The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Simpson on September 13, 2012.
Preliminary Hearing—Theft—Class 3 Felony—Plea.
The People appealed from a pretrial order dismissing some of the charges they filed against Timothy Wayne Simpson. The order was affirmed.
Simpson was charged with several offenses, including theft and theft by receiving. These two theft counts were charged as class 3 felonies because Simpson was accused of taking property worth $20,000 or more. Following plea negotiations, the parties appeared in court for entry of a plea. Instead of pleading guilty, however, he pleaded not guilty and requested a preliminary hearing on the two theft charges, which the court scheduled. When the parties appeared for the preliminary hearing, the People announced that they would not present evidence of the two thefts, and the court dismissed those charges.
The People contended that the court lacked authority to hold a preliminary hearing on the two theft counts. Contrary to the People’s argument, a defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing whenever he is charged, by information or complaint, with a class 1, 2, or 3 felony. It does not matter whether the value of the property taken is an element or an enhancer in a prosecution for theft or theft by receiving. What matters is that (1) Simpson was charged with class 3 felonies, and (2) he can be convicted of those class 3 felonies only if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the property taken was worth $20,000 or more. Therefore, Simpson was entitled to a preliminary hearing. Furthermore, under the governing procedural rules, preliminary hearings typically occur before the defendant enters a plea. However, the rules do not suggest that the court loses authority to conduct a preliminary hearing once the plea is entered; on the contrary, they contemplate that the court may order a preliminary hearing afterward. Therefore, Simpson did not waive his right to a preliminary hearing by entering his plea first, and the court did not err in holding such hearing.
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