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People v. Castillo.

2022 COA 20. No. 19CA0754.  Sentencing—Equal Protection—Extreme Indifference Murder—Age at Time of Offense—Proportionality Review.

February 17, 2022

When defendant was 18 years old, he drove a car in a gang-related drive-by shooting. Defendant’s passenger, Valles, fired several shots from a rifle at another car, killing one of the passengers. Defendant and Valles were both convicted of first degree extreme indifference murder. Defendant was sentenced to the statutory minimum of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), while Valles, who was only 17 at the time of the offense, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole (LWPP) after 40 years. Defendant filed a postconviction motion challenging his conviction and sentence, which was denied. Defendant appealed pro se. The Court of Appeals appointed defendant counsel and ordered supplemental briefing on one issue: whether the postconviction court erred by denying defendant’s claim that his sentence violates equal protection under the US and Colorado Constitutions.

Defendant argued that his sentence violates equal protection because he was similarly situated to Valles but was punished more harshly because of his age. Here, while defendant and Valles were similarly situated for equal protection purposes, the legislative classification providing a harsher penalty for a person who commits murder after age 18 is reasonably related to legitimate state interests and is not arbitrary or unreasonable. Therefore, there was no equal protection violation.

Defendant also contended that the postconviction court erred by failing to conduct a proportionality review of his sentence. However, defendant was convicted of first degree extreme indifference murder, a per se grave or serious offense. At the time defendant was sentenced, a class 1 felony committed on the date of defendant’s offense was subject to a minimum sentence of LWOP and a maximum sentence of death. Defendant was sentenced to the statutory minimum. Given the gravity of the crime, defendant’s sentence did not give rise to an inference of gross disproportionality.

Defendant further argued that the postconviction court erred by not liberally construing his postconviction motion as asserting claims that postconviction counsel was ineffective for not raising a proportionality challenge to his LWOP sentence. As stated above, the Court conducted its own abbreviated proportionality review and determined that defendant is not entitled to relief. Because defendant received on appeal what he contends postconviction counsel failed to seek, he is unable to demonstrate that he suffered prejudice as a result of the alleged ineffective assistance of counsel.

The order denying defendant’s postconviction motion was affirmed.

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

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