June 20, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: DUI Defendant Not Entitled to Have Jury Decide Existence of Prior Convictions for Sentence Enhancement

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Gwinn on Thursday, September 6, 2018.

Criminal Law—Driving While under the Influence of Alcohol—Evidence—Impeachment—Direct Examination—Jury Instruction—Search Warrant—Prior DUI Convictions—Sentence Enhancer—Preponderance of the Evidence.

Gwinn rear-ended another car while driving home from work and was arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Gwinn admitted drinking four beers before the accident occurred. After a jury convicted Gwinn of DUI and careless driving, the trial court, in a separate proceeding, found that Gwinn had three prior DUI convictions, adjudicated him a felony DUI offender, and sentenced him to 30 months of probation, two years of work release, and 90 days in the county jail.

On appeal, Gwinn first contended that the trial court’s refusal to allow the testimony of eight current and former Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) employees deprived him of his constitutional right to present a defense. Gwinn sought to introduce this testimony to show that the Intoxilyzer 9000 breath test machine did not produce accurate results. The trial court did not err when it granted CDPHE’s motion to quash the witness subpoenas, finding that the testimony was irrelevant to Gwinn’s refusal because it failed to establish Gwinn’s knowledge of the Intoxilyzer 9000’s alleged deficiencies at the time he refused to submit to chemical testing. Because the accuracy of the breath test machine was not relevant, Gwinn was not deprived of the right to present a defense.

Gwinn next contended that the trial court erroneously permitted the prosecutor to lead a friendly witness, Officer Perez, “under the guise of impeachment” where no impeachment occurred. Because Officer Perez’s direct testimony that Gwinn’s speech “sounded normal” was contradicted by his previous statement in the sobriety examination report that Gwinn’s speech was “mumbled,” no error occurred when the trial court allowed impeachment with leading questions about a prior statement.

Gwinn next argued that the trial court erroneously admitted People’s Exhibit 1, an express consent affidavit and notice of revocation form, under CRE 403. Officer Perez testified that he reviewed the express consent affidavit with Gwinn, which made the affidavit relevant to Gwinn’s knowledge of the consequences of his refusal to take a chemical test. Here, the trial court properly admitted the exhibit under CRE 803(6).

Gwinn also contended that the trial court erroneously rejected a tendered instruction informing the jury that law enforcement may obtain a search warrant to compel a defendant to submit to a blood test and instructing the jury that it was permitted to draw an inference from an officer’s failure to employ this procedure that the officer did not believe there was evidence to support a search warrant. However, the officer was not required to obtain a search warrant, and the officer testified that he does not usually do so in DUI cases. Therefore, there was no error.

Gwinn last contended that his prior DUI convictions trial, conducted by the trial court, violated his federal constitutional right to a jury trial. The General Assembly intended prior DUI convictions to constitute a sentence enhancer rather than an element of DUI. A defendant is not entitled to have a jury determine the existence of the prior DUI convictions used to enhance his sentence from a misdemeanor to a felony. Further, the prosecution’s burden of proving prior convictions is by a preponderance of the evidence not, as Gwinn argued, beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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