H. Michael Steinberg has over 32 years experience practicing Colorado criminal law. Mr. Steinberg strives to stay current with the ever changing aspects of criminal law issues and updates resulting in his extensive knowledge of successful criminal defense as well as appellate work. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Association, the Colorado Trial Lawyer's Association, and the Colorado and Arapahoe Bar Associations.

Articles Posted in Plea Bargaining

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by Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyer – Attorney – H. Michael Steinberg
Colorado lawyers who threaten to report a crime to the police unless they are paid money MAY BE violating the criminal and ethical laws of the state.

This article addresses the ethical rules governing the conduct of lawyers and the laws governing the Colorado crime of compounding.

The Criminal Side of Threatening Criminal Prosecution

Here is the actual Colorado criminal law on the subject of the crime of compounding

18-8-108. Compounding

(1) A person commits compounding if he accepts or agrees to accept any pecuniary benefit as consideration for:

(a) Refraining from seeking prosecution of an offender; or
(b) Refraining from reporting to law enforcement authorities the commission or suspected commission of any crime or information relating to a crime.

(2) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the benefit received by the defendant did not exceed an amount which the defendant reasonably believed to be due as restitution or indemnification for harm caused by the crime.

(3) Compounding is a class 3 misdemeanor.

Ethical Issues Binding Lawyers

The Civil Side of Settling Civil Cases of Theft or Embezzlement Using The Threat of Prosecution

Every state has it’s own version of the Rules Of Professional Conduct (RPC). Colorado is no exception.

Regarding Civil Settlements – several Colorado RPC’s govern an attorney’s permissible conduct in negotiating settlements on a client’s behalf.

One is Rule 4.4

“In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person.” Rule 4.4, RPC.
Another is Rule 4.1(a)

“In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly: . . . Make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person.” Rule 4.1(a), RPC. They also provide that “A lawyer shall not . . . offer an inducement to a witness that is prohibited by law.”

Rule 3.4(b), RPC.

… “[a] lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis for doing so that is not frivolous, . . .”

Rule 3.1, RPC. States

“It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to: . . . Commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as alawyer in other respects” or to “engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Lawyers must be honest and fair play in their dealings with people other than their clients.

These rules also … collectively prohibit threatening criminal prosecution solely for the purpose of negotiating a favorable settlement in a civil action – something on the order of theft by extortion within the meaning of the criminal code.

The rules overlap in their application and must be read carefully.

But this does NOT mea the mere mention of the possibility of criminal charges being brought is off-limits? The answer is no.

The ABA Ethics Committee has also issued an opinion holding that an attorney may use the possibility of bringing criminal charges against an opposing party in a private civil matter as long as the civil matter and the criminal matter are related and warranted by law and fact, provided that the attorney does not try to influence the criminal process. ABA Op. 92-363 (1992).

For lawyers – any wrongful conduct, including criminal conduct, dishonesty, and deceit are clearly forbidden. The rules allow lawyers to make truthful observations – it’s permissible, for example, to point out that the opposing party’s actions could be subject to criminal prosecution – but not to participate in extorting money from the other side.

Also making idle or dishonest or frivolous threats is inconsistent with every lawyer’s obligations under the RPC. BUT the lawyer CAN – in settlement negotiations – discus the criminal implications of a party’s conduct.

One Example – An Employee Steals From A Business

A lawyer representing an employee who has committed a criminal theft attempts to negotiate a resolution with the employer business or its clients, might ask that the employer refrain from reporting the matter for criminal prosecution in exchange for repayment of the money.

What is not permissible is for a lawyer representing the employer to demand huge sums of money – well beyond the amount stolen – in exchange for not reporting the theft to the police.

In addition – if the lawyer knows that a client would never under any circumstances refer a matter for criminal prosecution, it is wrong to threaten such an action.

DR7-105(A) of the predecessor Model Rules barred lawyers from presenting, participating in presenting, or threatening to present criminal charges “solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter.”

The latest version of the Model Rules and the Colorado equivalent – eliminated this provision.

Threatening Criminal or Administrative Prosecution in a Civil Case – The Key Factor

A well known and well respected Denver lawyer has written on this subject – and attribution is made to Charles Luce – Of Moye Giles for the following:

…[T]he distinction between advising opposing counsel that her, or her client’s, conduct has more than civilly actionable consequences, and threatening that you may do something about it, is that the latter violates the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct (“Colo. RPC”), while the former usually does not.”

“The determination of whether a communication is a friendly “notice” or an anctionable “threat” must still be made on an ad hoc basis. It is foreseeable that one communicating attorney’s “notice” will be perceived as another receiving ttorney’s “threat.” Still, subsection (b) does, for the first time, give express comfort and a safe harbor to attorney good Samaritans. As importantly, counsel need no longer feel compelled to stew silently while opposing counsel systematically violates the Rules of Professional Conduct, for fear that if she calls “a spade a spade” the most likely disciplinary action to result will be against her for threatening disciplinary charges

The line between “threat” and “notification,” is found in the Official Comment to Colorado Rule 4.5 offers this guidance:

[F]actors that should be considered to differentiate threats from notifications in difficult cases include (A) an absence of any suggestion by the notifying lawyer that he or she could exert any improper influence over the criminal, administrative or disciplinary process, (B) consideration of whether any monetary recovery or other relief sought by the notifying lawyer is reasonably related to the harm suffered by the lawyer’s clients.

Where no such reasonable relation exists, the communication likely will constitute a proscribed threat. For example, a lawyer violates Rule 4.5 if the lawyer threatens to file a charge or complaint of tax fraud against another party where issues of tax fraud have nothing to do with the dispute. It is not a violation of Rule 4.5 for a lawyer to notify another party that the other person’s writing of an insufficient funds check may have criminal as well as civil ramifications in a civil action for collection of the bad check.
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In March of this year (2012) the United States Supreme Court decided two cases that will change the face of plea bargaining forever.

The First Case – Cooper

In Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye: Two U. S. Supreme Court cases involving criminal defendants who claim that their convictions should be overturned because they may have been convicted on lesser charges had their defense attorneys not given them bad advice.

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As an ex Career DA and now as a Colorado criminal defense lawyer, I have been aware for almost 30 years of a loophole in the criminal law of Colorado that actually created an incentive for drunk drivers to flee the scene of car accidents.

That loophole has now been closed.

With the passage of House Bill 1084 – signed by the Governor on June 6, 2012 – the new law increases the possible penalties for leaving the scene of a serious bodily injury crash from a class 5 felony to a class 4 making it equivalent to possible penalties for drunk driving.

End the Incentive to Flee

The old Colorado law gave drunk drivers, especially repeat offenders, an incentive to not stop at the scene of a crash and call for help of injured people. It benefited drunk drivers with a lesser range of penalties for fleeing the scene and trying to hide out until they are sober. The consequence of this loophole at times might mean the life or death of someone needing immediate medical attention at the scene of a crash.

H. Michael’s Take:

Defending The Hit and Run Case In Colorado

Read more….
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A recent case involving the freeing of an innocent man – Brian Banks College Football Player – jailed for 5 years – once again supports the removal of the prosecutor’s “weapons” of mandatory sentencing laws – here in Colorado and around the county.

Banks was accused of rape by a teenaged girl – but rather than take his chances with a jury – even though he was innocent of the charge – he pleaded no contest to the childhood friend’s false accusation of rape in 2002.

The alleged “victim” later recanted the accusations.

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As A result of some 30 years of both prosecuting and defending Colorado domestic violence cases – I am more convinced than ever – that they are unfair and inequitable. Most unfair of these laws is the loss of the right to bear arms under the Lautenberg and Brady Bills, As a result of sometimes minor if not ridiculous domestic violence arrests – if the matter is not completely dismissed and in some cases – expunged – police and military officers lose their careers.

I have fought hard to turn this around for these brave men and women.

One county – El Paso County ( Colorado Springs ) has taken the most compassionate and reasonable approach to this untenable situation. They are to be commended and the other judicial districts should follow suit.

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What follows is an article that appeared some years ago in the NY Times. ( 2007)’

Researched and written by a well known and well respected Denver District Court Judge – Morris Hoffman – the article concludes that retaining a private lawyer may be worth the money.

While it is long – I will let you decide:

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Criticizing partner, denying them money and shouting is domestic abuse, in UK court

BRITAIN’S Supreme Court has ruled that shouting constitutes as domestic violence and anyone who raises their voice at their partner could be thrown out of their home, the Daily Mail reported Thursday.

Leading a bench of five judges, Lady Brenda Hale made the ruling in the case of Mihret Yemshaw, 35, who had applied for free housing entitled to victims of domestic abuse.

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A Fort Carson soldier Chester Duncan, who was featured Sunday in a Gazette investigation of troops who deploy with pending felonies, appeared in court Monday on leave from Afghanistan. He hoped for a light sentence that would ensure he could return.

The judge did not give it to him.

In 4th Judicial District Court, the 28-year-old specialist pleaded guilty to choking his wife and slapping his daughter.

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On May 27, 2010


DENVER – Wayne Cook, age 45, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Robert E. Blackburn to serve 84 months (7 years) in federal prison for possession of child pornography, United States Attorney David Gaouette and FBI Special Agent in Charge James Davis announced. Following his prison sentence, Cook was ordered to serve 5 years on supervised release. Judge Blackburn also ordered Cook to participate in a sex offender evaluation program as well as register as a sex offender. Cook was also told that he is subject to unannounced searches, including his residence, vehicle, computer or other electronic media. The defendant appeared at the sentencing hearing free on bond. He was ordered to report to a Bureau of Prisons facility after designation.

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On April 26, 2010, a Colorado Judge was reversed on appeal after he improperly pressured a defendant into a plea bargain by threatening him with a lengthy sentence if the defendant chose to go to trial.

By stepping out of his role as “a neutral and impartial arbiter of justice” and becoming involved in plea negotiations in a criminal case, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the defendant would be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea.

James M. Crumb, Jr. was charged with criminal impersonation and multiple felony theft and habitual criminal counts; if convicted of all charges he would have faced a 192-year prison sentence. At the last pretrial conference before Crumb’s trial was to begin, Denver County District Judge Robert McGahey, Jr. told him it was his final opportunity to take a plea deal.

After telling the defendant he was speaking “more as a human being than as a judge,” McGahey said he would be forced to impose the maximum sentence if Crumb were convicted at trial, but that he would have sentencing discretion if Crumb pleaded guilty. McGahey later said he was “not going to be a happy judge” if no plea deal was reached.

Crumb moved to withdraw his guilty plea 49 days later, arguing he felt pressured into it. McGahey denied the motion.

The Colorado Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision.

“These improper comments appear to have influenced the defendant’s decision to reconsider his earlier rejection of the offered plea and his ultimate decision to plead guilty,” Justice Michael Bender wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion. “To allow this guilty plea to stand would run counter to the fair and impartial administration of justice.” (from Law Week Colorado).

H. Michael’s Take:

My take on this case is simple, this particular judge went too far in his involvement in plea negotiations. Colorado law provides that judges can be involved in plea negotiations to the extent that a proposed plea can be “run” by the judge to determine if the judge would accept the plea bargain proposed. Acting in that capacity, a judge properly advises the parties whether they are wasting their time by attempting to enter into an agreement before placing the agreement on the record in open court. In this case, the judge took his role in this process a little too far.. H Continue reading