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Mountjoy v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

November 19, 2018

Christopher Anthony Mountjoy, Jr., Petitioner
v.
The People of the State of Colorado, Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 13CA1215

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Megan Ring, Public Defender Jud Lohnes, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General Brock J. Swanson, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          BOATRIGHT JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Christopher Mountjoy was convicted of reckless manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm, and tampering with physical evidence after he shot and killed V.M. outside of a motorcycle clubhouse. During sentencing, the trial court found that each crime involved extraordinary aggravating circumstances. In doing so, the trial court relied on factual findings that were made by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on the related charges as aggravating factors for the offense for which he was being sentenced. As a result, the trial court doubled the statutory presumptive maximum of each sentence.

         ¶2 Mountjoy appealed his sentences, arguing that aggravating his sentences in this fashion violated his constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004). The court of appeals avoided the question of whether Apprendi and Blakely had been satisfied and concluded that, even assuming they were not satisfied, any error was harmless. We granted certiorari[1] and now affirm on other grounds. We hold that the trial court did not deny Mountjoy his rights to due process and trial by jury when it relied on facts found by the jury beyond a reasonable doubt on charges related to the offenses for which the aggravated sentences were imposed. Therefore, we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals on different grounds.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 This case arises from a shooting outside of a Sin City Disciples motorcycle clubhouse. On the night of the shooting, Mountjoy was working as the club's security. The victim of the shooting, V.M., participated in a fight and, as a result, was forced to leave the clubhouse. V.M. drove off with a friend, but they returned to the clubhouse shortly thereafter to reportedly retrieve a wallet he lost during the fight. In returning, the friend parked the car outside the clubhouse with the engine idling. Mountjoy testified that he was concerned that the victim had returned to retaliate. At that point Mountjoy fired eight shots in the direction of the car. As the shots were fired, the car drove away from Mountjoy. One of the fired shots struck and killed V.M. Following the shooting, Mountjoy directed other members of the club to clean up the area, and he deleted text messages from his phone that mentioned the shooting. Subsequently, the People charged Mountjoy with first-degree murder after deliberation, first-degree extreme indifference murder, robbery, illegal discharge of a weapon, and tampering with physical evidence.

         ¶4 At trial, Mountjoy was found guilty of (1) reckless manslaughter (the lesser included offense to first-degree murder after deliberation and first-degree extreme indifference murder), (2) illegal discharge of a firearm, and (3) tampering with physical evidence. In sentencing Mountjoy, the trial court determined that there were extraordinary aggravating circumstances that warranted doubling the maximum presumptive range sentence for each of Mountjoy's three convictions under section 18-1.3-401(6), C.R.S. (2018). Specifically, the court found that the reckless manslaughter conviction was extraordinarily aggravated because Mountjoy used a weapon, tampered with evidence, admitted to firing eight shots, fired into a car with two occupants, and fired while the car was driving away. Furthermore, the court found that the illegal discharge conviction was extraordinarily aggravated because somebody died and Mountjoy tampered with evidence. Finally, the court found that the tampering count was extraordinarily aggravated because somebody died. By aggravating the sentences, the trial court sentenced Mountjoy to twelve years in prison for the reckless manslaughter charge, six years in prison for the illegal discharge of the firearm charge, and three years in prison for the tampering with physical evidence charge, each to be served consecutively, for a total of twenty-one years in prison.

         ¶5 Mountjoy appealed the aggravated sentences, arguing, among other things, that his constitutional rights to due process and a jury trial under Blakely and Apprendi had been violated because the trial court had issued aggravated sentences for each count based on facts that the jury had not specifically found in connection with those particular counts.

         ¶6 The court of appeals upheld the enhanced sentences. People v. Mountjoy, 2016 COA 86, ¶ 55, ___ P.3d ___. The majority held that even if the trial court's actions violated Blakely and Apprendi, the error was harmless because the jury would have found the facts necessary to aggravate each count specifically in connection with each count had it been asked to do so. Id. at ¶ 1. In a special concurrence, Judge Jones argued that no Blakely/Apprendi error had occurred. Id. at ¶¶ 57-68. We granted certiorari and now affirm the court of appeals' judgment on different grounds.

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶7 We review legal questions and constitutional challenges to sentencing schemes de novo. Misenhelter v. People, 234 P.3d 657, 660 (Colo. 2010); Lopez v. People, 113 P.3d 713, 720 (Colo. 2005).

         III. Analysis

         ¶8 We begin by examining Mountjoy's sentencing and Colorado's aggravated sentencing scheme. Next, we discuss the constitutionality of aggravated sentencing schemes under Blakely and Apprendi, and how Colorado's scheme has been implemented to satisfy constitutional requirements. Finally, we conclude that each of Mountjoy's aggravated sentences are Blakely-compliant and therefore did not deny him his rights to due process and trial by jury.

          A. Colorado's Aggravating Circumstances Scheme

         ¶9 Colorado's felony sentencing statute, section 18-1.3-401, provides sentencing ranges for a trial court, and such ranges are premised on the specific class of felony for which a defendant is convicted. In this case, Mountjoy was convicted of three offenses:

(1) Reckless manslaughter, a class four felony with a presumptive range of two to six years imprisonment;
(2) Illegal discharge of a firearm, a class five felony with a presumptive range of one to three years imprisonment; and
(3) Tampering with physical evidence, a class six felony with a presumptive range of one year to eighteen months imprisonment.

         ¶10 A trial court, however, may sentence a defendant in excess of the presumptive range if the court concludes that extraordinary aggravating circumstances are present. In that instance, the trial court can impose a sentence greater than the maximum in the presumptive range; except that in no case shall the term of the sentence exceed twice the maximum authorized in the presumptive range. See § 18-1.3-401(6). Thus, the trial court here was authorized under section 18-1.3-401(6) to sentence Mountjoy to twelve years for reckless manslaughter, six years for illegal discharge of a firearm, and three years for tampering with physical evidence. The trial court's implementation of section 18-1.3-401(6), however, must have comported with the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees, among other rights, the right to a trial by an impartial jury.

         B. The Constitutionality of Colorado's Aggravating Circumstances Scheme

         ¶11 In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Apprendi, which held that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial prohibits courts from enhancing criminal sentences beyond the statutory maximum based on facts other than those found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. 530 U.S. at 490. The Apprendi Court noted a narrow exception to the jury-finding requirement-the fact of a prior conviction. Id.

         ¶12 Four years later, the Court applied Apprendi in the context of an aggravated sentencing guideline analogous to our section 18-1.3-401(6) in Blakely. 542 U.S. at 299, 301. Although the statute in Blakely did not specifically use the term "aggravating circumstances," it was functionally equivalent, providing that "[a] judge may impose a sentence above the standard range if he finds 'substantial and compelling reasons justifying an exceptional sentence.'" 542 U.S. at 299 (quoting Wash. Rev. Code § 9.94A.120(2) (2000)). In Blakely, the defendant pleaded guilty to the crime charged, and the judge, believing that the crime had been committed with "deliberate ...


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