September 24, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Remand Granted for Extended Proportionality Review

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Oldright on Thursday, June 29, 2017.

First Degree AssaultAbbreviated Proportionality ReviewHabitual CriminalPrior ConvictionsExtended Proportionality Review.

A jury convicted Oldright of first degree assault based on evidence that he hit the victim in the head with a metal rod. Following trial, the court conducted an abbreviated proportionality review, adjudicated Oldright a habitual criminal, and sentenced him to 64 years in prison. Oldright’s prior offenses included aggravated driving after revocation prohibited, forgery, fraud by check, theft by receiving, and theft.

On appeal, Oldright contended that the court erred in finding that the triggering offense was grave or serious. Oldright’s triggering offense, first degree assault, is a grave and serious offense because the legislature deems it a crime of violence and an extraordinary risk crime, Oldright used a deadly weapon to commit the crime, and the victim suffered serious bodily injury.

Oldright also argued that the court erred in concluding that all of his prior convictions were serious simply because they were felonies. Although first degree assault is a grave and serious offense, not all of Oldright’s prior offenses were serious because the General Assembly had reclassified three his prior felony convictions as misdemeanors (making them an ineligible basis for habitual sentencing), and one of the prior felonies from a class 4 felony to a class 5 felony. Because the court failed to consider these legislative changes in determining whether Oldright’s sentence was disproportionate, the sentence was vacated and the case was remanded for an extended proportionality review of Oldright’s habitual criminal sentence.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attempts to Tamper with Witness Need Not Actually be Communicated to Victim

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Brooks on Thursday, June 15, 2017.

Assault—Witness Tampering—Evidence—Attempt—Judicial Notice—Plea of Guilty—Grossly Disproportionate.

Brooks discovered that his girlfriend (the victim) was pregnant with another man’s child, and then argued with and assaulted her. While in jail, Brooks repeatedly telephoned the victim and others in an attempt to persuade them either to not testify against him on the domestic violence charge or to give false testimony. He also wrote letters to the victim to persuade her either to not testify or to testify falsely on his behalf. These letters were intercepted by a jail officer, and as a result, the victim did not receive them. Brooks was convicted of two counts of assault in the third degree against the victim, two counts of assault in the second degree against a peace officer, resisting arrest, violation of a protective order, and two counts of tampering with a witness or victim. The second tampering count was based on the letters. The court adjudicated Brooks a habitual criminal and imposed a mandatory 24-year sentence. Brooks requested and received an abbreviated proportionality review of the mandatory sentence. After that hearing the district court concluded that Brooks’s sentence was not disproportionate and denied him an extended proportionality review.

On appeal, Brooks argued that there was insufficient evidence to convict him of the second count of tampering with a witness or victim based on the letters because the victim never received them. The tampering with a witness or victim statute does not require that the “attempt” to tamper actually be communicated to the victim or witness. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient to convict Brooks on this charge.

Brooks also argued that the district court abused its discretion in taking judicial notice of the complete case files of his prior felony convictions and that without such improper judicial notice, there was insufficient evidence to support the habitual criminal adjudication. The registers of actions relevant to this case showed that Brooks’s two prior felony convictions were for distinct criminal offenses that occurred months apart. Thus, sufficient evidence supported his habitual criminal conviction.

Brooks further argued that his plea of guilty to felony theft from a person was constitutionally invalid and thus could not support his habitual criminal conviction. Brooks’s plea to theft was constitutionally valid because he entered it voluntarily and knowingly. The district court did not err in finding that it was a valid prior felony conviction under the habitual criminal statute.

Finally, Brooks argued that the district court erred in concluding that his sentence was not grossly disproportionate to his crimes and in not granting him an extended proportionality review. Tampering with a witness or victim is not a per se “grave or serious” offense. However, the facts underlying these crimes were grave or serious. The prosecution identified at least 250 phone conversations in which Brooks attempted to tamper with a witness or victim. Brooks continued tampering with the victim after the prosecution charged him with the first count of tampering and his phone privileges were discontinued. His conduct demonstrated a blatant disregard for the law and thus constituted a grave or serious offense. The Court of Appeals considered all of the convictions and the underlying circumstances as a whole and concluded that Brooks’s mandatory sentence was not grossly disproportionate.

The judgment and sentence were affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Extended Proportionality Review Needed to Determine Whether Defendant’s Sentence Appropriate

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McRae on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

Clifton McRae was convicted of distribution of methamphetamine. Due to his habitual offender status, his sentence was calculated at 64 years. He requested a proportionality review. After conducting an abbreviated proportionality review, the trial court determined that the sentence was grossly disproportionate to the crime and reduced it to 16 years. The People appealed.

The Colorado Court of Appeals noted first that if an abbreviated proportionality review gives rise to an inference of gross disproportionality, the court should engage in an extended proportionality review, comparing the sentence to that of similarly situated defendants.

Prior to the commission of McRae’s offenses, the Colorado General Assembly passed SB 13-250, which drastically decreased the sentences for certain crimes, including McRae’s, but the effective date was after the date from which his convictions arose. The People argued that the trial court entered an illegal sentence by retroactively applying SB 13-250. The trial court had noted that a defendant who committed the same crime a few months after McRae would be subject to only a 16 year sentence, although it did not rely on the not yet effective legislation in its determination of disproportionality. The Colorado Court of Appeals found no error.

The People also argued that because McRae’s triggering offenses and five of his prior convictions are per se grave or serious, the 64-year sentence failed to raise an inference of disproportionality. The court of appeals disagreed but remanded for an extended proportionality review. Although the court had made findings about the serious nature of the offenses, the court also noted that they were for personal consumption and not for substantial monetary gain. The court of appeals found the trial court did not err in considering these factors. The court noted that although it was tempted to approve of the trial court’s sentence, it should have conducted the further extended review to justify its sentence.

The court of appeals remanded for further proceedings.