colorado Supreme Court Justices heard two cases while presiding in the high school auditorium.
The cases presented to the justices were not mock proceedings, but oral arguments for actual cases in the State of Colorado. The justices will issue official court opinions related to the cases and arguments presented during the proceedings.
The visit by the justices is part of “Courts in the Community,” an educational outreach program, which was initiated by the Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals on Law Day (May 1), 1986.
Students were able to hear arguments from representatives for both sides of each case and then had an opportunity to ask questions of the attorneys who represented the parties involved in both cases.
Justices heard Ricardo Jaime Sanchez vs. the People of the State if Colorado, a case concerning whether the accused understood his Miranda Rights as they were read to him by the arresting officer before making incriminating statements, and the People of the State of Colorado vs. $11,200 U.S. Currency and Bradley Edward Strand, a case where money was seized from Strand during a search of his house, which was found to be unconstitutional. Criminal drug charges against Strand were dropped during the appeal of his criminal case. He then filed a motion with the trial court seeking the return of the $11,200 cash that had been taken from his house. The trial court granted the motion, and the People appealed.
The questions raised by students and other members of the audience ranged from questions directly related to the individual cases to questions about how the attorneys dealt with being questioned by the justices.
Sanchez vs. the People of the State of Colorado
Sanchez was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death of a co-worker upon making incriminating statements to a police officer. He was arrested while trying to flee to Mexico, his native country.
Sanchez argues the officer who interrogated him gave him an incomplete Miranda advisement before questioning him and therefore his statements were inadmissible at trial. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals concluded the advisement was adequate, that Sanchez’s waiver of his rights was valid, and that his statements were thus admissible. The Colorado Supreme Court granted his attorneys’ petition to review the case.
It is undisputed that Sanchez killed his co-worker at the construction site, shooting him multiple times in the body and head. The issue at trial was whether the killing was premeditated and therefore Sanchez could be convicted of first-degree murder, a crime punishable by a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Sanchez believes his conduct was not criminal because he acted out of defense for himself and his family. He also argued that he was taking prescription medication that prevented him from forming the level of intent necessary to prove he committed first-degree murder, and that he was thus guilty of second-degree murder, which requires only knowing or reckless conduct and is punishable by a shorter prison term.
Sanchez allegedly told the officer who arrested him the victim had a history of bothering other co-workers and of taunting Sanchez, and the day before the shooting, he and the victim had an argument in which the victim allegedly threatened Sanchez on the first of two times.
According to the case, after his crime, Sanchez told an officer he responded to the threats by shooting the victim “10 to 15” times, and that he did not see any weapons on the victim.
Before trial, Sanchez moved to suppress his incriminating statements on the grounds his waiver of rights was not valid because his Miranda advisement was incomplete. He argued that as an immigrant, he was not familiar with the American criminal justice system and the fact that an indigent criminal defendant is entitled to an attorney at the expense of the state.
Sanchez claimed he did not know an attorney would be provided for him, free of charge, as the officer only told him that an attorney would be “assigned” to him.
One justice said it was the responsibility of the interrogating officer to make sure the accused understands his rights.
Sanchez also signed a paper that waived his rights to council before speaking with authorities, however the paper did not state that he would be provided council free of charge if he could not afford a lawyer.
“Don’t we have a basic duty to protect these guaranteed rights?” asked Justice Nathan Coats.
During the hearing at the high school, Sanchez’s attorney argued that because Sanchez did not understand his right to a state appointed attorney, free of charge, he was not fully informed of his rights to consult with council before speaking with authorities, and therefore the incriminating statements he made could not be used against him.
People of the State of Colorado vs. $11,200 U.S. Currency and Bradley Edward Strand
This case involves the government’s seizure of a criminal defendants property in a civil forfeiture proceeding pursuant to the Colorado Contraband Forfeiture Act, also known as the forfeiture statute.
The forfeiture statute is meant to battle organized crime and large-scale drug trafficking by allowing the government to seize property that was used in or intended for use with criminal activity.
Law enforcement officials searched Strand’s home pursuant to a search warrant and seized methamphetamine, drug paraphernalia and $11,200 cash, including money they had supplied to an informant to make a controlled drug purchase from Strand.
Strand was convicted of distribution and possession with intent to distribute a schedule II controlled substance. The people also brought a civil forfeiture action against Strand to try to keep the money police seized during the search of his home. The court in the forfeiture proceeding found that the currency had a substantial connection to criminal activity and ordered that Strand had thus forfeited his interest in the money.
Strand appealed his criminal conviction but did not appeal the forfeiture judgment.
The court of appeals found the search of Strand’s home was unconstitutional and that the evidence found during the search should have not been used against him in court.
The court reversed Strand’s criminal conviction and remanded the case for a new trial, at which the evidence found while searching his home would not be used. The people decided not to retry Strand and dismissed the charges against him.
Strand then went on to file a motion pursuant to the Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure, requesting that the money seized during the search be returned to him. The trial court granted the motion and ordered the government to return the money to Strand. The People appealed that decision.
The Colorado Court of appeals rejected the People’s arguments and granted Strand the ability to recover the money. The Colorado Supreme Court granted the Peoples petition for the case to be brought before the justices.