October 18, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Predicate Offense Must Be Felony at Time of Current Offense for Habitual Offender Designation

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Kadell on Thursday, October 5, 2017.

Habitual Criminal—Sufficiency of Evidence—Prior Felony Conviction—Collateral Attack—Excusable Neglect—Extended Proportionality Review.

A jury convicted Kadell of six counts of robbery and one count of aggravated motor vehicle theft, each of which is a class 4 felony. The prosecution filed habitual criminal counts, and Kadell moved to suppress his prior felony convictions as a way to collaterally attack those convictions. The motion was untimely, but Kadell argued that his failure to timely file was the result of excusable neglect. The trial court did not rule on the excusable neglect claim. Before sentencing, the trial court adjudicated Kadell a habitual criminal based on three prior felony convictions, including, as relevant here, one in 1997 for attempted cultivation of marijuana. In accordance with the habitual criminal statute, the trial court imposed a 24-year sentence in the custody of the Department of Corrections, four times the presumptive maximum sentence for a class 4 felony.

On appeal, Kadell contended that the trial court erred in imposing a sentence under the habitual criminal statute because there was insufficient evidence that he was convicted of three qualifying felonies before his current convictions. He argued that his 1997 conviction for attempted cultivation of marijuana did not count as a felony under the habitual criminal statute because when he committed his offenses in this case, attempted cultivation of marijuana was no longer a felony in Colorado unless the defendant possessed more than six plants, and the trial court had no evidence of how many plants were involved in the 1997 conviction. As a matter of first impression, the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded that for a prior drug felony conviction to qualify as a predicate offense under the habitual criminal statute, the prosecution must prove that the prior offense of conviction remained a felony under Colorado law at the time the defendant committed the new offense, even when the prior conviction was entered in Colorado. The prosecution did not present sufficient evidence of this fact at Kadell’s sentencing hearing.

Kadell next argued that the trial court erred by finding that his failure to timely file a collateral attack on his prior convictions was not the result of excusable neglect. The issue of excusable neglect is a question of fact to be resolved first by the trial court. The record does not reflect that the trial court ruled on Kadell’s excusable neglect claim.

Kadell further sought an extended proportionality review of his sentence. This argument is moot at this juncture.

The sentence was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Pattern of Abuse Convictions were Sentence Enhancers to Substantive Acts

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wiseman on Thursday, April 20, 2017.

Sexual Assault on a ChildIllegal SentencingConsecutive Sentences—Concurrent Sentences—Sentence EnhancersColorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998—Double Jeopardy—Due Process—Laches—Speedy Sentencing—Cruel and Unusual Punishment.

A jury found Wiseman guilty of acts constituting sexual assault on a child under the age of 15 by one in a position of trust. Wiseman received four sentences, three of which were to run consecutively, and one to run concurrent to two others. While Wiseman was incarcerated in the Department of Corrections (DOC), the district court, at the DOC’s request, reviewed his sentence and determined that consecutive terms were mandated by law on all four of his sentences. The effect of the court’s order was to increase Wiseman’s sentence to 46 years imprisonment.

On appeal, Wiseman contended that he was subject to, at most, two convictions and sentences in this case, and that the district court erred in determining that consecutive sentences were statutorily required. Counts seven and eight did not encompass “additional” substantive crimes for which one or more separate sentences could be imposed; they acted as mere sentence enhancers for counts one and three. Consequently, in entering separate convictions and sentences for counts seven and eight, the district court erred. As to the types of sentences, concurrent sentencing is required when offenses are supported by identical evidence. Here, Wiseman’s convictions were not supported by identical evidence and arose out of different incidents. Under the circumstances, Wiseman was subject to concurrent or consecutive sentencing, in the court’s discretion. The district court, therefore, erred in concluding that it was statutorily required to impose consecutive sentences.

Wiseman requested that the case be remanded for reinstatement of the original judgment of conviction and sentences. But Wiseman’s crimes were punishable by indeterminate sentencing under the Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998 (SOLSA). Thus, Wiseman’s original and revised sentences were both illegal, and a remand for the imposition of a “legal” indeterminate sentence under SOLSA is required: Wiseman must be sentenced for each conviction to an indeterminate sentence having a minimum term of a certain number of years and a maximum term of life imprisonment.

Wiseman objected to the imposition of another sentence that could expose him to the potential of serving life in prison. He asserted that imposing an indeterminate sentence at this point in time, over 15 years after he was initially sentenced, violated double jeopardy, due process, laches, speedy sentencing, and cruel and unusual punishment principles. Because Wiseman was put on notice by the statute that his offense would be subject to an indeterminate sentence, he lacked a legitimate expectation of finality in his original sentence. Thus, correcting the illegal sentence does not violate double jeopardy. There is no due process violation because Wiseman has no fundamental right to avoid serving a lawful sentence of which he should have been aware, and the State of Colorado has legitimate interests in the correct application of its laws and avoiding the precedential risk of irregular enforcement of its laws. The doctrine of laches is not applicable in the context of a Crim. P. 35(a) motion to correct an illegal sentence. The court of appeals found no basis on which Wiseman may assert that resentencing him would violate a constitutional right to speedy sentencing under Crim. P. 32(b). Lastly, the court disagreed that the imposition of a legal, indeterminate sentence would constitute cruel and unusual punishment because (1) Wiseman’s premise that he had an expectation that he would be immediately released on parole under his original sentence is wrong, and (2) such a claim cannot be predicated on the negligence of executive agencies or the courts in failing to impose or correct a sentence at a much earlier date.

The sentence was vacated and the case was remanded with instructions.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Retrial Following Hung Jury Does Not Violate Double Jeopardy Clause

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Beller on Thursday, December 30, 2016.

Peter Wilson Sund Beller arranged to buy two ounces of marijuana from a man named Justin Singleton. Singleton testified that Beller attempted to steal marijuana from him and his dad, and during the ensuing shooting Singleton’s dad was fatally shot and Beller was shot in the chest. Beller was charged with felony murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, and lesser non-included offenses of attempted aggravated robbery, robbery, and attempted robbery. The jury acquitted Beller of aggravated robbery but was hung on the felony murder count. He was retried for felony murder.

Before the second trial, Beller moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the Double Jeopardy clause precluded retrial on that count. During the second trial, the court identified robbery and attempted robbery as the predicate offenses for felony murder, but they were not charged separately. Beller was convicted of felony murder.

On appeal, Beller argued his second trial and conviction violated the Double Jeopardy clause, and the court’s admission of certain statements violated hearsay rules and the Confrontation Clause. The court of appeals addressed his Double Jeopardy claims first.

Beller argued that the felony murder charge and all four robbery charges were the same offense for Double Jeopardy purposes. The court agreed. However, the court noted that the Double Jeopardy clause only applies where there has been an event, such as an acquittal, that terminates the original jeopardy, and noted that a hung jury is not such an event. Beller argued that the first jury’s not guilty verdicts on the robbery offenses precluded the second trial on the greater offense of felony murder. He also argued that the acquittals precluded the use of the robbery charges in the second trial as predicate offenses. The court of appeals disagreed with both arguments. The court found that the fact that Beller was charged in the same information in the same case was fatal to his arguments. After a detailed analysis of other Double Jeopardy cases, the court of appeals noted that Double Jeopardy only applied where the offenses were charged separately. The court concluded that jeopardy did not terminate on the felony murder charge after Beller’s first trial.

The court also disagreed with Beller that his acquittals on the aggravated robbery charges precluded the use of robbery as a predicate offense for the felony murder charge. The court noted that there were several possible reasons for the jury’s acquittal, such as finding that Beller did not actually steal anything of value from the Singleton residence, or that he repeatedly asserted he did not remember firing his weapon. The court noted that the acquittal on the aggravated robbery charge did not necessarily decide whether he committed the lesser offense of simple robbery. The court found that Beller’s retrial was not barred by Double Jeopardy or issue preclusion.

Beller also argued that the trial court erred in allowing hearsay statements from the girlfriend of his accomplice, Shaffer, and from his girlfriend. The statements in question were made by Shaffer to the two women regarding the crime and Beller’s admission to the hospital. The court of appeals found no error in their admission. The court found the statements admissible under the statement against interest exception to the hearsay rule, CRE 804(3). The key issue was whether the statements were independently trustworthy. The court concluded that they were, finding that because they were made shortly after the crime and at the home of his girlfriend and Beller’s girlfriend, they were sufficiently trustworthy.

The court of appeals affirmed Beller’s conviction.