August 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Prosecution for Forgery Not Precluded Where Conduct Also Falls Under Employment Penalty Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Clanton on Thursday, February 12, 2015.

Unemployment Compensation Benefits—Forgery—CRS § 8-81-101(1)(a)—Equal Protection—Restitution—Statutory Penalty.

Defendant obtained unemployment compensation benefits to which he was not entitled by using a false Social Security number and a fake military discharge form. The trial court found defendant guilty of forgery. The court sentenced defendant to eighteen months of probation and ordered him to pay $12,397.50 in restitution. That total included a 50% statutory penalty of $4,132.50, which the court believed was required by CRS § 8-81-101(4)(a)(II).

On appeal, defendant contended that he was unlawfully convicted of forgery. He argued that CRS § 8-81-101(1)(a) was the appropriate statute under which he should have been charged, because his misconduct involved making of a false statement of material fact, with intent to defraud, to obtain unemployment compensation benefits. CRS §8-81-101 does not address all criminal activity that may occur in the unemployment compensation context; rather, it addresses certain specific acts that may occur in the context of an application for benefits. Because the General Assembly did not intend to preclude prosecution for forgery where the conduct underlying the charge also arguably violates CRS § 8-81-101(1)(a), the People had the discretion to charge defendant with the more serious offense.

Defendant also contended that the forgery statute, CRS § 18-5-102, fails to provide an intelligible standard by which to differentiate the conduct proscribed from that proscribed by CRS § 8-81-101(1)(a). Therefore, charging him under the forgery statute violated his constitutional right to equal protection of the laws. The forgery statute applicable here includes elements that CRS § 8-81-101(1)(a) does not. Accordingly, the People could charge defendant with forgery without violating his right to equal protection of the laws.

Defendant further contended, the People agreed, and the Court of Appeals concurred that the district court should not have assessed the 50% penalty provided for in CRS § 8-81-101(4)(a)(II) as part of his restitution obligation. That portion of defendant’s sentence, including the statutory penalty as restitution, was vacated, and the case was remanded to the district court to correct the mittimus to reflect the proper amount of restitution.

Summary and full case available here, courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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