People v. Rojas, Supreme Court Case No. 18SC225

Docket NºSupreme Court Case No. 18SC225
Citation450 P.3d 719
Case DateOctober 15, 2019

450 P.3d 719

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
v.
Brooke E. ROJAS, Respondent.

Supreme Court Case No. 18SC225

Supreme Court of Colorado.

October 15, 2019
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing November 4, 2019


Attorneys for Petitioner: Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Kevin E. McReynolds, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado

Attorneys for Respondent: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender, Rachel K. Mercer, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado

En Banc

JUSTICE HOOD delivered the Opinion of the Court.

¶1 Brooke E. Rojas received food stamp benefits to which she was not legally entitled. The prosecution charged her with two counts of theft under the general theft statute, section 18-4-401(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Rojas moved to dismiss these charges, arguing that she could only be prosecuted under section 26-2-305(1)(a), C.R.S. (2019), because it created the specific crime of theft of food stamps. The trial court denied the motion, and a jury convicted Rojas of the two general theft counts.

¶2 Rojas contends that the trial court erred by denying the motion to dismiss because section 26-2-305(1)(a) abrogated the general theft statute in food stamp benefit cases. A split division of the court of appeals agreed with her.

¶3 We disagree with Rojas and the division majority. Based on the statute’s plain language, we hold that the legislature didn’t create a crime separate from general theft by enacting section 26-2-305(1)(a).

I. Facts and Procedural History

¶4 The relevant facts unfolded over the course of a year. In August 2012, Rojas applied for food stamp benefits from the Larimer County Department of Human Services ("the Department") because she had no income. She received a recertification letter in December, which she submitted in mid-January, stating that she still had no income. And technically that was true. Rojas had started a new job on January 1, but she

450 P.3d 721

hadn’t yet received a paycheck when she submitted her recertification letter. Consequently, Rojas and her family received $1,052 per month in food stamp benefits even though they were ineligible.

¶5 Fast forward to August 2013 when Rojas reapplied for food stamp benefits. Although she was still working, she reported that she had no income. When the Department checked Rojas’s employment status, it learned that she was not only employed, but making some $55,000 a year (to help support a family of seven). After some more digging, the Department determined that Rojas had received $5,632 in benefits to which she was not legally entitled.

¶6 The prosecution charged Rojas with two counts of theft (for two time periods) under section 18-4-401(1)(a), the general theft statute. Rojas moved to dismiss the charges, asserting that she could only be prosecuted under section 26-2-305(1)(a) because it created the specific crime of theft of food stamps. The court denied the motion, and a jury found Rojas guilty of the two general theft charges. (Rojas had requested that the jury also be instructed on the lesser non-included offense of fraud in connection with obtaining food stamps. The jury convicted her of that, too.)

¶7 Rojas appealed. Applying the factors from People v. Bagby , 734 P.2d 1059, 1062 (Colo. 1987), a split division of the court of appeals concluded that "the General Assembly intended section 26-2-305 to supplant the general theft statute." See People v. Rojas , 2018 COA 20, ¶ 38, ––– P.3d ––––. It then held that "the prosecution was barred from prosecuting Rojas under the general theft statute" and vacated her theft convictions. Id.

¶8 Judge Richman dissented. He concluded that section 26-2-305(1)(a) didn’t create a separate crime for theft of food stamps. He noted that "[n]either the title nor the text of the statute names a separate crime." Rojas , ¶ 46 (Richman, J., dissenting). He cited the statute’s legislative history for further support of this interpretation. Id. at ¶¶ 47–48. Finally, he engaged in a Bagby analysis, concluding that the first factor—invocation of the full extent of the state’s police powers—had not been met. Id. at ¶¶ 51–53.

¶9 We granted the People’s petition for certiorari review.1

II. Analysis

¶10 After briefly discussing the standard of review, we interpret section 26-2-305(1)(a). We evaluate whether the legislature intended to create a separate crime by enacting this statute. We conclude that it did not. Finally, we explain that a Bagby analysis is unnecessary because it’s a tool that courts use to determine legislative intent when a statute is ambiguous, and here we conclude that the intent is clear from section 26-2-305(1)(a) ’s plain language.

A. Standard of Review

¶11 We review de novo issues of statutory interpretation, such as those here. McCoy v. People , 2019 CO 44, ¶ 37, 442 P.3d 379, 389. In interpreting statutes, our primary goal is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature’s intent. Id. To do so, we look first to the statute’s plain language, giving words and phrases their plain and ordinary meanings. Id. We may not add or subtract words from the statute, but instead read the words and phrases in context, construing them according to the rules of grammar and common usage. Id. at ¶¶ 37–38, 442 P.3d at 389 ; People v. Diaz , 2015 CO 28, ¶ 12, 347 P.3d 621, 624.

¶12 We also read the legislative scheme as a whole, giving consistent, harmonious, and sensible effect to all of its parts and avoiding an interpretation that would render any words or phrases superfluous or lead to an illogical or absurd result. McCoy , ¶ 38, 442 P.3d at 389. If the statute is clear and unambiguous, we need not resort to further aids of construction. Id.

450 P.3d 722

B. Under the Plain Language, Section 26-2-305(1)(a) Does Not Create a Separate Crime

¶13 From our perspective, the crucial language of section 26-2-305(1)(a) is "commits the crime of theft." Viewed in context, we see that the legislature has provided in relevant part that

[a]ny person who obtains ... [food stamp benefits to which they are not legally entitled] ... by means of a willfully false statement or representation ... with intent to defeat the purposes of the food stamp
...

To continue reading

Request your trial
11 practice notes
  • Rojas v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 22, 2022
    ...for a new trial.1 I. Facts and Procedural History¶5 This is the second time we have reviewed this case. See People v. Rojas, 2019 CO 86M, 450 P.3d 719 (" Rojas I "). Brooke Rojas was convicted of two counts of theft based on her improper receipt of food stamp benefits.¶6 Rojas ini......
  • Rojas v. People, 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 21, 2022
    ...a new trial.[1] 5 I. Facts and Procedural History ¶5 This is the second time we have reviewed this case. See People v. Rojas, 2019 CO 86M, 450 P.3d 719 ("Rojas I"). Brooke Rojas was convicted of two counts of theft based on her improper receipt of food stamp benefits. ¶6 Rojas ini......
  • People v. Rojas, Court of Appeals No. 15CA0126
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 9, 2020
    ...of theft of food stamps by a fraudulent act "by enacting section 26-2-305(1)(a)." People v. Rojas , 2019 CO 86M, ¶ 3, 450 P.3d 719. Thus, it reversed the division's opinion and remanded the case to our court "to consider any unresolved issues raised by Rojas on direct appeal.......
  • People v. Dominguez, Court of Appeals No. 20CA0081
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • May 27, 2021
    ...statute limit the crimes specifically "as defined in" the relevant Colorado statute. See People v. Rojas , 2019 CO 86M, ¶ 25, 450 P.3d 719 (discussing the legislative use of "as defined in," as opposed to "as described in," and concluding that the latter does n......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
11 cases
  • Rojas v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 22, 2022
    ...for a new trial.1 I. Facts and Procedural History¶5 This is the second time we have reviewed this case. See People v. Rojas, 2019 CO 86M, 450 P.3d 719 (" Rojas I "). Brooke Rojas was convicted of two counts of theft based on her improper receipt of food stamp benefits.¶6 Rojas initially app......
  • Rojas v. People, 20SC399
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 21, 2022
    ...a new trial.[1] 5 I. Facts and Procedural History ¶5 This is the second time we have reviewed this case. See People v. Rojas, 2019 CO 86M, 450 P.3d 719 ("Rojas I"). Brooke Rojas was convicted of two counts of theft based on her improper receipt of food stamp benefits. ¶6 Rojas initially app......
  • People v. Rojas, Court of Appeals No. 15CA0126
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 9, 2020
    ...a separate crime" of theft of food stamps by a fraudulent act "by enacting section 26-2-305(1)(a)." People v. Rojas , 2019 CO 86M, ¶ 3, 450 P.3d 719. Thus, it reversed the division's opinion and remanded the case to our court "to consider any unresolved issues raised by Rojas on direct appe......
  • People v. Dominguez, Court of Appeals No. 20CA0081
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • May 27, 2021
    ...Nor does the statute limit the crimes specifically "as defined in" the relevant Colorado statute. See People v. Rojas , 2019 CO 86M, ¶ 25, 450 P.3d 719 (discussing the legislative use of "as defined in," as opposed to "as described in," and concluding that the latter does not evince an inte......
  • 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