April 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Judge’s Remarks Do Not Display Deep-Seated or Unequivocal Bias Against Defendant

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

Sentencing Judge—Bias—Plea Agreement.

While on probation for a separate felony conviction, defendant sped through an accident scene, hitting and killing a tow truck driver. Defendant then fled, only to be apprehended by police several blocks away. Defendant pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving death in exchange for the dismissal of charges of aggravated motor vehicle theft, violation of bail bond conditions, driving under the influence, evading or circumventing an ignition interlock device, reckless driving, and violation of a protective order. The sentencing court sentenced defendant to forty-eight years in the custody of the Department of Corrections (DOC), the maximum sentence available under his plea agreement.

On appeal, defendant argued that his constitutional right to have an impartial judge determine his sentence was violated. Defendant was sentenced to four years in the DOC by the same judge in the earlier felony case. After defendant completed a year in the DOC and successfully completed the DOC’s boot camp program, the court reviewed his sentence and placed him on intensive supervised probation. During a hearing on a related matter and at sentencing for this case, the judge made comments about how he felt guilty because a man was dead after he reconsidered defendant’s sentence. The Court of Appeals rejected defendant’s argument that reversal was required because the judge was biased. First, defendant’s failure to file a motion to disqualify waived his argument that the sentencing judge should have recused himself based on an appearance of partiality. Second, defendant did not establish actual bias requiring disqualification of the sentencing judge.

Defendant further contended that the sentencing court abused its discretion by imposing the maximum aggravated sentence on each count and ordering the sentences to run consecutively. Because the sentence imposed was within the range agreed on by the parties pursuant to a plea agreement, defendant was precluded from challenging the propriety of his sentence on appeal. The sentence was affirmed.

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

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