May 23, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Proof of Prior Convictions Not “Element” of Class 3 Felony for Motor Vehicle Theft

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Hopkins on Thursday, May 23, 2013.

Aggravated Motor Vehicle Theft—Prior Convictions—Element—Due Process—Class of Felony.

Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on a jury verdict finding him guilty of aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.

Based on proof that defendant had two prior convictions involving theft of a motor vehicle, the court ruled that the current charge was punishable as a class 3 felony and sentenced defendant to ten years in prison. Defendant contended that proof of his prior convictions is an element of the class 3 felony and that the trial court erred when it did not submit this element to the jury for its determination beyond a reasonable doubt. Alternatively, he argued that even if proof of prior convictions is not an element, due process required the court to submit the question to the jury.

CRS § 18-4-409(2)(a) describes the elements of motor vehicle theft in the first degree, which does not include proof of prior convictions. CRS § 18-4-409(3) addresses only the class of felony (it does not create a separate crime), and CRS § 409(3)(b) describes when aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree can be a class 3 felony. Therefore, the actus reus and mens rea are the same for the class 3 and class 4 felonies, and proof of two prior convictions related to motor vehicle theft is not an element of the class 3 felony. It follows that due process does not require that defendant’s prior conviction be proved to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

Summary and full case available here.

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