May 23, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Jury Need Not Find Defendant Committed Particular Overt Act in Furtherance of Conspiracy

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Davis on Thursday, April 6, 2017.

Wiretapping—Conspiracy—Habitual Criminal—Unanimity Instruction—Single Transaction—Limiting Instruction—Prior Conviction—Jury.

After an investigation that entailed wiretapping, the People charged defendant with one count of conspiracy to distribute a schedule II controlled substance (methamphetamine) and several habitual criminal counts. A jury convicted defendant of the conspiracy charge, and the district court, after finding that defendant was a habitual criminal, sentenced him to 48 years.

On appeal, defendant contended that the district court erred in not requiring the prosecution to elect the overt act on which it was relying to prove the conspiracy charge or not giving the jury a special, modified unanimity instruction regarding the overt act. When the People charge a defendant with crimes occurring in a single transaction, they do not have to elect among the acts that constitute the crime, and a special unanimity instruction (one that tells the jury that it must agree unanimously as to the act proving each element) need not be given. A defendant can participate in a number of crimes or events to accomplish a single conspiracy. The Colorado Supreme Court has indicated that the following factors tend to show a single criminal episode: the alleged acts occurred during the same period, the type of overt act alleged is the same, the unlawful objective of the conspiracy is the same, and the same evidence would be relevant to the charges. Here, the actions occurred in a relatively short time frame, evidence of defendant’s phone conversations with one person primarily established the conspiracy, and all the overt acts on which the jury could have relied were done in furtherance of the same unlawful objective. Therefore, the evidence presented in this case showed one criminal episode, and hence one conspiracy. Though the prosecution alleged numerous overt acts in furtherance of the single conspiracy, that did not require unanimous agreement by the jurors as to the precise overt act defendant committed. Therefore, the district court did not err, much less plainly err, in failing to require an election or to give the jury a special unanimity instruction.

Defendant also contended that the district court erred in not providing the jury a limiting instruction. However, defendant did not request a limiting instruction, and a trial court’s failure to give a limiting instruction sua sponte does not constitute plain error.

Defendant further contended that his rights to jury trial and due process were violated when the judge, instead of the jury, found that he had been convicted of prior felonies. The Colorado Supreme Court has held that the fact of a prior conviction is expressly excepted from the jury trial requirement for aggravated sentencing.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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