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Robertson v. People

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

November 16, 2017

Charles Alexander Robertson, Petitioner-Appellee,
The People of the State of Colorado, Respondent-Appellant.

         El Paso County District Court Nos. 16CV30753, 16CV30754 & 16CV30755 Honorable William Trujillo, Magistrate

          Sherman & Howard, L.L.C., Richard Bednarski, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Petitioner-Appellee

          Daniel H. May, District Attorney, Doyle Baker, Senior Deputy District Attorney, Emily Young, Deputy District Attorney, Colorado Springs, Colorado, for Respondent-Appellant


          NAVARRO JUDGE.

         ¶ 1 The prosecution appeals the district court's orders in three El Paso County cases in which the court granted Charles Alexander Robertson's requests to seal criminal records. We consolidated the cases for purposes of appeal.

         ¶ 2 We address a novel question: Where a statute prohibits a court from sealing criminal records until ten years have passed since the disposition of the criminal proceedings, may the parties waive this requirement and thereby authorize the court to seal the records earlier? Our answer is "no." As a result, we vacate the orders in case numbers 16CV30755 and 16CV30753. Additionally, because the existing record is not sufficient to support the order in case number 16CV30754, we reverse that order and remand that case for further proceedings.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         ¶ 3 In 2014, Robertson was charged in three separate cases with (1)misdemeanor menacing (case number 14CR4601); (2)consumption of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia (case number 14M6691); and (3) consumption and possession of alcohol by a person under twenty-one (case number 14M6040). The prosecution offered Robertson a global plea agreement to resolve all three cases. Under the agreement, he would plead guilty to the menacing charge and receive a deferred judgment lasting one year. The drug and alcohol cases would be dismissed. The agreement also specified that he could seal the records of all three cases. A boilerplate clause waiving his right to seal the menacing case was crossed out and, under each clause dismissing the drug and alcohol cases, the prosecutor handwrote, "The Defendant can petition to seal this case, " followed by the prosecutor's initials.

         ¶ 4 Robertson accepted the agreement and pleaded guilty to the menacing charge. The district court accepted his plea and the deferred judgment in the menacing case, and the court dismissed the other cases.

         ¶ 5 After Robertson completed the deferred judgment in the menacing case, his guilty plea was withdrawn, and the case was dismissed. He then petitioned to seal the records in all three cases under section 24-72-702, C.R.S. 2016.[1]

         ¶ 6 The district court, through its magistrate, held a hearing. Robertson did not testify, but the prosecutor who drafted the plea agreement did testify (though she had left the district attorney's office by that time). The former prosecutor explained that she had intended the agreement to permit Robertson to seek sealing of the records in all three cases upon his completion of the deferred judgment in the menacing case. The court credited her testimony and ultimately found that the harm to Robertson from not sealing the records outweighed the public interest in keeping the records open. The court thus granted his petitions to seal the records in all three cases.

         II. The Drug and Alcohol Cases

         ¶ 7 Robertson's drug and alcohol cases - case numbers 14M6691 and 14M6040 - were dismissed under the global plea agreement.[2]The prosecution contends that the district court could not grant Robertson's petitions to seal the records in those cases because section 24-72-702(1)(a)(III)(A) prohibits such sealing until at least ten years have passed. Robertson acknowledges that the statute imposes a ten-year waiting period applicable to the drug and alcohol cases and that the requisite ten years had not yet elapsed at the time of his petitions. He argues, however, that the parties waived this statutory requirement in the plea agreement.

         ¶ 8 The prosecution denies that it intended to waive this statutory requirement. The prosecution also maintains that this requirement cannot be waived in any event. Because we agree with the prosecution's second point, we need not resolve the parties' dispute about the meaning of the plea agreement.

         A. Standard of Review

         ¶ 9 We review for an abuse of discretion a district court's order sealing a criminal record. R.J.Z. v. People, 104 P.3d 278, 280 (Colo.App. 2004). A district court abuses its discretion if its findings and conclusions are "so manifestly against the weight of evidence in the record as to compel a contrary result, " or when the court applies an inappropriate legal standard. Id. (quoting Hytken v. Wake, 68 P.3d 508, 510 (Colo.App. 2002)).

         B. Relevant Statute

         ¶ 10 Section 24-72-702(1)(a)(I) provides that, where a criminal case was "completely dismissed, " a person may petition to seal records in that case. But this permission comes with qualifications. As relevant here, the records "may not be sealed" if the dismissal "occur[red] as part of a plea agreement in a separate case, " unless (1) ten years or more have passed since the final disposition of all criminal proceedings against the person and (2) the person has not ...

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