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Meza v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

April 9, 2018

Carlos Meza, Petitioner:
The People of the State of Colorado. Respondent:

          Certiorari to the District Court, City and County of Denver District Court, City and County of Denver Case No. 14CV33017

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender Kelson Bohnet, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Beth McCann, District Attorney, Second Judicial District Katherine A. Hansen, Deputy District Attorney Denver, Colorado



         ¶1 Meza petitioned for review of the judgment of the district court, sitting as the court of direct appellate review pursuant to the simplified procedure for county court convictions, that affirmed the county court's order granting a motion for additional restitution. See People v. Meza, No. 14CV33017 (Denver Dist. Ct. May 15, 2015). The county court ordered the requested additional amount of restitution, finding that the victim had suffered a loss of $936.85 that was not known to the People or the court at sentencing, when restitution was initially, but not finally, set at $150. On appeal, the district court found that the annotation "RR" on the form guilty plea was sufficient to reserve the final amount of restitution and that the record supported the county court's finding of an additional loss not known at sentencing; and it therefore affirmed the increase as having been sanctioned by section 18-1.3-603(3)(a) of the revised statutes.

         ¶2 Because a judgment of conviction, absent a statutorily authorized order reserving a determination of the final amount of restitution, finalizes any specific amount already set, and because the court ordered no reservation in this case, it lacked the power to increase the amount of restitution it had previously set. The judgment of the district court is therefore reversed, and the case is remanded to the district court with directions to order reinstatement of the $150 restitution order entered prior to judgment of conviction.


         ¶3 Carlos Meza pled guilty on February 13, 2014, pursuant to a plea agreement, to the Class A Traffic Infraction of "Limitations on backing." Although the defendant was present at the providency hearing, his guilty plea consisted merely of acknowledging his reading, understanding, and signing a standardized advisement and plea form, which was presented to the court by the prosecutor, along with an unsigned order for restitution in the amount of $150. The court accepted the plea, fined the defendant $100, ordered restitution in the amount of $150, and signed both the completed advisement and plea form and the restitution order.

         ¶4 On March 11, the People filed a motion for additional restitution, which was opposed by the defendant. Both the People and the defendant made various factual allegations in, and attached various documents to, their pleadings, but at the hearing to determine whether the People's motion for additional restitution was timely, no testimony or other evidence was taken. In addition to legal argument before the trial court, both counsel made a number of further factual allegations concerning the incident, the reasons for the victim's belief that his full damages would be, but were not, paid by the defendant's insurance company, and the plea negotiations.

         ¶5 Defense counsel relied on the written guilty plea and transcript of the providency hearing, as well as email exchanges between himself and the prosecutor, to assert that both counsel understood the plea agreement to limit restitution to the requested $150; that the sentencing court expressly ordered restitution in the amount of $150; and that nowhere did the sentencing court reserve a determination of restitution until some future proceeding, as would have been permitted by section 18-1.3-603. In reliance on the restitution information form submitted by the victim, defense counsel also argued that despite the victim's request for restitution of only $150, the prosecution was clearly aware that the defendant caused $936.85 in damage to the victim's vehicle, and therefore that amount could not constitute an additional loss unknown to either the prosecutor or the court, one of the conditions required by section 603(3)(a) for any increase in the amount of restitution.

         ¶6 Although a factual basis had been waived at the providency hearing, the prosecutor alleged that the defendant backed into the victim's vehicle and despite taking the victim's business card and indicating he would call the next day, the defendant left the scene without exchanging information. She also asserted that the defendant had acted in bad faith throughout, deceiving the victim into believing his damages would be covered by the defendant's insurance company, but after entering his plea, directed the insurance company not to pay. With regard to legal argument, the prosecutor asserted that the "Rule 11" itself demonstrated that the defendant stipulated to liability and to reserve restitution, apparently in reference to the handwritten notation, "Limitations on Backing SL/RR, " following the term "Disposition" at the top of the printed advisement and guilty plea form. She further argued, however, that according to the statute, restitution need not be reserved in order for the prosecution to request an increase in restitution, as long as a victim is seeking additional restitution and a request for that additional restitution falls within the ninety-one day period immediately following the initial order of restitution. With regard to the prosecution's awareness of the loss for which it was seeking an increase in restitution, the prosecutor argued that the loss was unknown because the prosecution was "under the assumption" that the defendant's insurance would take care of it, and therefore the People were initially unaware that a request for this amount would be required.

         ¶7 The county court found that both prosecutor and defense counsel believed $150 would be the cap on restitution, but it also considered that fact to be inconsequential. From the notation on the written guilty plea itself, the court found that restitution was in fact reserved, and therefore the request for additional restitution was timely. It also concluded that the amount of the additionally requested restitution was not previously known. The district court affirmed, similarly finding that restitution was reserved on the "Rule 11" itself, which it held allowed restitution to be determined within ninety-one days following the order of conviction. With regard to the prosecution's awareness of the additional loss, the district court held that although the state was undeniably aware of an amount of $936.85 associated with the offense at the time of the plea, it was not then aware that this amount was the victim's actual loss.

         ¶8 The defendant petitioned this court ...

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