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People v. Le.

2022 COA 32. No. 19CA1997. Restitution—Victim—Tax Evasion—Retail Marijuana Excise Tax.

March 17, 2022

Defendant was one of 31 co-defendants indicted on numerous felony charges for participating as high-ranking members of a Colorado-based drug trafficking organization that illegally cultivated and distributed marijuana. Defendant pleaded guilty to evading Colorado’s marijuana excise tax and, as part of his plea agreement, he was required to pay restitution jointly and severally with co-defendants. The People moved for payment of restitution to the Colorado Department of Revenue (DOR) for unpaid marijuana excise taxes. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, the People argued that the DOR is a “victim” entitled to restitution under Colorado’s Restitution Act (Act), so the trial court erred in denying it restitution. The marijuana excise tax statutes establish a 15% tax on marijuana sales and contemplate that unpaid excise taxes may be recoverable as restitution if permitted by the Act. The deprivation of unpaid excise taxes represents a harm to the legal interests of the entity charged with collecting such taxes. Under the Act’s plain language, the DOR can be considered a “victim” because it is obligated to collect the marijuana taxes and can by aggrieved by tax evasion. Accordingly, the trial court erred.

The order was reversed 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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