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People v. Mentzer.

2020 COA 91. No. 17CA2237. Judges—Code of Judicial Conduct—Disqualification—Recusal—Criminal Law—Right to Counsel.

June 11, 2020

In October 2013 defendant sent sexually explicit messages and images to a Loveland police detective who was posing as a 14-year-old girl. The detective had responded to defendant’s lewd advertisement for a “casual connection” on Craigslist. Defendant was arrested and criminally charged. He moved for substitution of the trial judge, filing two affidavits in support of his motion alleging that (1) the judge served in the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office from 1991 to December 2013; (2) she supervised the sexual assault and crimes against children unit; and (3) she supervised that unit on the date that an attorney in that unit filed the charges against defendant. The judge denied the motion. A jury found defendant guilty of internet luring of a child and sexual exploitation of a child. The trial court sentenced him to sex offender intensive supervised probation for an indeterminate period of 10 years to life and 60 hours of community service.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial judge erred by denying his motion for disqualification. Before joining the bench, the judge had served in a supervisory capacity over the attorneys who conducted the investigation or prosecution of defendant’s case. Therefore, the judge should have recused herself.

Defendant also contended that his inculpatory statements to the detective should have been suppressed because he made them after he invoked his right to counsel and the detective did not stop the interrogation (a different judge denied Mentzer’s motion to suppress those statements before this case was reassigned to the trial judge). However, defendant’s two references to “representation” were equivocal and ambiguous; because defendant did not clearly invoke his right to counsel, the detective was not required to stop questioning him. Therefore, the trial court properly denied the motion to suppress.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings before a different judge.

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

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