Certiorari to the District Court. District Court, City and County of Denver, Case No. 11CV6844.
The supreme court holds that, under the plain language of the challenge for cause statute, § 16-10-103(1)(k), C.R.S. (2015), a " public law enforcement agency" is a division or subdivision of state or federal government that has the authority to investigate crimes and to arrest, prosecute, or detain suspected criminals. The potential juror in this case worked at a prison owned and operated by a private company that housed inmates from Alaska. The court concludes that the private company operating the prison is not a " public law enforcement agency" under the statute because it is not an official governmental entity. Therefore, the trial court appropriately denied defendant's challenge for cause to the potential juror that worked at the private prison. Because the trial court did not err, the supreme court does not address the issue concerning the proper remedy for a trial court's erroneous ruling on achallenge for cause.
Mitchell R. Morrissey, District Attorney, Second Judicial District, Everett Engstrom, Deputy District Attorney, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner.
Springer and Steinberg, P.C., Harvey A. Steinberg, Ariel Z. Benjamin, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondent.
JUSTICE GABRIEL concurs in the judgment, and JUSTICE HOOD joins in the concurrence in the judgment. JUSTICE GABRIEL concurs in the judgment, and JUSTICE HOOD joins in the concurrence in the judgment.
[¶1] We granted certiorari to determine whether the trial court should have sustained a challenge for cause to a potential juror who was an employee of a privately owned and operated prison. The appellate court held that because the private prison used " sovereign police powers characteristic of law enforcement in service of the public interest," it qualified as a " public law enforcement agency" as that term is used in section 16-10-103(1)(k), C.R.S. (2015). Order Regarding Appeal, Bonvicini v. People, No. 11CV6844 (Denv. Dist. Ct. Dec. 12, 2012). Consequently, the appellate court concluded that the trial court should have sustained the defendant's challenge for cause to a compensated employee of the private prison. We now reverse.
[¶2] We hold that, under the plain language of section 16-10-103(1)(k), a private company that operates a prison is not a " public law enforcement agency" because it is not a division or subdivision of state or federal government that has the authority to investigate crimes and to arrest, prosecute, or detain suspected criminals. The trial court therefore appropriately denied defendant Lorenzo Bonvicini's challenge for cause to the potential juror in question. Because we conclude that the trial court did not err, we do not address the second issue concerning the proper remedy for a trial court's erroneous ruling on a challenge for cause. Accordingly, we reverse the appellate court and remand the case to that court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
I. Facts and Procedural History
[¶3] The People charged Bonvicini with driving under the influence (" DUI" ). During jury selection, " Juror F" told the trial court that she worked as a registered nurse at the Hudson Correctional Facility near Hudson, Colorado. In later questioning from the court, Juror F stated that a private national correctional facility company, the GEO Group, Inc., operated the Hudson Correctional Facility and was under contract with the State of Alaska to house Alaskan inmates there. She also disclosed that she worked full-time at the prison and received her compensation from the GEO Group. When directly asked whether the GEO Group was a public entity, Juror F stated it was not.
[¶4] Bonvicini challenged Juror F for cause, arguing that she was the " functional equivalent" of a public-prison employee and therefore qualified as a " compensated employee of a public law enforcement agency" under section 16-10-103(1)(k). The trial court denied Bonvicini's challenge, concluding that a privately run prison did not qualify as a public law enforcement agency under the statute. In denying the challenge, the trial court stated that " it would be a stretch to . . . go beyond the letter of the law where it says a public law enforcement agency." In light of this denial, Bonvicini used a peremptory challenge to dismiss Juror F and ultimately exhausted all of his challenges. After trial, the jury convicted Bonvicini of driving while ability impaired, a lesser included offense of DUI.
[¶5] Bonvicini appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred in denying his challenge for cause to Juror F. The appellate court reversed the trial court,
holding that Juror F was an employee of a public law enforcement agency as defined in section 16-10-103(1)(k) and should have been excused. In its order, the appellate court first acknowledged that prisons qualify as law enforcement agencies. See People v. Scott, 41 Colo.App. 66, 583 P.2d 939, 941 (Colo.App. 1978). It then turned to whether a private prison qualified as a " public . . . agency."
[¶6] After analyzing the plain language of the statute, the appellate court concluded that " the statute is ambiguous as to what characteristics make an agency public," and therefore resorted to other statutory-interpretation tools. The appellate court considered a number of prior cases from this court that discuss the main purposes of the statute, particularly Ma v. People, 121 P.3d 205 (Colo. 2005). The appellate court also quoted a dictum from People in the Interest of R.A.D., 196 Colo. 430, 586 P.2d 46, 47 (Colo. 1978), which stated that a trial court should excuse a potential juror who " has even a tenuous relationship with any prosecutorial or law enforcement arm of the state."
[¶7] Ultimately, the appellate court concluded that " the performance of law enforcement functions is persuasive in reaching the conclusion that an entity is a public agency because law enforcement is the prerogative of the state." Applying this understanding to the private prison in this case, the appellate court concluded that " [t]he important fact is that this company operates, albeit for profit, by using sovereign police powers characteristic of law enforcement in service of the public interest. Therefore, it is a 'public . . . agency' under [section] 16-10-103(1)(k)." As a result, the appellate court concluded that the trial court erred in denying Bonvicini's challenge for cause to Juror F. In light of this finding of error, and pursuant to then-binding precedent requiring automatic reversal, People v. Macrander,828 P.2d ...