People v. Williams, 98SC109.

Decision Date28 June 1999
Docket NumberNo. 98SC109.,98SC109.
Citation984 P.2d 56
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner, v. David Anthony WILLIAMS, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

As Amended on Denial of Rehearing September 10, 1999.1

Ken Salazar, Attorney General, Barbara McDonnell, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Michael E. McLachlan, Solicitor General, John Daniel Dailey, Deputy Attorney General, Robert Mark Russel, First Assistant Attorney General, Elizabeth Rohrbough, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Enforcement Section, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Petitioner.

David F. Vela, Colorado State Public Defender, Karen N. Taylor, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, Attorneys for Respondent.

Justice HOBBS delivered the Opinion of the Court.

The prosecution challenges the court of appeals published opinion, People v. Williams, 961 P.2d 533 (Colo.App.1997) which held that an information charging a defendant with criminal trespass was deficient because it failed to state the ulterior crime that the defendant allegedly intended to commit. A jury found the defendant, David Williams (Williams), guilty of attempted robbery, first degree criminal trespass, and third degree assault. The trial court entered judgment accordingly. As one of several issues on appeal, Williams challenged the sufficiency of the information, arguing that it provided him with inadequate notice of the offense charged. The court of appeals reversed his conviction for criminal trespass due to a defect in the information. We granted certiorari on two related issues regarding the information.2 We conclude that the information charging Williams with criminal trespass was defective in form, but not in substance. It did not specify the ulterior crime that Williams intended to commit; however, the information recited the statutory elements of the crime of criminal trespass. Because the omission of the ulterior offense was a defect of form, it does not warrant automatic reversal of Williams' conviction. Notably, Williams did not seek a bill of particulars. Moreover, the surrounding circumstances of this case demonstrate that Williams, in the preparation of his case, had adequate notice of the ulterior crimes that the prosecution alleged he had intended to commit. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals' judgment and reinstate Williams' conviction.


On July 18, 1995, Williams and a companion had been drinking alcohol outside of a liquor store in Aurora, Colorado. According to a security guard on duty at the time, the two men had accosted customers in the parking lot. As the victim walked from the liquor store to his car, Williams approached him, asking for spare change. When the victim refused, Williams followed him to his car and attempted to prevent him from closing the car door. Williams reached into the car, hit the victim in the mouth, turned off the ignition, and searched through the victim's pockets and an athletic bag which was sitting on the passenger's seat. Finding nothing of value, Williams left the bag and its contents in the car. Thereafter, Williams' companion approached the passenger's side of the car and delivered several additional blows to the victim's head.

The prosecution charged Williams by information with three counts: attempted robbery,3 first degree criminal trespass,4 and third degree assault.5 The jury found Williams guilty of all three offenses. The information charging Williams with criminal trespass read as follows:

AS A FURTHER AND SECOND COUNT, AND ROBERT S. GRANT, District Attorney as aforesaid, in the name and by the authority of the People of the State of Colorado, further informs the Court that on July 18, 1995 at the said county of Adams in the State of Colorado, DAVID ANTHONY WILLIAMS, did unlawfully, knowingly, and feloniously enter the motor vehicle of another, to-wit: Loren Eisele with the intent to commit a crime therein;
Contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Colorado.

(Emphasis added). Williams did not challenge the sufficiency of the information at any time prior to or during his trial.

On appeal to the court of appeals, Williams challenged the sufficiency of the information. More specifically, Williams challenged the fact that the information failed to specify the ulterior crime in the trespass count. He contends that this omission failed to provide him with the requisite notice required of the charging document.6 The court of appeals reversed Williams' conviction, holding that the information charging him with first degree criminal trespass was fatally deficient.

In doing so, the court of appeals noted the similar language present in both the criminal trespass and the burglary statutes of our state. Criminal trespass, like burglary, requires that the defendant have an intent to commit an ulterior crime. Thus, analogizing these two crimes and relying upon Gomez v. People, 162 Colo. 77, 424 P.2d 387 (1967), and Martinez v. People, 163 Colo. 503, 431 P.2d 765 (1967), the court of appeals held that the information was insufficient, insofar as it failed to adequately apprise the defendant of the ulterior crime he allegedly intended to commit upon entry of the victim's car.

The state argues that the information charging Williams with criminal trespass was sufficient. Alternatively, the state argues that omission of the ulterior crime does not require reversal of Williams' conviction because he did not demonstrate prejudice to his ability to prepare for trial. We hold that the omission of the ulterior crime amounts to a defect of form. Williams could have sought additional specificity through a bill of particulars. He did not seek one. The record demonstrates that he did not suffer prejudice from the trespass count's lack of additional specificity because he had adequate notice of the ulterior offenses the prosecution sought to prove, assault and attempted robbery, in connection with Williams' trespass into the automobile. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstate Williams' conviction. Because Williams did not suffer prejudice as a result of the lack of additional specificity in the criminal trespass count, in light of the surrounding circumstances of the case, we affirm his conviction.


We hold that a criminal trespass count which fails to specify the ulterior crime that the defendant allegedly intended to commit is defective in form, but not in substance. Examination of the record reveals that Williams had notice of the ulterior offense the prosecution sought to prove and, consequently, suffered no prejudice from the criminal trespass count's lack of additional specificity.

A. The Form/Substance Distinction

The first degree criminal trespass statute, section 18-4-502, 8B C.R.S. (1986 & 1993 Supp.) provides:

A person commits the crime of first degree criminal trespass if such person knowingly and unlawfully enters or remains in a dwelling of another or if such person enters any motor vehicle with intent to steal anything of value or with intent to commit a crime therein.

(Emphasis added).7 The information charging Williams with criminal trespass contained the statutory language, "with intent to commit a crime therein," but did not state the specific crime that Williams allegedly intended to commit upon the trespass. Thus, the threshold issue is whether an information charging a defendant with first degree criminal trespass must specify the ulterior crime as a jurisdictional prerequisite. An analysis of precedent, legislative history, and Williams' due process rights lead us to conclude that failure to allege the underlying offense is not substantive error and, therefore, does not require automatic reversal.

An information is a "written statement, signed by the prosecutor and filed in the court having jurisdiction over the offense charged, alleging that a person committed the criminal offense described therein." Crim. P. 7(b)(1). Section 16-5-202(1), 6 C.R.S. (1998), sets forth the requisites of an information:

The information is sufficient if it can be understood therefrom:

(a) That it is presented by the person authorized by law to prosecute the offense;

(b) That the defendant is named therein or described as a person whose name is unknown to the informant;

(c) That the offense was committed within the jurisdiction of the court or is triable therein;

(d) That the offense charged is set forth with such degree of certainty that the court may pronounce judgment upon a conviction.

Rule 7(b)(2) of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure mirrors section 16-5-202(1). When an information satisfies each of these requirements, it invokes jurisdiction of the court. An information serves two vital interests of a constitutional dimension: (1) it provides the defendant with notice of the offense charged, as well as the factual circumstances surrounding the offense so that the defendant can adequately defend him or herself; and (2) it protects the defendant from further prosecution for the same offense. See Cervantes v. People, 715 P.2d 783, 785 (Colo. 1986)

; People v. Albo, 195 Colo. 102, 106, 575 P.2d 427, 429 (1978).

Colorado has followed the modern trend of testing the sufficiency of the information based upon the fundamental objectives the information serves rather than technical pleading requirements of the common law. See Robert J. Dieter, Colorado Criminal Practice and Procedure § 2.10, at 114 (1996). This functional approach mirrors the efforts of the federal criminal code and follows the lead of the Supreme Court. See Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 41 L.Ed.2d 590 (1974)

(noting that a charging document is sufficient if it, "first, contains the elements of the offense charged and fairly informs a defendant of the charge against which he must defend and, second, enables him to plead an acquittal or conviction in bar of...

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