Vega v. People, No. 93SC670

Docket NºNo. 93SC670
Citation893 P.2d 107
Case DateApril 03, 1995
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

Page 107

893 P.2d 107
Juan Cruz VEGA, Petitioner,
v.
The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.
No. 93SC670.
Supreme Court of Colorado,
En Banc.
April 3, 1995.
Rehearing Denied April 24, 1995.

Page 109

David F. Vela, State Public Defender, David M. Furman, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, for petitioner.

Gale A. Norton, Atty. Gen., Stephen K. ErkenBrack, Chief Deputy Atty. Gen., Timothy M. Tymkovich, Sol. Gen., John Daniel Daily, Deputy Atty. Gen., Robert Mark Russel, First Asst. Atty. Gen., Wendy J. Ritz, Asst. Atty. Gen., Crim. Enforcement Section, Denver, for respondent.

Justice MULLARKEY delivered the Opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari to review People v. Vega, 870 P.2d 549 (Colo.App.1993). 1 In Vega, the court of appeals affirmed a judgment of conviction entered upon a jury verdict finding the petitioner, Juan Cruz Vega (Vega), guilty of possession with intent to distribute more than 28 grams of cocaine 2 and guilty as a special offender for introducing, distributing or importing a controlled substance into Colorado. 3 Vega asserts that the trial court denied him due process of law and the right to trial by jury in disallowing his affirmative defense to the special offender charge. He also contends that the trial court committed reversible error in excluding evidence of internal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) incentives for conviction of drug offenders. 4 We disagree and affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

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I.

The charges in this case were brought against Vega and two co-defendants, Charlie Cotto Aponte (Aponte) and Joe Garcia-Rodan (Garcia-Rodan), based on the sale of three kilograms of cocaine to drug enforcement officers on January 14, 1991. The sale was the culminating event of an investigation by the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office and the DEA. The investigation began in the fall of 1990 when the two agencies were contacted by John Anderson (Anderson) who was facing charges in Jefferson County and in Nevada. In exchange for a reduction of the charges against him and for leniency in sentencing, Anderson offered to cooperate with officials in obtaining the arrest and conviction of drug traffickers with whom he had contacts.

As part of the investigation, Anderson went to California and arranged for the sale and delivery of cocaine to Colorado through Aponte, his drug contact in California. In the course of arranging the deal, Aponte introduced Anderson to Vega. Negotiations with Aponte continued through January 13, 1991, when Aponte called Anderson to tell him that he had arranged the deal.

On January 14th the deal was finalized. That evening Anderson, Aponte, Garcia-Rodan and Vega flew to Denver with the cocaine. DEA agents met the group at the Denver airport and took them to a hotel in Wheat Ridge where the sale of three kilograms of cocaine to the agents was videotaped and Vega and his co-defendants were arrested.

Vega and his co-defendants were charged with distribution of cocaine pursuant to section 18-18-105 and as special offenders pursuant to section 18-18-107. All three defendants were convicted of the charges against them.

Vega asserted entrapment as an affirmative defense to both charges. The trial court refused to instruct the jury that the entrapment defense applied to the special offender charge. It reasoned that the special offender statute did not define a substantive offense, but rather was a sentence enhancement provision to which an affirmative defense did not apply. The trial court also excluded as irrelevant cross-examination testimony concerning internal DEA incentives to promote the arrest and conviction of drug traffickers.

The jury found Vega guilty of distribution of cocaine and returned a special verdict that Vega had imported cocaine into Colorado. Based on the special verdict, the trial court found that Vega was a special offender subject to enhanced sentencing under section 18-18-107 and imposed a sentence of twenty-four years and one day.

On appeal, Vega argued that the trial court's failure to instruct the jury to apply his affirmative defense to the special offender charge denied him due process of law. Furthermore, Vega contended that this evidence was relevant to show the bias of DEA agents and to demonstrate DEA agents' motive to entrap him and thus was improperly excluded in violation of his Confrontation Clause rights.

The court of appeals disagreed and upheld Vega's conviction. It held that the special offender statute did not create a substantive offense but instead was merely a sentence enhancing provision. Vega, 870 P.2d at 552. Consequently, the court held, "no due process concerns are raised ... so long as the defendant receives reasonable notice of the potential for an increased sentence and the prosecution meets its burden of proof as to the aggravating factor alleged if it is contested." Vega, 870 P.2d at 551. The court of appeals also affirmed the trial court's decision to exclude the DEA evidence. Id. at 553.

II.

On petition to this court, Vega first asserts that the trial court denied him due process of law 5 by refusing to instruct the

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jury to apply his defense of entrapment to the special offender charge. Vega argues that the trial court incorrectly interpreted the statute as a sentence enhancing provision to which an affirmative defense did not apply. Furthermore, he contends that this treatment of the special offender statute violates due process limitations on the power of states to define criminal offenses because the provision improperly treats an element of the substantive crime as a sentencing factor. Vega argues that, by failing to apply the affirmative defense to the special offender charge, the trial court reduced the prosecution's burden of proof because the prosecution did not have to disprove the elements of entrapment beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution had to prove only the element of importation into Colorado. We disagree.

Under the Colorado Criminal Code, entrapment only may be asserted as an affirmative defense to "[t]he commission of acts which would otherwise constitute an offense." § 18-1-709, 8B C.R.S. (1986) (emphasis added). 6 The Code states that "[t]he terms 'offense' and 'crime' are synonymous and mean a violation of, or conduct defined by, any state statute for which a fine or imprisonment may be imposed." § 18-1-104(1). Thus, the distinction between statutory provisions that create a substantive offense and "sentence enhancers" which merely impact the degree of punishment imposed is important in this case to the extent it determines the availability of the affirmative defense of entrapment to special offender charges.

Due process guarantees to the criminal defendant that the prosecution must prove every factual element necessary to constitute the crime charged beyond a reasonable doubt before the defendant may be convicted and subjected to punishment. McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, 84, 106 S.Ct. 2411, 2415, 91 L.Ed.2d 67 (1986); In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1072, 25 L.Ed.2d 368 (1970); § 18-1-402 ("No person shall be convicted of any offense unless his guilt thereof is proved beyond a reasonable doubt."). Due process may also require that, when the accused presents an affirmative defense to an offense with which he or she is charged, the prosecution must prove the facts indicating the absence of the defense beyond a reasonable doubt as well as the elements of the offense itself. Compare Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 95 S.Ct. 1881, 44 L.Ed.2d 508 (1975), with Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 97 S.Ct. 2319, 53 L.Ed.2d 281 (1977). In Colorado, the State has assumed the burden of disproving affirmative defenses. Lybarger v. People, 807 P.2d 570, 579 (Colo.1991); § 18-1-407(2) ("If the issue involved in an affirmative defense is raised, then the guilt of the defendant must be established beyond a reasonable doubt as to that issue as well as all other elements of the offense."). Therefore, if the trial court erred in disallowing the defense, it improperly lightened the prosecution's burden of proof.

We first address Vega's contention that the trial court and the court of appeals improperly treated the special offender statute as a sentence enhancement provision rather than a substantive offense under Colorado statutory and case law. Because we find that the lower courts correctly classified the statute, we then address whether Colorado's classification violates constitutional due process limitations placed on the state's ability to define criminal offenses. We find that it does not.

A.

Vega argues that the legislature intended for the special offender statute to create a

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substantive offense, not merely act as a sentence enhancing provision. According to Vega, the placement of this provision in the Criminal Code and legislative history indicating that the provision was enacted to combat drug trafficking demonstrate the legislature's intent to create a substantive offense. Furthermore, he asserts that this construction is consistent with our prior case law distinguishing sentence enhancement provisions from provisions defining substantive offenses. We disagree.

In construing statutes, we must give effect to the intent of the legislature by looking first at the language of the statute. Moody v. Corsentino, 843 P.2d 1355, 1370 (Colo.1993). Legislative intent is determined primarily from the plain language of the statute, and if the language of the statute is unclear or ambiguous, from the statute's legislative history. General Electric Co. v. Niemet, 866 P.2d 1361, 1364 (Colo.1994); see City of Aspen v. Meserole, 803 P.2d 950, 953-55 (Colo.1990).

While the appropriate classification of the special offender statute has not been directly before us, 7 we have considered "statutory provisions raising the level of a particular offense from one class of felony to another ... as sentence...

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89 practice notes
  • Linnebur v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 18SC884
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 9 Noviembre 2020
    ...U.S. Const., amend. VI, XIV ; O'Brien , 560 U.S. at 224, 130 S.Ct. 2169 ; Apprendi , 530 U.S. at 476–77, 120 S.Ct. 2348 ; Vega v. People , 893 P.2d 107, 111 (Colo. 1995). Sentencing factors, by contrast, may be proved to a judge at sentencing by a preponderance of the evidence. O'Brien , 56......
  • Medina v. People, No. 04SC167
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 27 Junio 2005
    ...offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1, 5, 114 S.Ct. 1239, 1242, 127 L.Ed.2d 583 (1994); Vega v. People, 893 P.2d 107, 111 (Colo.1995). This does not mean that the government's burden is lessened simply because a juror asks a question which solicits additional rel......
  • City of Thornton v. Bijou Irr. Co., No. 2
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 15 Octubre 1996
    ...concerning the relevant provisions, we rely on that history as more reflective of the intent of the legislature. See Vega v. People, 893 P.2d 107, 112 (Colo.) (legislative intent in enacting a statute is determined primarily from plain language of the statute and secondarily from the statut......
  • People v. Jimenez, No. 04CA1098.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 16 Octubre 2008
    ...of an abuse of that discretion, we will not disturb its rulings. People v. Rodriguez, 914 P.2d 230, 267 (Colo.1996); Vega v. People, 893 P.2d 107, 118 (Colo.1995). While it is constitutional error to limit excessively a defendant's cross-examination of a witness as to the witness's credibil......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
89 cases
  • Linnebur v. People, Supreme Court Case No. 18SC884
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 9 Noviembre 2020
    ...U.S. Const., amend. VI, XIV ; O'Brien , 560 U.S. at 224, 130 S.Ct. 2169 ; Apprendi , 530 U.S. at 476–77, 120 S.Ct. 2348 ; Vega v. People , 893 P.2d 107, 111 (Colo. 1995). Sentencing factors, by contrast, may be proved to a judge at sentencing by a preponderance of the evidence. O'Brien , 56......
  • Medina v. People, No. 04SC167
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 27 Junio 2005
    ...offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1, 5, 114 S.Ct. 1239, 1242, 127 L.Ed.2d 583 (1994); Vega v. People, 893 P.2d 107, 111 (Colo.1995). This does not mean that the government's burden is lessened simply because a juror asks a question which solicits additional rel......
  • City of Thornton v. Bijou Irr. Co., No. 2
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • 15 Octubre 1996
    ...concerning the relevant provisions, we rely on that history as more reflective of the intent of the legislature. See Vega v. People, 893 P.2d 107, 112 (Colo.) (legislative intent in enacting a statute is determined primarily from plain language of the statute and secondarily from the statut......
  • People v. Jimenez, No. 04CA1098.
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • 16 Octubre 2008
    ...of an abuse of that discretion, we will not disturb its rulings. People v. Rodriguez, 914 P.2d 230, 267 (Colo.1996); Vega v. People, 893 P.2d 107, 118 (Colo.1995). While it is constitutional error to limit excessively a defendant's cross-examination of a witness as to the witness's credibil......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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