The Fellow Officer Rule in Colorado Criminal Cases

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In criminal cases in Colorado, typically, more than one officer responds to the scene of a crime.  This is particularly true in felonies and more serious cases.  When multiple officers respond to the scene, different officers take on different roles to conduct their investigation.

According to the Colorado Supreme Court, multi-officer investigations are lawful and are a valid way for officers to pool their collective knowledge to conduct a coordinated investigation.

The tricky part of these types of investigations for a Colorado criminal defense attorney is in piecing together each officer’s knowledge as each officer obtained that knowledge.  The reason this is important is because the timing of these investigations largely determine whether the search is lawful or unlawful.

For instance, imagine that two officers arrive at a Denver crime scene.  One officer begins searching for items while the other officer begins talking to the people on the scene.  Imagine that the officer who is searching finds a large amount of drugs, but there is no indication from the first officer’s interrogations that there are any drugs at all.  Under these circumstances, the drugs should be suppressed because they were found without either officer possessing knowledge that anyone possessed drugs.  As such, the search, under these circumstances was illegal and an attorney handling this type of drug case should argue that the drugs should be suppressed and thrown out of court.

Alternatively, imagine that the officer who was talking to the people learned of the drugs before the second officer found the drugs.  Under this scenario, when the officer finds the drugs, his actions would be lawful and the search would not be thrown out of court.

As you can imagine from the example above, timing is everything in these cases.  Ultimately, a Colorado attorney will have to dig through the facts and obtain testimony from the officers through hearings on this issue to determine when everything was said and to help you fight your case.

Suppressing searches is one of the strongest tools a defense attorney has in most Colorado criminal cases and in drug cases in particular.  If you believe that there may be an issue with the way you were searched or with the way multiple officers handled an investigation where you were the target, you should speak with an attorney immediately.  When there are multiple officers, there are more opportunities for one of them to break the law and it is only in looking at the details of these “fellow officer” cases that the individual officer illegalities can be uncovered.

The information in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as the creation of an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney.

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Nathaniel has worked in criminal law on both sides of the aisle spending time working for the prosecution as well as the defense. Most recently Nathaniel has represented individuals in violent felonies and drug cases. Prior to this work, Nathaniel handled DWIs, Domestic Violence Cases, Property Crimes, and White Collar Crimes. On the prosecutorial side, Nathaniel has most notably worked in Bosnia helping to prosecute individuals who committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Bosnian War from 1993-1995. In particular, Nathaniel helped in the prosecution of military leaders who arranged for the organized murders and rapes of innocent civilians in various towns in Bosnia. Nathaniel is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Northwestern University, and Phillips Exeter Academy. Google Profile: Nathaniel Baca