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People v. C.H.

2023 COA 86. No. 21CA1136. Sealing Criminal Conviction and Criminal Justice Records—Sealing Criminal Justice Records Other Than Convictions—Deferred Judgments—Eighth Amendment.

September 28, 2023

C.H. pleaded guilty to harassment (a misdemeanor) pursuant to a plea agreement and pleaded guilty under a deferred judgment to first-degree criminal trespass (a felony). After C.H. completed her deferred judgment, the court dismissed the trespass charge with prejudice. Over a decade later, C.H. moved to seal the records of the two offenses. Without directly addressing the trespass deferred judgment, the trial court concluded that the harassment conviction involved domestic violence pursuant to CRS § 18-6-800.3 and therefore was ineligible for sealing. The trial court denied the motion and C.H.’s subsequent motion for reconsideration.

On appeal, C.H. argued that the trial court erred by denying the motion to seal her records relating to the harassment conviction. She maintained that CRS § 24-72-706(2)(a)(VI)(E) and (2)(b) don’t apply to this conviction because the harassment statute doesn’t reference domestic violence. CRS § 24-72-706 broadly provides for the sealing of conviction records but excepts records concerning criminal convictions for which the underlying factual basis involves domestic violence under CRS § 18-6-800.3. Such records can be sealed only if the offense was a misdemeanor; the district attorney consents to the sealing, or a court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the need for sealing is significant and substantial; the passage of time is such that the defendant is no longer a threat to public safety; and public disclosure of the record is no longer necessary to protect or inform the public. Here, the trial court correctly found that the underlying factual basis in the case constituted an act of domestic violence under CRS § 18-6-800.3, so the conviction fell within domestic violence exclusion. But the court erred the court by not applying CRS § 24-72-706(2)(b), which allows the records of otherwise-excluded misdemeanor offenses to be sealed if the court finds that the requisite criteria have been proved by clear and convincing evidence. Further, because the harassment conviction was entered in the same case as a deferred judgment, the court of appeals had to consider the impact of the deferred judgment on C.H.’s potential right to have any of the records from the case sealed.

C.H. also argued that the records relating to the trespass deferred judgment should be sealed, regardless of the outcome of her request to seal the records of the harassment conviction, because she successfully completed her deferred judgment and the trespass charge was dismissed. CRS § 24-72-703(12)(a)(I) allows for the sealing of “conviction” records only if the records of all defendant’s convictions in the case may be sealed, and CRS § 24-72-705(1)(a)(IV) provides for the sealing of deferred judgment records only when the defendant completes the deferred judgment and sentence and all counts are dismissed. The court initially concluded that the term “conviction” in the sealing statutes doesn’t include a successfully completed deferred judgment, so the CRS § 24-72-703(12)(a)(I) limitation regarding “convictions” doesn’t apply to successfully completed deferred judgments. Here, because not all counts in this case were dismissed, the records relating to the deferred judgment aren’t eligible for sealing. But the records of the harassment conviction may be sealed if the trial court finds that the CRS § 24-72-706(2)(b) criteria are satisfied.

C.H. also contended that, under the Eighth Amendment, limiting the sealing of criminal records constitutes punishment and that it is cruel and unusual to disallow the sealing of a deferred judgment when the defendant was convicted of an offense in the same case. The Court rejected this argument because C.H. provided no authority to directly support her position.

The order was affirmed to the extent that it denied the request to seal records of the trespass deferred judgment. The order was reversed to the extent that it denied the request to seal records of the harassment conviction, and the case was remanded for the trial court to consider and make findings on the request to seal the records of the harassment conviction pursuant to CRS § 24-72-706(2)(b).

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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