Colorado Mandatory Minimum Sentencing – Why Judges Must Lie To Juries At Criminal Trials – A well known secret inside the criminal justice system is the truth about sentencing and mandatory minimum sentences.
Many decades ago it was the judge that determined the sentence within certain legal sentencing parameters set out by the state legislature. Today, judge’s hands are tied in many cases because of mandatory sentencing minimums such as in Colorado Felony Assault cases.
The Colorado Jury Is Instructed Just Before Deliberations That The Judge Will Decide The Sentence
In every jury trial in Colorado – at the time a jury is – a final instruction is read to them which reads as follows:
DUTY OR FUNCTION OF JUDGE AND JURY
Members of the jury, the evidence in this case has been completed. In a moment I will read to you the law which you must apply in order to reach your verdict. But first, I want to mention a few things that you need to keep in mind when you are discussing this case in the jury room.
It is my job to decide what rules of law apply to the case. While the lawyers may have commented during the trial on some of these rules, you are to be guided by what I say about them.
You must follow all of the rules as I explain them to you. Even if you disagree or don’t understand the reasons for some of the rules, you must follow them. No single rule describes all the law which must be applied. Therefore, the rules must be considered together as a whole.
During the course of the trial you received all of the evidence that you may properly consider to decide the case. Your decision must be made by applying the rules of law which I give you to the evidence presented at trial.
Neither sympathy nor prejudice should influence your decision.
[You should not allow gender bias or any kind of prejudice based upon gender to influence your decision.]
[If you decide that the prosecution has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant has committed the crime[s] as charged, it will be my job to decide what the punishment will be. It should not enter into your consideration at any time.]
The truth is – in an ever growing number of cases, it is the law – not the judge – that decides the punishment.
What follows are some examples:
Colorado Crimes Of Violence Under 18-1.3-406, C.R.S.
In certain specified crimes of violence, a judge has no choice – if a defendant is convicted – but to sentence that defendant to a term of prison that is at least as long as the midpoint in the presumptive range, but not longer than twice the maximum presumptive term. These include such crimes as Second Degree Assault, and Aggravated Robbery.
Mandatory Extraordinary Aggravating Circumstances 18-1.3-401 CRS
If the crime is one that falls under subsection (9) of another 18-1.3-401, the law requires a mandatory minimum prison sentence, with a maximum of not more than twice the maximum presumptive term. These are for crimes such as:
1. Aggravated robbery, section 18-4-302
2. Child abuse, section 18-6-401
3. Unlawful distribution, manufacturing, dispensing, sale, or possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell, distribute, manufacture, or dispense, section 18-18-405
4. Any crime of violence as defined in section 18-1.3-406
5. Stalking, section 18-3-602, or section 18-9-111(4) as it existed prior to August 11, 2010
6. Sale of materials to manufacture controlled substances, section 18-18-412.7
7. Felony invasion of privacy for sexual gratification as described in section 18-3-405.6
Aggravating Circumstances Under 18-1.3-401(10) CRS
If a conviction is committed under certain other “aggravating circumstances.”
If a defendant was:
in confinement, or
on an appeal bond for another felony when the crime was committed.
…then longer sentences for these offenses than would otherwise be the case. LINK to chart..
Colorado Habitual Criminal Statutes 18-1.3-801 CRS
Colorado’s well known Habitual Criminal Laws – compel heavy mandatory sentences if a defendant has been convicted of a class 1 or 2 felony or a class 3 crime of violence and has been twice convicted previously for any similar offenses.
Furthermore – a judge MUST sentence a defendant to at least THREE times the maximum of the presumptive range for the class of felony of which a person is convicted if that person is convicted of a class 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 felony and, within 10 years of the date of the commission of that offense, has been twice convicted of other distinct felonies and FOUR times the maximum of the presumptive range for the class of felony of which such person is convicted if that person has been three times previously convicted of distinct felonies.
Colorado At Risk Crimes 18-6.5-103 CRS
Certain victims require special protections under the law. If an offender is convicted of certain crimes against these victims Colorado law provides for increased sentences.
Sentences Are Enhanced For “At Risk” When They Are The Victims of Certain Crimes.
Criminally negligent homicide,
First degree assault,
Second degree assault,
Third degree assault,
Sexual assault on a child, (position of trust)
Sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist against an at-risk victim. Thus, the sentences increase accordingly.
The Threat Of “Mandatory Prison Time”
The result of these and many other examples of mandatory sentencing in Colorado is clear, defendants buckle under the threat of a mandatory jail sentence. On example is assault on a police officer. If you are convicted of this form of simple assault – where it is a police officer victim – something as simple as twisting his arm with no physical injury other than pain – the law requires – if convicted at trial – for a 5 year mandatory minimum.
Juries believe the instruction of law above as they are given this instruction just before deliberation. In cases where the facts and evidence may be weak – the jury trusts that the judge will be compassionate and lenient with the defendant even if the jury finds the charge has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The jury thinks “well even if we convict him, the trial judge will see that the equities in the case will surely mean probation and no jail and give him a fair and just sentence.”
The truth is – a judge in this case would have his or her hands tied by the mandatory minimum sentence laws of Colorado – and the defendant would be sentenced to prison – even for a first offense.. An unjust result to say the least.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: H. Michael Steinberg – Email The Author at firstname.lastname@example.org – A Denver Colorado Probation Violation Criminal Defense Lawyer – or call his office at 303-627-7777 during business hours – or call his cell if you cannot wait and need his immediate assistance – 720-220-2277.
H. Michael Steinberg, is a Denver, Colorado criminal defense lawyer with over 30 years of day to day courtroom experience – specializing in Colorado Criminal Law along the Front Range. He will provide you with a free initial case consultation to evaluate your legal issues and to answer your questions with an honest assessment of your options. Remember, it costs NOTHING to discuss your case. Call now for an immediate free phone consultation.
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