Tag Archives: legal

Police Encounters: Advice from an Officer


The topic of police encounters has overtaken the media recently.  Readers, I  asked a retired police officer the following question:  “What do I do if I am stopped by the police?”  Here’s his practical advice and perspective:
First of all remain calm. If you have any concerns about your safety or the legality of the stop, obey all traffic laws and drive to a well-lit public place then stop for the police. When they ask why you didn’t stop immediately then tell them. You can also call the local police dispatch and tell them the situation to insure that the person pulling you over is legitimate.
You will be approached by the officer on your driver’s side or the passenger side of your vehicle and asked for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of vehicle insurance so think about where those items are. Keep your hands where the officer can see them and don’t make any sudden moves. Be aware that the officer will be justifiably cautious and doesn’t know you or what you have in your vehicle. He or she will tell you the reason for the stop at some point during the encounter but maybe not during the initial contact. If you are courteous and respectful to the officer then he or she will likely be to you as well.
Things to keep in mind about your encounter with law enforcement:
1. There are many traffic laws on the books that when violated give an officer legal probable cause to stop your vehicle and check your license, registration, and insurance. They range from very minor infractions such as missing license plates, faulty vehicle lights, or a cracked windshield, to moving violations and more serious offenses. Don’t escalate things by being uncooperative and disruptive. There have been many cases where a minor traffic stop, which would have likely resulted in a warning or meager fine, turned into an avoidable felony or even fatal encounter.
2. Being cooperative doesn’t mean admitting guilt.
3. Know that you do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle but in some situations an officer can legally make the search without your consent.
4. If you disagree with the legality of the stop or the officer’s actions the place to challenge the issue is not on the street with an armed police officer but in court in front of a judge or through other legal means. Additional options are that you can complain to the officer’s chain of command or the internal affairs unit of the police department. You can contact your local government official such as the city council or county commissioners. You can contact the news media about your issue.
5. Make sure you write down what happened as soon as possible and if there are witnesses then make sure you have their names and statements as well. Be as detailed as possible about what the officer did or didn’t do and their demeanor. Note where the stop took place as there may be video cameras in the area which could support your claim. Take photographs of any injuries or damage and consider seeking medical attention if needed. You can request a copy of the police report after the incident.
6. Finally you can contact an attorney for more advice on all the above.
Keep in mind that being a police officer is a dangerous occupation and that over 100 officers are killed in the line of duty each year. The officer you are dealing with knows this and receives ongoing officer training in officer safety.

Writing a Will in Colorado: The Basics

will imagesWhen people hear about wills or planning for a will it immediately brings them to the thought of death. No one wants to think about death or dying but not having a will can create difficulties for loved ones. A will permits a person to make decisions on how their estate will be managed after death. It allows the person to decide how their personal property and and other assets will be handled instead of the state managing their estate.

If a person dies without a will they are said to have died “intestate” and essentially the law will make decisions about dissemination of the deceased person’s estate and assets based on tenants of Colorado law. Many people find this prospect as scary as thinking about death itself.

In Colorado in order to make a will the person must be 18, be of sound mind, know their assets and immediate family members, and know who they want to give their assets to. A will may be handwritten or typed but must be signed by the maker and dated. A properly executed will should also be witnessed by two uninterested parties and, ideally, notarized. A person can also appoint someone else to sign a will on his/her behalf.  Colorado courts will generally accept a holographic (handwritten) or typed will but these wills are frequently found defective which may cause delay. People are normally surprised to hear that a will can be handwritten but there are many cases trial courts have heard that involved wills written on scraps of paper or napkins.  And some of those will have been held to be legally valid.

It is best to speak with an attorney when writing a will as writing a will does require special skills.  Most attorneys who handle wills will be able to write a will for you which will include all relevant language that will prevent unnecessary complications when it comes time to execute the will.  In most cases, it is good advice to avoid pre-printed will forms you could otherwise purchase from a big box office supply store.

A will can be updated or changed at any time provided the person is still mentally competent. Upon a divorce, Colorado law states once a divorce is final the ex-spouse no longer has a claim. Upon a marriage, the new spouse will be entitled to the same shares they would receive if there was no will set up. Colorado law also provides protection for children born after the will was executed as long as there were no provisions in the will to specifically exclude them. Worried about someone claiming your estate against your wishes? A clause can be added to the will to disinherit a person who contests the will but it will only be valid if the heir does not have a good faith reason to contest the will.


by Brittney Jones

Aurora Theater Massacre Jury Selection

dark knight risesJuly 20, 2012 just 18 minutes into the new movie “The Dark Knight Rises” gunfire was opened on the audience. The gunman was dressed in head-to-toe protective gear and many movie goers thought it was part of the movie until the gunman released two tear gas canisters up the aisles of the movie theater. After the canisters exploded, the gunman started firing at the audience. Police recovered an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and two .40-caliber handguns. 12 people were killed and dozens more injured by the gunman who was taken into police custody minutes later known as James Holmes who was 24 years old at the time.

It is very rare to have a mass shooter in court as most either commit suicide or are killed by the police but James Holmes’s was taken into custody, charged and his trial has started. On January 20, 2015 jury selection began from 9,000 prospective jurors. It is the largest jury pool in U.S history. Of the prospective 9,000 jurors 1 of 50 registered voters in Arapahoe County had a chance of being selected. The prospective jurors will arrive in groups of 250 twice a day and will be asked to complete an 18 page questionnaire. Potential jurors will be called back for individual questioning which is a process that can take up to 4 months to complete. 100 potential jurors will be left after this process and will be questioned in a group session. The jury will consist of the final 12 jurors and 12 alternates which may not be complete until May or June with the trial lasting until October.

James Holmes has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder and has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If found guilty, jurors will have to decide whether to recommend the death penalty. If found not guilty Holmes would be committed to a mental hospital indefinitely. The case has gone on for so long as the prosecution and the defense are trying to determine if Holmes was insane at the time of the shooting as defined under the Colorado law. Insanity as defined by Colorado law (C.R.S. § 16.8.-101.5) is The person must be “diseased or defective in mind.” This is typically translated as having a mental illness (almost always a psychotic thought disorder like Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder). To be considered mentally diseased or defective, a condition must “grossly and demonstrably impair a person’s perception or understanding of reality.”

Check back for updates as the trial gets underway. Jury selection is expected to take several months.

by Brittney Jones, Paralegal

Dying with Dignity

thColorado recently rejected a proposal to let terminally ill patients choose to end their lives. Dying patients would have been required to have two physicians sign off on written and verbal requests to end their lives. The patients would need to be able to administer the medication themselves and be found mentally competent.

Only five states have passed a similar legislation- Washington, Montana, Vermont, New Mexico and Oregon. Colorado’s bill would have been based on Oregon’s right-to-die law where 29 year old Brittany Maynard chose that option. More states have started to consider a death with dignity law after hearing Maynard’s story. Maynard was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2014. In April, 2014 her diagnosis elevated to glioblastoma with six months to live. After months of research, Maynard came to conclusion she would end her life in Oregon with the help of the death with dignity law. Maynard and her family uprooted from California to Oregon where Maynard passed away November 1, 2014. Since Maynard’s death four other states have had pending proposals for the right-to-die law; Colorado (which was recently rejected), Pennsylvania, Wyoming, and California (where Maynard is originally from).

There were mixed feelings about the bill as some people thought the bill would facilitate suicide and take away the patient’s hope for a possible recovery. Others were supporters of the bill saying it is a very personal choice for the patients and terminally patients should be able to choose when and how they die.

Lawmakers had concerns about whether abuse can be prevented by approving a right-to-die law. Family members of the terminally ill patient may try to speak with physicians on behalf of the dying relative even if it’s not what the terminally ill patient wants. If a terminally ill person acquires the medications through proper channels but decided not to take the medication, are there ways to discard the medication so another family member can’t take the prescribed medication?

by Brittney Jones, Paralegal