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People v. Brown.

2022 COA 19. No. 18CA1099. Freedom of Speech—Retaliation Against a Judge—True Threat.

February 17, 2022

Defendant’s child was born with methamphetamine in her umbilical cord. An Adams County Department of Social Services caseworker obtained a court order to place the child in the Department’s custody. When defendant learned about the placement, he became verbally and physically aggressive toward the caseworker and medical staff. Throughout the resulting dependency and neglect (D&N) case, defendant was loud and aggressive in court, including by clenching his fists and jaw during the proceeding, shouting at the judge, and consistently using profanity. He also stood up during hearings at inappropriate times while thrusting out his chest in a confrontational way. After the D&N judge ordered a domestic violence evaluation for defendant, he threatened to kidnap the judge’s daughter. The judge later held him in direct contempt, and he was removed from the courtroom. Defendant was subsequently found guilty of retaliation against a judge under CRS § 18-8-615.

On appeal, defendant contended that the retaliation statute is unconstitutional as applied to him because the trial court erred by concluding that the kidnapping statement was a true threat, not constitutionally protected speech. Here, defendant stated, “[l]et me kidnap your daughter and see if you don’t get angry. As a matter of fact, where do you live, Your Honor? Let’s see if we can get this all resolved. See if you would be angry.” Further, the record reflects escalating anger and frustration on defendant’s part during the D&N proceeding. Therefore, the kidnapping statement could reasonably have been perceived as a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence and was a true threat. Accordingly, the statement was not constitutionally protected speech, and the statute was not unconstitutional as applied to defendant.

Defendant also argued that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting a social worker’s testimony that someone in defendant’s family threatened to bring a gun to the hospital where the child was born. Here, the statements were offered to show the effect the information had on the judge when defendant threatened to kidnap her child, and the trial judge gave an appropriate limiting instruction to the jury. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this evidence.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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