Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

People v. Stellabotte

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

July 2, 2018

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
v.
John Arthur Stellabotte. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 14CA1954

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General Kevin E. McReynolds, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Law Office of Lynn C. Hartfield, LLC Lynn C. Hartfield Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          HOOD, JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Respondent John Stellabotte owned a towing company that he used to illegally tow cars and then demand payment from the owners. At the time he did this, his thefts constituted a class 4 felony. But before he had been convicted and sentenced, the General Assembly changed the theft statute to make the crime a class 5 felony, with a correspondingly lower sentence. The amendment to the theft statute did not say whether it applied prospectively or retroactively. Without any party bringing this statutory change to the trial court's attention, it sentenced Stellabotte, as relevant here, for two class 4 felony counts under the old theft statute.

         ¶2 Stellabotte appealed, arguing he should have been sentenced for two class 5 felonies under the amended statute. A division of the court of appeals agreed, reversing on this point, albeit in a split opinion. Because the statutory amendment was silent on its application, the majority reasoned that Stellabotte should have received the benefit of its ameliorative effects under section 18-1-410(1)(f), C.R.S. (2017), and a line of cases reaching the same result. Judge Dailey disagreed, reasoning that ameliorative legislation applies only prospectively-under sections 2-4-202 and 2-4-303, C.R.S. (2017), and a different line of cases echoing that principle-unless the General Assembly indicates its intent for the legislation to apply retroactively.

         ¶3 In this opinion, we hold that ameliorative, amendatory legislation applies retroactively to non-final convictions under section 18-1-410(1)(f), unless the amendment contains language indicating it applies only prospectively. In reaching this conclusion, we clarify that our decision in People v. Thomas, 525 P.2d 1136 (Colo. 1974) (allowing retroactive application of ameliorative statutory amendments under section 18-1-410(1)(f)[1]), remains good law and governs here. We further explain that section 18-1-410(1)(f)'s retroactive application for changes in criminal law acts as an exception to the general presumption of prospectivity that sections 2-4-202 and 2-4-303 provide. The division properly concluded that the theft amendment applies retroactively to cases involving convictions that were not final on the effective date of the amendment.

         ¶4 So, we affirm the division's judgment and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶5 John Stellabotte owned and operated a towing company. In 2012, he illegally towed two cars valued between $1, 000 and $20, 000-demanding money from each owner for their return.

         ¶6 The People charged Stellabotte with, among other things, felony theft. At that time, Stellabotte's actions constituted a class 4 felony. But in 2013, the General Assembly amended the theft statute, lowering the classification of theft for items valued between $5, 000 and $20, 000 to a class 5 felony. The 2013 amendment is silent regarding whether it applies prospectively or retroactively. A year after this change, a jury found Stellabotte guilty of aggravated motor vehicle theft, two felony theft counts, and a misdemeanor theft count. And the trial court found Stellabotte to be a habitual offender, sentencing him to a concurrent twenty-four years for the two felony theft counts under the old theft statute.[2]

         ¶7 Neither the People nor Stellabotte brought the 2013 reclassification to the trial court's attention. But had Stellabotte been sentenced under the 2013 theft statute, he would have received twelve years, assuming the trial court sentenced the defendant concurrently.[3] Stellabotte appealed, arguing among other things that he should have received the benefit of the 2013 amendment's reclassification.

         ¶8 In a split, published opinion, a division of the court of appeals agreed, reversing in relevant part. Following People v. Boyd, 2015 COA 109, 395 P.3d 1128 (concluding that although Amendment 64 did not state a clear intent of retroactive application, it nevertheless applied retroactively to the defendant's conviction for possession of marijuana), aff'd on other grounds, 2017 CO 2, 387 P.3d 755, and People v. Russell, 2014 COA 21M, 396 P.3d 71 (same), aff'd on other grounds, 2017 CO 3, 387 P.3d 750, the majority concluded the amendment to the theft statute applied retroactively to Stellabotte's felony theft convictions under section 18-1-410(1)(f) because the amendment was enacted while his case was pending in the trial court. Judge Dailey's dissent reasoned Boyd and Russell are inapposite because those cases concerned a constitutional amendment, not an amended statute. In his view, sections 2-4-202 and 2-4-203 and related precedent foreclose retroactive application of ameliorative criminal legislation unless the General Assembly clearly intends for it to be applied retroactively.

         ¶9 The People appealed and we granted certiorari[4] to review this case and a related case in People v. Patton, 2018 CO 67, P.3d, which we also decide today.

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶10 This case involves questions of statutory interpretation, which we review de novo. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fisher, 2018 CO 39, ¶ 12, 418 P.3d 501, 504.

         III. Analysis

         ¶11 With conflicting precedent and statutes supporting their divergent positions, the parties dispute whether the 2013 amendment to the theft statute applies retroactively. We start with an overview of the applicable cases, and clarify that our decision in People v. Thomas, 525 P.2d 1136 (Colo. 1974) (allowing retroactive application of ameliorative statutory amendments under section 18-1-410(1)(f)), remains good law and governs here. Next, we turn to the conflicting statutes at issue, and we explain why section 18-1-410(1)(f) controls in this case. Finally, we conclude that the theft amendment applies retroactively to cases involving convictions that were not final on the effective date of the amendment.

         A. Thomas Remains Good Law and Governs Here

         ¶12 The theft amendment is silent regarding whether it applies retroactively or prospectively, and the relevant legislative history offers no guidance on this point either. See ch. 373, sec. 1, § 18-4-401(2)(g), 2013 Colo. Sess. Laws 2195, 2195-96, 2202. ¶13 Both parties point to cases from this court that-at first blush-appear to support their sides. One line of cases follows this court's decision in Thomas, which holds defendants should receive the benefit of amendatory legislation that became effective at any time before the conviction became final on appeal. A different, more recent line of cases suggests that a defendant can't receive such a benefit unless the General Assembly clearly indicates its intent for the legislation to apply retroactively. See Riley v. People, 828 P.2d 254 (Colo. 1992).

         ¶14 The People argue that the division erred in concluding that the theft statute's amendments apply retroactively to lessen Stellabotte's sentence. They claim Colorado courts consistently rely on the presumption (articulated in the latter line of cases) that statutes apply prospectively unless the statute expressly states it applies retroactively. Stellabotte disagrees. He contends Thomas applies here and that the more recent cases upon which the People rely are inapposite.

         ¶15 To resolve this case we must delve into our precedent on whether ameliorative statutory changes apply retroactively to benefit criminal defendants ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.