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Johnson v. People.

2023 CO 7. No. 21SC665. Statutory Interpretation—Waiver—Forfeiture—Plain Error—Plain Meaning—Jury Instructions—Constitutional Vagueness—Sufficiency of the Evidence.

February 6, 2023

Johnson was convicted under CRS § 18-12-111(1) of unlawfully purchasing a firearm “for transfer to” a man she identified as her common law husband, who was legally prohibited from possessing a firearm. The statute provides that “[a]ny person who knowingly purchases . . . a firearm . . . for transfer to a person who the transferor knows or reasonably should know is ineligible to possess a firearm pursuant to federal or state law commits a class 4 felony.” On appeal, Johnson asserted that the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to prove that her conduct constituted a “transfer” under the statute because she merely made the gun available to the transferee. She also challenged the statute as unconstitutionally vague on its face and as applied to her.

A division of the court of appeals held that the statute’s use of the term “transfer” includes temporary transfers and, based on that definition, the evidence was sufficient to sustain the conviction. The division also concluded that Johnson waived her constitutional challenges.

The Supreme Court held that the term “transfer,” as used in CRS § 18-12-111(1), includes temporary transfers and the shared use of a firearm. Thus, the evidence was sufficient to sustain defendant’s conviction. The Court also concluded that although Johnson didn’t waive her constitutional challenges, she forfeited them. However, because there had not previously been a legal definition of “transfer,” any error in failing to further define the term for the jury wasn’t obvious and doesn’t warrant reversal for plain error. The Court therefore affirmed the division’s judgment.

Official Colorado Supreme Court proceedings can be found at the Colorado Supreme Court website.

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