People v. Hale, No. 81SA297

Docket NºNo. 81SA297
Citation654 P.2d 849
Case DateDecember 06, 1982
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

Page 849

654 P.2d 849
The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Billy HALE, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 81SA297.
Supreme Court of Colorado,
En Banc.
Dec. 6, 1982.

J.D. MacFarlane, Atty. Gen., Richard F. Hennessey, Deputy Atty. Gen., Mary J. Mullarkey, Sol. Gen., Nathan B. Coats, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for plaintiff-appellee.

J. Gregory Walta, Colo. State Public Defender, Margaret L. O'Leary, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, for defendant-appellant.

ROVIRA, Justice.

This is an appeal from a conviction on two counts of aggravated motor vehicle theft and one of habitual criminal. We reverse in part, affirm in part, and remand for resentencing.

On May 14, 1979, the defendant was charged in a six-count information in the El Paso district court. Counts 1 and 2 charged the defendant with two separate aggravated motor vehicle thefts 1--the theft of a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am on March 12, 1979, and the theft of a 1979 Mercedes Benz 280 on February 2, 1979. Counts 3, 4, and 5 charged the prior convictions of various auto-theft-related crimes for purposes of the enhancement provision of section 18-4-409(3)(b), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl.Vol. 8). Count 6 charged two prior convictions for purposes of the habitual criminal statute. 2

Over the People's objection, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to sever counts 1 and 2. Trial on count 1 was begun on July 23, 1979, and on July 24, the jury found the defendant guilty. Later the same day, the jury found that the defendant had been convicted of two prior felonies for purposes of the habitual criminal charge. On July 25, trial began before a different jury on count 2. The next day the jury returned a guilty verdict, after which counts 3, 4, and 5 were dismissed along with the habitual criminal charge. Defendant's motions for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict as to the habitual criminal conviction, and for new trials as to counts 1 and 2, were denied.

Page 850

On September 28, defendant was sentenced to 25 to 30 years' imprisonment on two counts of aggravated motor vehicle theft and the habitual criminal charge.

The defendant now appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in its instruction to the jury, with respect to count 1, on what constitutes altering or disguising the vehicle under the aggravated motor vehicle theft statute. The defendant also argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress certain testimony, that the habitual criminal statute impermissibly burdened his right to testify in his own behalf at trial on count 1, and that the habitual criminal conviction was improper for a number of reasons. 3

I.

The evidence taken in connection with count 1 indicates that sometime on the afternoon of March 12, 1979, the defendant removed a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am from the used car lot of Daniels Chevrolet in Colorado Springs. Because there were no license plates on the car, the defendant removed a dealer tag belonging to another automobile dealer from an adjacent vehicle on the lot and placed it on the Pontiac. The tag was attached by magnets. A few days later, the car was found abandoned in Boulder.

The defendant's first argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that "[p]utting unconnected license plates on a car is one form of altering or disguising the appearance of that automobile." We agree.

Section 18-4-409(2)(b), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl.Vol. 8), provides that a person commits aggravated motor vehicle theft if he knowingly exercises unauthorized control over a motor vehicle and alters or disguises its appearance. The question before us is whether the defendant's placing an unrelated dealer tag on the stolen vehicle constituted an alteration or disguise of the automobile's appearance. 4

As a threshold matter, we note that not every act that alters the appearance of a vehicle is an aggravating factor falling within the purview of the statute. An extreme example is that washing and waxing an automobile does, and is intended to, alter its appearance. A literal interpretation would produce an absurd result clearly not contemplated by the legislature. See section 2-4-201(1)(c), C.R.S.1973 (1980 Repl.Vol. 1B). Consequently we must attempt to discern the legislative intent. People v. Silvola, 190 Colo. 363, 547 P.2d 1283, cert. denied sub nom. Silvola v. Colorado, 429 U.S. 886, 97 S.Ct. 238, 50 L.Ed.2d 167 (1976).

An elementary canon of statutory construction is that in order to ascertain the intent of the legislature the statute in question must be read as a whole. R & F Enterprises, Inc. v. Board of County Commissioners, 199 Colo. 137, 606 P.2d 64 (1980); People ex rel. Dunbar v. Trinidad State Junior College, 184 Colo. 305, 520 P.2d 736 (1974). Moreover, criminal statutes are to be strictly construed in favor of a defendant. Van Gerpen v. Peterson, Colo., 620 P.2d 714 (1980); People v. Roybal, Colo., 618 P.2d 1121 (1980); Bailey v. People, 200 Colo. 549, 617 P.2d 549 (1980).

Section 18-4-409(2), as it existed at the time of the offenses charged, specified five ways that aggravated motor vehicle theft might be committed. The statute read as follows:

"(2) A person commits aggravated motor vehicle theft if he knowingly obtains or exercises control over the motor vehicle of another without authorization or by threat or deception and:

(a) Retains possession or control of the motor vehicle for more than seventy-two hours; or

Page 851

(b) Attempts to alter or disguise or alters or disguises the appearance of the motor vehicle; or

(c) Attempts to alter or remove or alters or removes the vehicle identification number; or

(d) Uses the motor vehicle in the commission of a crime other than a traffic offense; or

(e) Causes five hundred dollars or more property damage in the exercise of control of the motor vehicle."

With the exception of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
30 practice notes
  • People v. McCullough, No. 99SA317.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • July 3, 2000
    ...it is presumed that the legislature intended to change the law. See Robles v. People, 811 P.2d 804, 806 (Colo.1991); People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 851 With these guidelines in mind, we look now to the statute in question. As noted above, section 17-2-201(5)(f)(I)(D) was added to the parole ......
  • People v. Davis, No. 87SA288
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 14, 1990
    ...sections are added to a general section. In such a case, the legislature may intend to clarify the existing statute. People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 851 (Colo.1982); see also Sands, Sutherland on Statutes and Statutory Construction § 22.30 (4th Ed.1985 Rev.). Here, the legislature's addition ......
  • Yarbro v. Hilton Hotels Corp., No. 80SA274
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • December 13, 1982
    ...of damages for wrongful death. 2 When a statute is amended, there Page 830 is a presumed intent to change the law. People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849 (S.Ct.1982). Since 1877, damages for wrongful death in Colorado have been treated separately from damages for injury to person or property. Section......
  • People v. Davis, No. 07CA0595.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • December 24, 2008
    ...65 (Colo. App.2007) (cert. granted June 30, 2008). Penal "statutes are to be strictly construed in favor of a defendant." People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 850 (Colo.1982). However, this rule should not be used to defeat the intent of the General Assembly. Rickstrew v. People, 822 P.2d 505 (Col......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • People v. McCullough, No. 99SA317.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • July 3, 2000
    ...it is presumed that the legislature intended to change the law. See Robles v. People, 811 P.2d 804, 806 (Colo.1991); People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 851 With these guidelines in mind, we look now to the statute in question. As noted above, section 17-2-201(5)(f)(I)(D) was added to the parole ......
  • People v. Davis, No. 87SA288
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • May 14, 1990
    ...sections are added to a general section. In such a case, the legislature may intend to clarify the existing statute. People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 851 (Colo.1982); see also Sands, Sutherland on Statutes and Statutory Construction § 22.30 (4th Ed.1985 Rev.). Here, the legislature's addition ......
  • Yarbro v. Hilton Hotels Corp., No. 80SA274
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • December 13, 1982
    ...of damages for wrongful death. 2 When a statute is amended, there Page 830 is a presumed intent to change the law. People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849 (S.Ct.1982). Since 1877, damages for wrongful death in Colorado have been treated separately from damages for injury to person or property. Section......
  • People v. Davis, No. 07CA0595.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • December 24, 2008
    ...65 (Colo. App.2007) (cert. granted June 30, 2008). Penal "statutes are to be strictly construed in favor of a defendant." People v. Hale, 654 P.2d 849, 850 (Colo.1982). However, this rule should not be used to defeat the intent of the General Assembly. Rickstrew v. People, 822 P.2d 505 (Col......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT