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,
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.
Facts and Procedural History
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Standard of Review
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.
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 ...