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People v. Hoskin

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

September 26, 2016

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner/Cross-Respondent
v.
Gregory K. Hoskin, Respondent/Cross-Petitioner:

         Certiorari to the District Court Mesa County District Court Case No. 14CV4106 Honorable Brian J. Flynn, Judge

          Attorneys for Petitioner/Cross-Respondent: Daniel P. Rubinstein, District Attorney, Twenty-first Judicial District Jeremy Chaffin, Deputy District Attorney Grand Junction, Colorado.

          Attorneys for Respondent/Cross-Petitioner: Perkins Coie LLP Michael L. Bender Daniel Graham Benjamin J.H. Delanghe Denver, Colorado.

          BOATRIGHT JUSTICE

         ¶1 In this case, we must determine (1) whether Colorado's speeding statute creates a permissive inference or a mandatory rebuttable presumption and (2) whether there is sufficient evidence to support Respondent/Cross-Petitioner Gregory K. Hoskin's speeding violation. The county court found that Mr. Hoskin committed a traffic infraction in violation of the speeding statute, section 42-2-1101, C.R.S. (2016), because the People offered evidence that he was driving in excess of the posted speed limit and he did not "contradict[] and overcome" this evidence with proof that his speed was "reasonable and prudent under the conditions then existing." § 42-4-1101(1), (4), C.R.S. (2016). Mr. Hoskin appealed, and the district court reversed, concluding that the statute creates a permissive inference and that insufficient evidence supported Mr. Hoskin's speeding violation. We granted certiorari and now reverse.

         ¶2 We hold that the plain language of Colorado's speeding statute creates a mandatory rebuttable presumption that does not violate due process. Furthermore, we determine that there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the county court's judgment that Mr. Hoskin was speeding. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case to that court with instructions to return the case to the county court to reinstate the judgment against Mr. Hoskin.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 Troopers from the Colorado State Patrol issued Mr. Hoskin a summons for speeding in Mesa County, Colorado. He pleaded not guilty, and the matter proceeded to a bench trial in county court. At the trial, two state troopers testified that Mr. Hoskin was driving seventy-eight miles per hour in a sixty mile-per-hour zone. Mr. Hoskin cross-examined the troopers about the methodology used to calculate his speed and then testified in his defense. Contrary to the troopers' testimony, Mr. Hoskin stated that he was actually traveling in the "low seventies." He further testified that his speed, despite exceeding the posted speed limit of sixty miles per hour, was in fact reasonable and prudent because the road surface was dry, his vehicle had new tires and was well-maintained, the traffic was light, the visibility was clear, he was driving within the stream of traffic, he had exceptional visibility because of the curve in the road, and he is an experienced driver. During closing argument, Mr. Hoskin argued that Colorado law establishes only "one hard speed limit" of seventy-five miles per hour and that, because he was actually traveling less than seventy-five miles per hour, the People failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his speed was not reasonable and prudent.

         ¶4 The county court rejected Mr. Hoskin's arguments and found that he had committed a traffic infraction. The court determined that Colorado's speeding statute provides that evidence of a driver's speed in excess of the posted speed limit constitutes "prima facie evidence" that his speed was not reasonable and prudent. See § 42-4-1101(4). It also cited the statute's statement that such prima facie evidence "will remain sufficient proof of" the fact that the speed was not reasonable and prudent "unless contradicted and overcome by evidence." Id. The county court thus concluded that, once the prosecution established that Mr. Hoskin was driving in excess of the posted speed limit, Mr. Hoskin was required to present "sufficient evidence that [he] was driving reasonably and prudently." See § 42-4-1101(1). Ultimately, the county court found that Mr. Hoskin failed to meet that burden and thus found that he had committed a traffic infraction.

         ¶5 Mr. Hoskin appealed, and the district court reversed. The district court held that the county court impermissibly shifted the burden of proof to Mr. Hoskin when it required him to prove that his speed was reasonable and prudent, thereby violating his due process rights. See People v. Hoskin, No. 14CV4106, at 9 (Dec. 23, 2014). The district court therefore remanded the case to the county court for a new trial. Id. at 12. After cross-motions for reconsideration, the district court modified its earlier order to reflect that there was insufficient evidence to support Mr. Hoskin's conviction and ordered the county court to enter a judgment of acquittal. See People v. Hoskin, No. 14CV4106, at 1-2 (modified Feb. 13, 2015). We granted certiorari.

         II. Analysis

         ¶6 First, we must determine whether Colorado's speeding statute creates a permissive inference or a mandatory rebuttable presumption. To resolve this issue, we first provide background on the statute. Then, we define and explain the permissive inference and mandatory rebuttable presumption concepts. Following that, we explain that the plain language of Colorado's speeding statute creates a mandatory rebuttable presumption that shifts the burden of going forward to the defendant to produce evidence rebutting the presumption that the defendant's speed was not reasonable and prudent. Next, we outline Mr. Hoskin's argument that the traffic infraction statute cannot create a mandatory rebuttable presumption because doing so would violate his due process rights. We then explain that the statute does not violate his due process rights because traffic infraction proceedings are civil matters in which defendants are not entitled to the full panoply of criminal due process protections. We therefore hold that the plain language of Colorado's speeding statute creates a mandatory rebuttable presumption that does not violate due process. In the second issue, we address whether there is sufficient evidence in the record to support the judgment against Mr. Hoskin, and we conclude that there is. As a result, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand the case to that court with instructions to return the case to the county court to reinstate the judgment against Mr. Hoskin.

         A. Permissive Inference vs. Mandatory Rebuttable Presumption

         1. Standard of Review

         ¶7 Whether Colorado's speeding statute creates a permissive inference or a mandatory rebuttable presumption is a matter of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. See BP Am. Prod. Co. v. Colo. Dep't of Revenue, 2016 CO 23, ¶ 9, ___ P.3d ___; § 42-4-1101(4). When interpreting a statute, our goal is to give effect to legislative intent. BP Am. Prod. Co., ΒΆ 15. To do so, we look to the statute's language and give its words and phrases their ordinary and ...


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