The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Ellis on Thursday, August 13, 2015.
Juvenile—Murder—Life Sentence—Eighth Amendment—Possibility of Parole—Life Expectancy—Direct Transfer Hearing—Jury Selection—Batson Challenge.
Ellis was 17 years old when he shot and killed C.H. and wounded N.A. from the backseat of his friend’s car. Defendant was found guilty of the charges against him for these crimes. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after forty years on the first-degree murder conviction and a thirty-two-year consecutive sentence for the attempted first-degree murder–extreme indifference conviction.
On appeal, Ellis contended that his sentence to life with the possibility of parole after a minimum of forty years’ imprisonment, together with his mandatory consecutive term of thirty-two years imprisonment, is the equivalent of life without the possibility of parole and, therefore, unconstitutional. The Eighth Amendment prohibits mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of homicide. Ellis’s sentence would constitute a de facto life sentence without the possibility of parole, and therefore would be unconstitutional, if it left Ellis without a meaningful opportunity for release. However, because Ellis’s contention depended on a factual determination of his life expectancy, which the trial court did not previously conduct, the case was remanded to the trial court to make this determination.
Ellis contended that the trial court erred when it denied his request for a direct transfer hearing. CRS § 19-2-517(1)(a)(I) permits prosecutors to charge juveniles 16 years old or older as adults, without a transfer hearing, if their charges include a class 1 or 2 felony. The reenacted statute included a provision allowing juveniles charged by direct filing to file a motion with the district court seeking transfer to juvenile court. However, the reenacted statute became effective three days after a jury convicted Ellis. Therefore, the trial court did not err when it denied Ellis’s reverse transfer motion as untimely.
Ellis also contended that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his Batson challenge to the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse two potential jurors on account of their race. The prosecution provided a race-neutral explanation, the court found the prosecutor’s reasons believable, and the trial court’s ruling is supported by the record. Therefore, the trial court did not clearly err when it denied Ellis’s Batson challenges.