Colorado Supreme Court to review constitutionality of mental health law and ‘sham purchases’ of guns | Courts

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The Colorado Supreme Court accepted hear two calls challenging the constitutionality of the state law as being vague or in violation of United States Supreme Court precedent.

The cases were taken to the state’s highest court through the Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel of appeals refused to rule as unconstitutional the law requiring courts to recommit a person in the state mental institution for failing to cooperate with an examination, as well as the legal prohibition enacted after the Columbine High School massacre against transferring firearms to a person who does not have the right to own.

In the first case outside of Pueblo County, John Salvadore Cruz spent from 1992 to 2004 at the Colorado Institute of Mental Health in Pueblo after being found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. Cruz was eventually granted a temporary, then conditional release from the hospital, where he was living in the community under the supervision of CMHIP.

Mental health professionals became concerned for Cruz in late 2017, and he voluntarily readmitted himself. Concerns persisted that Cruz allegedly continued to violate the conditions of his release by opening credit card accounts, abusing prescription drugs, and contacting his girlfriend after she was told not to.

CMHIP obtained a court order requiring Cruz to submit to an examination. A psychiatrist met him, but Cruz quickly remembered the man and cut the interview short, believing the outcome was predestined. District Court Judge William Alexander agreed to revoke Cruz’s parole on the grounds that he had not cooperated with questioning.

In August 2021, a college of the Court of Appeal decided by 2-1 to maintain the order of Alexander. Judge Anthony J. Navarro, writing for himself and Judge Jaclyn Casey Brown, agreed that violations of the law occurred in Cruz’s case. Cruz did not receive an examination within the required time, nor did the psychiatrist record his interview with Cruz as required.

Nonetheless, since the revocation order was based on Cruz’s refusal to cooperate with the psychiatric examination, “virtually none of the alleged errors affected the district court’s finding of Cruz’s non-cooperation. “, wrote Navarro.

The majority did not analyze whether the Colorado law that requires judges to revoke the parole of defendants for non-cooperation is unconstitutional because Cruz did not raise this issue before Alexander. But JoAnn L. Vogt, a retired Court of Appeals judge serving on the committee, wrote a dissent saying she would have struck down the law.

“I conclude that the automatic removal provision is unconstitutional on its face, and that the application of the provision here violated Cruz’s right to due process,” she wrote.

Vogt relied on the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case Foucha c. Louisiana, in which a majority of judges held that states could confine those found not guilty by reason of insanity only to the extent that they were both mentally ill and dangerous.

Failure to cooperate with a mental health exam did not establish any of these characteristics, Vogt wrote. Further, Cruz’s alleged parole violations — involving financial and drug-related behavior — “do not prove future dangerousness or mental illness, let alone satisfy the state’s burden.”

State Supreme Court to decide whether automatic dismissal requirement for non-cooperation with mental health exam violates Foucha. The case is Cruz v. People.

In the second case, an Adams County jury convicted Sylvia Johnson on one count of illegally purchasing firearms. The law, which the Colorado legislature adopted after the Columbine murders in 1999prohibits “parallel purchases” of firearms, in which someone purchases a firearm on behalf of another person who is not authorized to own one.

Although it’s a crime for an eligible purchaser to knowingly obtain or “transfer” a weapon to an ineligible person, what constitutes a transfer is undefined.

The government argued that Johnson visited a pawn shop with her husband, Jaron Trujillo, who she knew could not legally own a gun due to a previous felony conviction. Nonetheless, Trujillo went through the guns with Johnson at the pawnshop before making the purchase.

Johnson put the gun away in his closet and told Trujillo about it. Trujillo admitted to taking the gun while Johnson was away from the house. Authorities charged Johnson with the firearms offense after police responded to his apartment complex and found the gun on Trujillo, which was not believed to be at Johnson’s home due to a court order. protection.

At trial, Johnson denied making a straw purchase and argued that “transferring” a firearm required more than simply allowing access to someone who was legally ineligible to own a firearm.

“We conclude that the evidence, considered most favorable to the prosecution, allowed the jury to reasonably infer that Johnson purchased the gun knowing that Trujillo, whom she knew she could not legally possess, would have access to it to protect themselves,” wrote Judge Lino S. Lipinsky of Orlov in a July 2021 review of the Court of Appeal.

The panel also found that Johnson waived his ability to challenge the law on appeal as unconstitutionally vague.

Johnson turned to the Supreme Court, arguing there was insufficient evidence to show she knowingly purchased the gun in order to transfer it to Trujillo. The justices agreed to resolve this issue, as well as to decide whether the law prohibiting gun transfers is so vague that it does not clearly define what constitutes illegal conduct.

The case is Johnson v. People.

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