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People v. Halaseh

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Fifth Division

August 9, 2018

The People of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
John M. Halaseh, Defendant-Appellant.

          Prior Opinion Announced July 27, 2017, WITHDRAWN Petitions for Rehearing GRANTED

          El Paso County District Court No. 12CR4638 Honorable Theresa M. Cisneros, Judge

         OPINION PREVIOUSLY ANNOUNCED AS "NOT PUBLISHED PURSUANT TO C.A.R. 35(e)" ON July 27, 2017, IS NOW DESIGNATED FOR PUBLICATION

          Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Kevin E. McReynolds, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellant

          Megan A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Jud Lohnes, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee

          OPINION

          HAWTHORNE, JUDGE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, John M. Halaseh, appeals his conviction for class 3 felony theft. We vacate the judgment and remand the case for entry of four convictions for class 4 felony theft and for correction of the mittimus and to resentence defendant accordingly.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶ 2 Defendant assisted his father in setting up a joint bank account for depositing his father's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks from the Social Security Administration (SSA). One month later, defendant's father left the United States to live in Jordan. He never returned. Though the SSI application and notice of award informed defendant's father that he must report to the SSA if he left the United States for more than thirty days, he never did so.

         ¶ 3 From January 2008 to January 2011, the SSA deposited checks monthly into the joint account, and defendant withdrew the funds to pay for household expenses. When the SSA realized that defendant's father had been outside the country for years, it sent two agents to defendant's home. Defendant confessed to the agents that he knew the funds were "government money" and that it was wrong for him to take them. Later, defendant received a letter from the SSA informing him that $24, 494 had been overpaid to his father.

         ¶ 4 Defendant was charged with a single count of theft of $20, 000 or more from the SSA. At trial, the prosecution introduced an exhibit detailing thirty-seven instances of theft committed by defendant totaling $24, 494. A jury found defendant guilty as charged.

         II. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         ¶ 5 Defendant contends that the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed theft.[1] We disagree.

         A. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         ¶ 6 We review de novo whether evidence is sufficient to support a conviction. People v. Randell, 2012 COA 108, ¶ 29. To determine whether the prosecution presented sufficient evidence, we apply a substantial evidence test that considers "whether the relevant evidence, both direct and circumstantial, when viewed as a whole and in the light most favorable to the prosecution, is substantial and sufficient to support a conclusion by a reasonable mind that the defendant is guilty of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt." Clark v. People, 232 P.3d 1287, 1291 (Colo. 2010) (citation omitted). We "must give the prosecution the benefit of every reasonable inference which may be fairly drawn from the evidence." Id. at 1292.

         ¶ 7 As pertinent here, a defendant commits theft when "he or she knowingly obtains, retains, or exercises control over anything of value of another without authorization or by threat or deception" and "[i]ntends to deprive the other person permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value." § 18-4-401(1)(a), C.R.S. 2017.

         B. Analysis

         ¶ 8 Initially, we reject the People's contention that defendant waived any challenge to whether the funds belonged to the SSA. Even if defendant may have conceded this point in his closing argument, "the prosecution has the burden of establishing a prima facie case of guilt through introduction of sufficient evidence." Clark, 232 P.3d at 1291; see also Randell, ¶ 30 (reasoning that a defendant may raise a sufficiency challenge "without moving for a judgment of acquittal in the trial court").

         ¶ 9 The evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient for a reasonable person to conclude that defendant committed theft. This evidence included the following:

• Within the first month of living with defendant, defendant's father went with defendant's wife to the SSA to apply for SSI.
• The SSI application outlined defendant's father's obligations, including reporting to the SSA if "[y]ou leave the United States for 30 days or more."
• Defendant helped his father establish a joint bank account where his father deposited his first several SSI checks.
• A few weeks before taking his father to Jordan, defendant helped his father set up a direct deposit into the joint bank account.
• Defendant admitted to investigators that he used the SSI checks to pay for various expenses. Bank records showed the funds were deposited into the checking account monthly, and that defendant used the funds for credit card payments, cash withdrawals, and mortgage payments.
• Defendant told investigators he knew the funds were "government money" and that he knew it "wasn't right" to use the funds for ...

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