July 18, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Because Two Charges Would Have Been Tried Together But For Defendant’s Guilty Pleas, They Cannot Be Considered Separate Under Habitual Criminal Statute

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Williams on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Criminal Law—Photo Lineup—Sixth Amendment—Motion to Continue—Sentencing—Habitual Criminal.

Defendant robbed the victim, an Uber driver, at knifepoint in a Denver alleyway. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court held a hearing to determine whether defendant was a habitual criminal. Based on defendant’s prior convictions for first degree assault (heat of passion) and two prior convictions for distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance, the trial court adjudicated him a habitual criminal and sentenced him to 64 years in prison.

On appeal, defendant argued that the pretrial photo lineup, from which the victim identified him, was impermissibly suggestive. He contended that he was older than the other men in the photo array and there were impermissible differences in the clothing and tattoos depicted. Here, defendant’s photo matched the victim’s description and the filler photos depicted men who generally fit the witness’s description. The number of photos in the array (six) and the details of the photos did not render the lineup impermissibly suggestive.

Defendant also contended that the trial court abused its discretion and violated his Sixth Amendment right to his counsel of choice by denying his motion for a continuance. The trial court considered the appropriate factors in balancing defendant’s right to have counsel of his choosing against the efficient and effective administration of justice. The trial court’s findings were supported by the record, and the court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendant’s motion for a continuance.
Defendant next contended that the trial court abused its discretion by denying his motion for a continuance to allow the People to complete fingerprint testing and that completed testing would have allowed for the production of exculpatory evidence. Here, the fingerprint results were inconclusive and the prosecution did not have possession or control of any exculpatory fingerprint comparison results. Considering the totality of the circumstances, there was no error in the trial court’s ruling on the motion.

Defendant further contended that the trial court erroneously sentenced him under the habitual criminal sentencing statute because two of his three prior felony convictions were permissively joined for trial. Defendant argued that because the two cases charging him with distribution of a Schedule II controlled substance were joined for trial under Crim. P. 13, they would have been tried together had he not entered guilty pleas, so his previous convictions for distribution should be treated as one conviction for habitual criminal purposes. Here, the offenses were joined for trial and would not have been tried separately. The prosecution failed to meet its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s predicate felonies were separately brought and would have been separately tried had defendant not entered guilty pleas. The guilty pleas resulted in one conviction for purposes of the habitual criminal sentencing statute and the trial court erred in sentencing defendant under that statute.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed. The case was remanded for the trial court to impose a new sentence and to correct the mittimus.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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