June 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Defendant’s Sentence as a Habitual Offender Does Not Deny Him Equal Protection as to His Parole Eligibility

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its decision in People v. Dean on June 21, 2012.

Second-Degree Murder—Habitual Offender—Equal Protection—Evidence.
Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered and the sentence imposed on a jury verdict finding him guilty of second-degree murder. The judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded for correction of the mittimus.

After beating his friend to death and disposing of the body, defendant was charged with first-degree murder and six habitual criminal counts. Defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, a class 2 felony, which carries a presumptive maximum sentence of twenty-four years.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred by ruling that he could be sentenced as a habitual offender under CRS § 18-1.3-801, because that statute, as applied to him, denied him equal protection of the laws as to his parole eligibility. Because none of defendant’s prior felony convictions were for class 1 or class 2 felonies, or class 3 felonies that were crimes of violence, defendant was ineligible for sentencing under CRS § 18-1.3-801(1), for which he would have received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment and been eligible for parole after serving “at least forty calendar years.” Instead, defendant was adjudicated a habitual offender under CRS § 18-1.3-801(2) for having sustained three prior convictions for any felony. Accordingly, the court sentenced defendant to four times the presumptive maximum sentence for second-degree murder, or ninety-six years. He will be eligible for parole after completing 75% of his sentence, which equates to seventy-two years. Defendant’s equal protection claim failed because the two statutory subsections at issue do not apply to identical conduct, and the habitual offender act, as applied to defendant, has a rational basis.

Defendant also contended that the trial court abused its discretion and committed reversible error by admitting evidence of his prior drug use. Evidence of defendant’s prior crack cocaine use, as well as defendant’s 2001 beating of the victim over the perceived theft of a small amount of crack, was admissible under CRE 404(b) to show defendant’s motive and identity.

Summary and full case available here.

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