People v. Mountjoy, Court of Appeals No. 13CA1215

Docket NºCourt of Appeals No. 13CA1215
Citation431 P.3d 631
Case DateJune 02, 2016
CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado

431 P.3d 631

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Christopher Anthony MOUNTJOY, Jr., Defendant–Appellant.

Court of Appeals No. 13CA1215

Colorado Court of Appeals, Division III.

Announced June 2, 2016
Rehearing Denied July 21, 2016


Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Brock J. Swanson, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff–Appellee.

Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Jud Lohnes, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant–Appellant.

Opinion by JUDGE WEBB

¶ 1 This sentencing appeal presents a novel question in Colorado—if a trial court sentences in the aggravated range based on facts not found by a jury, can the sentence be affirmed based on harmless error, if the record shows beyond a reasonable doubt that a reasonable jury would have found those facts, had the jury been requested to do so by special interrogatory?1 Many other courts—both federal and state—have answered it in the affirmative. We now join them.

¶ 2 A jury acquitted Christopher Anthony Mountjoy, Jr., of more serious charges, but convicted him of manslaughter, illegal discharge of a firearm (reckless), and tampering with physical evidence. The trial court imposed a sentence in the aggravated range on each count, to be served consecutively. On appeal, he challenges only the aggravated range sentences, primarily under Blakely v. Washington , 542 U.S. 296, 124 S.Ct. 2531, 159 L.Ed.2d 403 (2004). We affirm.

I. Background

¶ 3 As the sergeant-at-arms of a motorcycle club, defendant was responsible for security.

¶ 4 According to the prosecution's evidence, the victim was involved in a fight on the club's premises. The victim discovered that his wallet was missing shortly after leaving. Then he and a companion drove around

431 P.3d 634

the area pondering whether to return and demand the wallet.

¶ 5 Defendant saw the car and fired eight shots as it drove away. Two bullets hit the car, one of which killed the victim. After the shooting, defendant directed other club members to "clean up" the area where the shooting occurred, and he deleted text messages related to the shooting from his cell phone.

II. Blakely Issues

¶ 6 Defendant first contends each of his aggravated range sentences violated Apprendi v. New Jersey , 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), and Blakely . But even assuming that they did, how should we deal with the overwhelming evidence of guilt? We conclude that based on this evidence, a jury would have found the facts on which the trial court relied in imposing aggravated range sentences. And for this reason, we further conclude that Apprendi / Blakely error, if any, was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

A. Additional Background

¶ 7 The trial court enhanced defendant's sentences for each of his three convictions under section 18–1.3–401(6), C.R.S. 2015. This section permits a trial court to impose a sentence above a presumptive range if the court makes specific findings of extraordinary aggravating circumstances. See generally People v. Kitsmiller , 74 P.3d 376, 379–80 (Colo. App. 2002) (describing process by which trial court can enhance sentence beyond the presumptive range under section 18–1.3–401(6) ).

• The court found that the manslaughter conviction was extraordinarily aggravated because defendant used a weapon, tampered with evidence, admitted firing his weapon eight times, fired into a car with two people inside, and fired while the car was driving away.

• In finding that the illegal discharge conviction was extraordinarily aggravated, the court explained, "[s]omebody died," and, after the discharge, defendant had tampered with evidence.

• Similarly, the court deemed the tampering count extraordinarily aggravated because someone had died.

¶ 8 Based on these extraordinary aggravating circumstances, the trial court doubled the maximum presumptive range sentence for each conviction and imposed sentences of twelve years for manslaughter, six years for illegal discharge of a weapon, and three years for tampering with evidence. Then the court ordered defendant to serve these sentences consecutively.

B. Preservation and Standard of Review

¶ 9 The Attorney General concedes that defendant preserved his Apprendi / Blakely claim.

¶ 10 An appellate court reviews a constitutional challenge to sentencing de novo. See Lopez v. People , 113 P.3d 713, 720 (Colo. 2005). If the sentencing court committed constitutional error, an appellate court must reverse unless the error is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. See Villanueva v. People , 199 P.3d 1228, 1231 (Colo. 2008).

C. Law

¶ 11 "Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Apprendi , 530 U.S. at 490, 120 S.Ct. 2348. The "statutory maximum" for Apprendi purposes is "the maximum sentence a judge may impose solely on the basis of the facts reflected in the jury verdict or admitted by the defendant ." Blakely , 542 U.S. at 303, 124 S.Ct. 2531.

¶ 12 Applying Apprendi and Blakely , our supreme court has identified four types of facts that may constitutionally increase a defendant's sentence beyond the statutory maximum:

(1) facts found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) facts admitted by the defendant; (3) facts found by a judge after the defendant stipulates to judicial fact-finding for sentencing purposes; and (4) facts regarding prior convictions.
431 P.3d 635

Lopez , 113 P.3d at 716. The first three types are " Blakely -compliant," while a prior conviction is " Blakely -exempt." See id. at 723.

¶ 13 In Washington v. Recuenco , 548 U.S. 212, 222, 126 S.Ct. 2546, 165 L.Ed.2d 466 (2006), the Supreme Court applied the constitutional harmless error analysis of Neder v. United States , 527 U.S. 1, 15, 119 S.Ct. 1827, 144 L.Ed.2d 35 (1999), to a Blakely sentencing error. The Court explained that the sentencing error before it was indistinguishable from the instructional error in Neder because "sentencing factors, like elements ... have to be tried to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Recuenco , 548 U.S. at 220, 126 S.Ct. 2546. Specifically, in both cases, the trial judge, rather than the jury, had found the omitted element or aggravating factors. See Medina v. People , 163 P.3d 1136, 1142 n. 6 (Colo. 2007). But no Colorado appellate decision has applied harmless error analysis in this context.

¶ 14 In cases decided both before and after Recuenco , a majority of the federal circuits have held Apprendi/ Blakely error harmless if the record shows beyond a reasonable doubt that a jury would have found the fact or facts relied on to aggravate, had the jury been asked to do so. See, e.g. , United States v. Mann , 786 F.3d 1244, 1251–52 (10th Cir. 2015) ; United States v. King , 751 F.3d 1268, 1278–80 (11th Cir. 2014) ; United States v. Harakaly , 734 F.3d 88, 95–97 (1st Cir. 2013) ; United States v. Salazar–Lopez , 506 F.3d 748, 752–56 (9th Cir. 2007) ; United States v. Pittman , 418 F.3d 704, 710 (7th Cir. 2005) (applying plain error review but also concluding the error "would fall short under harmless error review as well"); United States v. Matthews , 312 F.3d 652, 665–67 (5th Cir. 2002) ; United States v. Strickland , 245 F.3d 368, 379–81 (4th Cir. 2001) (applying plain error and concluding, "beyond a reasonable doubt, that had the [drug] quantities been submitted to the jury, the jury's verdict would have been the same").

¶ 15 Many state appellate courts have reached the same result. See, e.g. , Campos v. State , 217 So. 3d 1, 8–9, No. CR–13–1782, 2015 WL 9264157, at *6 (Ala. Crim. App. Dec. 18, 2015) ; Lockuk v. State , 153 P.3d 1012, 1017 (Alaska Ct. App. 2007) ; State v. Hampton , 213 Ariz. 167, 140 P.3d 950, 966 (2006) ; Galindez v. State , 955 So.2d 517, 523–24 (Fla. 2007) ; People v. Nitz , 219 Ill.2d 400, 302 Ill.Dec. 418, 848 N.E.2d 982, 995 (2006) (applying plain error); Averitte v. State , 824 N.E.2d 1283, 1288 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005) ; State v. Reyna , 290 Kan. 666, 234 P.3d 761, 773 (2010) ; State v. Ardoin , 58 So.3d 1025, 1044–45 (La. Ct. App. 2011) ; People v. Harper , 479 Mich. 599, 739 N.W.2d 523, 547–49 (2007) ; State v. Dettman , 719 N.W.2d 644, 655 (Minn. 2006) ; State v. Payan , 277 Neb. 663, 765 N.W.2d 192, 204–05 (2009) ; State v. Fichera , 160 N.H. 660, 7 A.3d 1151, 1154 (2010) ; State v. McDonald , 136 N.M. 417, 99 P.3d 667, 669–71 (2004) ; State v. Cuevas , 263 Or.App. 94, 326 P.3d 1242, 1255–56 (2014), aff'd , 358 Or. 147, 361 P.3d 581 (2015) ; State v. Duran , 262 P.3d 468, 473–77 (Utah Ct. App. 2011) ; State v. LaCount , 310 Wis.2d 85, 750 N.W.2d 780, 797–98 (2008).

¶ 16 Defendant's supplemental brief does not cite contrary authority from any jurisdiction.

D. Application

¶ 17 Should we begin by considering whether any of the extraordinary aggravating circumstances the trial court identified in aggravating the sentences is either Blakely -compliant or Blakely -exempt, as "[o]ne Blakely - compliant or Blakely -exempt factor is sufficient to support an aggravated sentence"? Lopez , 113 P.3d at 731. Defendant invites us to do so and argues that we should answer "no" because, while the jury...

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4 practice notes
  • People v. Ambrose, Court of Appeals No. 18CA1557
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • May 6, 2021
    ..., we agree. ¶ 38 "An appellate court reviews a constitutional challenge to sentencing de novo." People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶ 10, 431 P.3d 631, aff'd on other grounds , 2018 CO 92M, 430 P.3d 389. ¶ 39 In Linnebur , ¶ 2, our supreme court held that prior convictions used to elevate a m......
  • People ex rel. M.B., Court of Appeals No. 19CA0760
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • January 23, 2020
    ...also disfavors addressing an as-applied challenge for the first time on appeal." 459 P.3d 773 People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶ 37, 431 P.3d 631 (collecting cases), aff’d on other grounds , 2018 CO 92M, 430 P.3d 389.¶36 For example, the court could have addressed the reasons for and signi......
  • In re People, Court of Appeals No. 16CA0385
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • December 13, 2018
    ...briefly address contentions that do not require further factual development. See id. at 667 ; People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶¶ 36-38, 431 P.3d 631 (citing cases explaining why developed record and findings of fact are necessary to permit appellate review of as-applied constitutional cha......
  • People ex rel. L.C., Court of Appeals No. 15CA1240
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • June 15, 2017
    ...court which states why the evidence ... causes the statute to be unconstitutional as applied."); People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶ 36, 431 P.3d 631 ; People v. Torres , 224 P.3d 268, 273 (Colo. App. 2009) ; People v. Veren , 140 P.3d 131, 140 (Colo. App. 2005) ; cf. People v. Allman , 201......
4 cases
  • People v. Ambrose, Court of Appeals No. 18CA1557
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • May 6, 2021
    ..., we agree. ¶ 38 "An appellate court reviews a constitutional challenge to sentencing de novo." People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶ 10, 431 P.3d 631, aff'd on other grounds , 2018 CO 92M, 430 P.3d 389. ¶ 39 In Linnebur , ¶ 2, our supreme court held that prior convictions used to elevate a m......
  • People ex rel. M.B., Court of Appeals No. 19CA0760
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • January 23, 2020
    ...also disfavors addressing an as-applied challenge for the first time on appeal." 459 P.3d 773 People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶ 37, 431 P.3d 631 (collecting cases), aff’d on other grounds , 2018 CO 92M, 430 P.3d 389.¶36 For example, the court could have addressed the reasons for and signi......
  • In re People, Court of Appeals No. 16CA0385
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • December 13, 2018
    ...briefly address contentions that do not require further factual development. See id. at 667 ; People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶¶ 36-38, 431 P.3d 631 (citing cases explaining why developed record and findings of fact are necessary to permit appellate review of as-applied constitutional cha......
  • People ex rel. L.C., Court of Appeals No. 15CA1240
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • June 15, 2017
    ...court which states why the evidence ... causes the statute to be unconstitutional as applied."); People v. Mountjoy , 2016 COA 86, ¶ 36, 431 P.3d 631 ; People v. Torres , 224 P.3d 268, 273 (Colo. App. 2009) ; People v. Veren , 140 P.3d 131, 140 (Colo. App. 2005) ; cf. People v. Allman , 201......

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