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Colorado Supreme Court: Felony DUI Conviction Requires ‘Mandatory Sentencing’ Triggering Right to Preliminary Hearing

 

by Anthony Accurso 

The Supreme Court of Colorado, proceeding from original jurisdiction on appeal from a district court, held that the district court erred in denying a preliminary hearing to a defendant charged with a class 4 felony DUI simply because he was free on personal recognizance pending conviction. 

Donald Eugene Huckabay was arrested on May 25, 2019, and charged with misdemeanor DUI. The next day, he was released on personal recognizance. The People then amended his charge to a class 4 felony DUI because he had at least three prior convictions for DUI. 

On December 30, 2019, Huckabay moved for a preliminary hearing under § 16-5-301(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019) and Crim. P. 7(h)(1) – which is a judicial determination of whether there is probable cause sufficient to subject the defendant to trial. 

In People v. Tafoya, 434 P.3d 1193 (Colo. 2019), the Colorado Supreme Court established that a defendant who was charged with a class 4 felony DUI, and was in custody, was entitled to a preliminary hearing. This was important because the crime of felony DUI results from a recent statutory amendment.

The district court denied Huckabay’s motion, relying on Tafoya because Huckabay was not in custody. Huckabay appealed directly to the Colorado Supreme Court under Colo. App. Rule 21, an exercise of original jurisdiction that is “an extraordinary remedy that is limited in both purpose and availability.” Villas at Highland Park Homeowners Ass’n v. Villas at Highland Park, 394 P.3d 1144 (Colo. 2017).

The Court granted review because (1) it was an issue of first impression, (2) it was likely to recur across all judicial districts, and (3) waiting until after trial for standard appeal processes would make a preliminary hearing moot.

The Court began with the preliminary hearing statute, which states in part: “[o]nly those persons accused of a class 4, 5, or 6 felony by direct information or felony complaint which felony requires mandatory sentencing ... shall have the right to demand and receive a preliminary hearing within a reasonable time to determine whether probable cause exists to believe that the offense charged in the information or felony complaint was committed by the defendant.” § 16-5-301(1)(a); Crim. P. 7(h)(1).

Thus, a defendant must be accused of a class 4, 5, or 6 felony and must be subject to “mandatory sentencing,” a phrase that was thus far undefined by the Legislature. 

Under § 42-4-1301(1)(a), DUI is a class 4 felony “if the violation occurred after three or more prior convictions.” Huckabay clearly met this requirement. 

However, the People argued that because he could serve his time in a county jail under a work release program and not in the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) he was not subject to a “mandatory sentence.” 

The Court noted that § 42-4-1307(6.5)(a) (the punishment statute for DUIs) states in part “[a] person who commits a felony DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI offense shall be sentenced in accordance with the provision of § 18-1.3-401 and this subsection (6.5).” Section 18-1.3-401 allows for a presumptive range (absent “extraordinary mitigating or aggravating factors”) of two to six years in DOC custody followed by three years of parole. Subsection (6.5) allows for 90 or 180 days in county jail or between 120 days and two years in county jail through participation in a work- or education­release program. § 42-4-1307(6.5)(b)(I),(II). Also, the latter statute refers to either sentence as a “mandatory period of imprisonment.”

Thus, because the punishment statute says a district court “shall” impose one of the three sentences, each involving some form of custody, regardless if it was in the DOC or in county jail, the Court found that Huckabay was subject to “mandatory sentencing.” Further, the Court noted that if the Legislature intended “mandatory sentencing” to mean only DOC custody sentences it could have stated so explicitly in the statute. Therefore, the Court held that the district court erred in denying Huckabay a preliminary hearing. 

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case back to the district court with instructions to grant him his hearing. See: People v. Huckabay, 463 P.3d 293 (Colo. 2020). 

Related legal case

People v. Huckabay

 

 

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