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Walton v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

November 18, 2019

Alysha Walton, Petitioner
v.
The People of the State of Colorado, Respondent

          Certiorari to the District Court El Paso County District Court Case No. 17CV30785 Honorable G. David Miller, Judge.

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender Cayce Duncan, Deputy Public Defender Colorado Springs, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Daniel H. May, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District Alexandra Staubach, Deputy District Attorney Tanya A. Karimi, Deputy District Attorney Colorado Springs, Colorado

          OPINION

          HOOD JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Alysha Walton pled guilty to driving under the influence ("DUI"), and the county court sentenced her to twelve months of unsupervised probation. Because Walton did not provide a medical professional to testify regarding her authorization to use medical marijuana, the court, as a condition of probation, prohibited Walton from using medical marijuana. Walton appealed, and the district court affirmed the county court's decision.

         ¶2 We hold that the plain language of section 18-1.3-204(2)(a)(VIII), C.R.S. (2019) ("the probation conditions statute"), creates a presumption that a defendant may use medical marijuana while serving a sentence to probation unless a statutory exception applies. The relevant exception here applies if the sentencing court finds, based on material evidence, that prohibiting this defendant's otherwise-authorized medical marijuana use is necessary and appropriate to promote statutory sentencing goals. Because the county court made no such findings here, we disapprove of the district court's judgment affirming the county court's decision. (Because the defendant has completed her sentence, reversing and remanding would be pointless.)

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 Walton was pulled over one night for speeding and weaving. The police officers who stopped her smelled alcohol and asked her to submit to roadside sobriety testing. When she failed to perform the maneuvers to the officers' satisfaction, the officers arrested her. She told them she had consumed two alcoholic beverages that night and no other intoxicants. There is no evidence contradicting Walton's assertion that the only intoxicant she had consumed was alcohol. Indeed, the record reveals that the officers didn't even suspect that Walton was under the influence of anything other than alcohol. The results of a chemical test revealed that Walton's breath alcohol content was above the legal limit for driving.

         ¶4 Walton was charged with DUI, DUI per se, and speeding. She pled guilty to the DUI offense and agreed to a deferred judgment and sentence in exchange for dismissal of the other charges. During the presentence alcohol evaluation, Walton informed the probation officer that she had a medical marijuana registry identification card. At the initial sentencing hearing, the county court judge asked if Walton would be requesting permission to use medical marijuana while on probation; if so, the court stated, a medical professional would need to testify on her behalf. Apparently, this judge had a standing policy requiring such testimony if a defendant sought to use medical marijuana while on probation. Counsel indicated that she would seek permission and requested a continuance to secure a medical professional.

         ¶5 At the subsequent sentencing hearing, counsel produced Walton's medical marijuana authorization card and several supporting documents to establish its authenticity but did not produce a medical professional to testify. The court entered Walton's guilty plea and sentenced her to twelve months of unsupervised probation. As a condition of probation, the court prohibited Walton from using medical marijuana.

         ¶6 Walton appealed the prohibition condition. The district court concluded that the county court had not abused its discretion in imposing the prohibition against medical marijuana use as a condition of probation. Walton then petitioned this court to review the district court's decision, and we granted certiorari.[1]

         II. Analysis

         ¶7 After briefly discussing the standard of review, we interpret section 18-1.3-204(2)(a)(VIII). We conclude that the statute's plain language unambiguously creates a presumption that a defendant may use authorized medical marijuana while serving a term of probation. It also creates two exceptions to this presumption, only one of which is relevant here. We address (1) who bears the burden of establishing that exception and (2) what findings the court must make to invoke it.

         A. Mootness and ...


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