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Brooks v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

September 9, 2019

Kyle Brooks, Petitioner
v.
The People of the State of Colorado. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 13CA1750

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

          Attorneys for Respondent: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General Christine Brady, Senior Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          BOATRIGHT JUSTICE

         ¶1 After a jury found Kyle Brooks guilty of two felonies, the trial court adjudicated him to be a habitual criminal based on his prior felony convictions, including his guilty plea to theft from a person. As a result, the court sentenced him to twenty-four years in prison. Brooks now claims that his prior theft from a person conviction is constitutionally invalid. Therefore, we must determine if the record establishes by a preponderance of the evidence whether Brooks understood the elements of theft from a person when he previously pleaded guilty. We conclude that it does. Accordingly, we hold that Brooks's prior guilty plea to theft from a person was constitutionally valid, and we affirm the judgment of the court of appeals on different grounds.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2 Brooks was convicted of two class 4 felony counts for victim tampering. The prosecution also sought to adjudicate Brooks a habitual criminal under section 18-1.3-801, C.R.S. (2019), based on Brooks's three prior felony convictions. Brooks, however, asserts that one of those convictions, a 2010 theft conviction obtained through a guilty plea, is constitutionally invalid. Therefore, we need to examine the circumstances surrounding his guilty plea in that case.

         ¶3 In the 2010 case, the People charged Brooks with theft from a person after he and an accomplice stole a purse; Brooks distracted the victim while his accomplice grabbed the purse. Brooks pleaded guilty and waived a factual basis for the crime. But both the charging document and the Rule 11 Advisement form failed to include the requisite mens rea for theft from a person: the intent to permanently deprive the victim of property. Additionally, the trial court did not mention the specific intent element when accepting Brooks's plea. The Rule 11 form, however, did include defense counsel's signed certification to the court that she had "discussed the facts and law applicable to this matter with [Brooks] including the necessary culpable mental state, possible defense(s), and potential penalties." (Emphasis added.)

         ¶4 During the habitual criminal hearing in the present case, Brooks argued that his 2010 theft conviction was constitutionally invalid and it could not serve as a predicate felony for his habitual criminal adjudication. Specifically, he argued that at the time he entered his guilty plea, he had not been informed that theft from a person requires the specific intent to permanently deprive the victim of property. The trial court here disagreed and instead found that Brooks understood what he was pleading guilty to in the 2010 case based on the following: (1) he was represented by competent counsel; (2) he asserted that he understood what he was pleading guilty to; (3) he had previously pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft; and (4) the nature of the crime itself.

         ¶5 The court of appeals affirmed Brooks's habitual criminal sentence, concluding that the facts of the crime as alleged would have informed Brooks that the particular theft in question was one where he intended to permanently deprive the victim of property. People v. Brooks, 2017 COA 80, ¶ 40, P.3d . Brooks then filed a petition for certiorari review, and we granted review of three issues.[1]

         II. Standard of Review

         ¶6 The constitutional validity of a guilty plea is a question of law that we review de novo. Sanchez-Martinez v. People, 250 P.3d 1248, 1254 (Colo. 2011). But we defer to a trial court's findings of fact unless they are unsupported by the record. Id.

         III. Analysis

         ¶7 To determine whether Brooks's guilty plea was valid, we first discuss the requirements of a constitutionally valid guilty plea, including the need to establish that the defendant understood the crime to which he pleaded guilty. Next, we clarify that, to ensure a defendant understands what he is pleading guilty to, a trial court should explain the crime to a degree commensurate with the nature and complexity of that crime. Then, we examine the record to determine if it demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that Brooks understood the charge of theft from a person when ...


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