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People v. Crabtree.

2022 COA 73. No. 20CA0629. DUI—Prior Convictions—Penalties for Traffic Offenses Involving Drugs and Alcohol.

July 14, 2022

Defendant was arrested and charged with DUI (fourth or subsequent offense). He waived his right to counsel after the trial court gave him an advisement pursuant to People v. Arguello, 772 P.2d 87, 92 (Colo. 1989), and he proceeded to trial pro se. Defendant was convicted as charged. In a subsequent hearing, the court found by a preponderance of the evidence that he had four prior alcohol-related driving convictions, so it elevated the misdemeanor DUI conviction to a class 4 felony.

On appeal, defendant argued that his conviction must be reversed because the totality of the circumstances indicates he was unable to knowingly and intelligently waive his right to counsel. Here, while many of defendant’s statements during trial seem nonsensical, they do not suggest he was unable to understand the proceedings. Rather, defendant’s statements track the beliefs of the “sovereign citizenship” movement to which defendant adheres. Further, other statements defendant made during trial show that he understood the proceedings. In addition, defendant received a proper advisement. Accordingly, defendant’s decision was knowing and voluntary, his waiver was valid, and the trial court did not err.

Defendant also argued that the trial court plainly erred by not requiring the People to prove the fact of his prior alcohol-related driving convictions to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Under controlling authority when defendant was tried, in a felony DUI prosecution the fact of a defendant’s prior convictions was considered a sentence enhancer that didn’t have to be submitted to a jury or proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Following defendant’s trial, the Colorado Supreme Court decided Linnebur v. People, 2020 CO 79M, which clarified that, in a prosecution for felony driving while under the influence, the fact of a defendant’s prior alcohol-related convictions must be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Given Linnebur’s holding, it is clear that the trial court erred here by not submitting the issue to the jury. Further, while the error was not obvious at the time of trial, it became obvious while the case was on appeal. Accordingly, defendant can benefit from the law change on appeal.

The judgment was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

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

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