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In re People v. Greer.

2022 CO 5. No. 21SA286.  Right to Court-Appointed Counsel—Indigent Defendant—Indigency Determination—CRS § 21-1-103—CJD 04-04—JDF 208—C.A.R. 21.

January 31, 2022

The Supreme Court considered whether defendant, who has no income or assets but whose parents pay for all his household expenses and allow him to live in their home rent-free, qualifies as indigent and is thus entitled to court­appointed counsel. Chief Justice Directive (CJD) 04-04, which addresses the determination of indigency for purposes of state-funded counsel in criminal cases, instructs courts to consider the gross income from all members of a defendant’s household who contribute monetarily to the household. The Court concluded, however, that courts should take a more nuanced approach where, as here, members of a defendant’s household contribute financially to the household but deny the defendant access to their income.

The Court drew guidance from CJD 04-04’s roommates provision, which considers income from a defendant’s roommates (even those who contribute financially to the shared residence) only when the defendant has access to such income. The limitation in the roommates provision is a reflection of the core inquiry regarding the determination of indigency under Colorado’s jurisprudence: whether, on a practical basis, the defendant lacks the necessary funds to retain counsel.

Consistent with the roommates provision, the Court held that income from members of a defendant’s household who contribute monetarily to the household should be excluded from an indigency determination when such income is unavailable to the defendant. Any other interpretation would render CJD 04-04 internally inconsistent, and at odds with Colorado’s case law, and risk constitutional violations.

Because defendant’s parents’ income is not available to defendant, the county court erred in considering it in its indigency determination. Accordingly, the Court made the rule absolute and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Official Colorado Supreme Court proceedings can be found at the Colorado Supreme Court website.

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