August 24, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Deferred Juvenile Adjudication Not Predicate Felony Offense for POWPO Purposes

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People in Interest of A.B. on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

A.B., a juvenile, was the rear driver’s side passenger in a parked car when police blocked the car due to a noise violation from the car’s loud stereo. All three of the vehicle’s occupants exited when the police arrived, and an officer saw A.B. pull a gun from his waistband and throw it into the car. He was charged with possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) based on a prior incident in which A.B. accepted a deferred adjudication on a charge of aggravated motor vehicle theft in the first degree, a felony.

Before trial, A.B. moved to suppress the weapon, arguing the search was unconstitutional because when police officers ordered him to get back in the car, they seized him but lacked reasonable suspicion to do so. The trial court denied the motion to suppress based on the officer’s testimony that he saw A.B. throw the gun into the car. The officer presented the same testimony at trial. When the prosecution rested, A.B. moved for judgment of acquittal, arguing the deferred adjudication did not constitute a prior adjudication for POWPO purposes. The court denied his motion, and A.B. was convicted and sentenced to two years in youth corrections.

On appeal, A.B. argued the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress. The court of appeals disagreed. The court declined to reach the constitutional issue of whether the encounter was a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes, and instead found that the officers had reasonable suspicion that every person in the vehicle was violating the Denver Municipal Code’s noise ordinance. Therefore, the court found that the officers had reasonable suspicion to seize A.B. based on a violation of the noise ordinance.

A.B. next argued that his deferred adjudication was not a predicate felony for POWPO purposes. The court of appeals agreed. The court analyzed the POWPO statute applicable to juveniles, C.R.S. § 18-12-108(3), and found no reference to deferred adjudications. A.B. relied on the plain statutory language in arguing that because he accepted a deferred adjudication, he was not actually adjudicated at the time of the POWPO offense. The Attorney General analogized the juvenile statute to its adult counterpart, relying on cases interpreting “conviction” to include deferred judgments. The court of appeals analyzed the juvenile delinquency statutes and found that they distinguished deferred adjudications from adjudications of juvenile delinquency both as to definition and effect. The court found that the General Assembly expressly equated deferred adjudications to delinquency adjudications in several instances, evidencing an intent to separate the two definitions. The court found that A.B.’s deferred adjudication was not a predicate offense for POWPO purposes.

The court of appeals affirmed the denial of the suppression order, reversed the adjudication, vacated the sentence, and remanded for entry of judgment of acquittal.

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