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Experienced Denver attorney on Attempting to Influence a Public Servant vs. False Reporting to Authorities

Experienced Denver attorney on Attempting to Influence a Public Servant vs. False Reporting to Authorities
People v. Blue (Equal Protection; Specific Statute vs. General Statute)

Synopsis: According to the police, they got a call from a Crime Stoppers snitch who told the police Mr. Blue was in a Colorado Springs’ library. The police stopped and interrogated Mr. Blue. Mr. Blue initially denies he is Tony Blue – the fellow was wanted on Crime Stoppers. However, the police searched him after the stop, and unfortunately, they found an ID, which identified him as Tony Blue. No word on what Mr. Blue was wanted for on Crime Stoppers, but the petulant and ultra petty prosecutors in Colorado Springs charged Mr. Blue with a felony for Attempting to Influence a Public Servant – not False Reporting (which includes a specific subsection on giving a fake name to a cop). The defense filed a motion to dismiss, the trial court heroically granted the motion, and reduced the charge to False Reporting.

Issue: Whether the trial court exceeded its authority by dismissing the felony charge of Attempting to Influence a Public Servant?

Held: Yes, says the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Reasoning: We all could see this coming. Perhaps the defense should have waited until half-time, after jeopardy attached, and rolled all these arguments into a motion for judgment of acquittal. No doubt, after this reversal, the trial judge will be too gun shy to grant any motion for judgment of acquittal in the near future.

Rule Specific v. General Statute: The higher court addressed whether the existence of a specific statute (with specific penalties) regulating conduct that is also proscribed under another, more general statute (with separate penalties) precludes prosecution under the more general statute – as it would seem clear the legislature’s intent was to punish the action under the specific statute.  Here the appellate court reasoned the State may prosecuting by either statute (or presumably both).  The Colorado Court of Appeals reasoned in the following way:

“Enactment of a specific criminal statute does not preclude prosecution under a general criminal statute, unless statutory language indicates that the legislature intended to limit prosecution to the specific statute. To determine whether the General Assembly intended that a specific statute would preclude prosecution under a general statute, we address (1) whether the specific statute invokes the full extent of the state’s police powers; (2) whether the specific statute is part of an act creating a comprehensive and thorough regulatory scheme to control all aspects of a substantive area; and (3) whether the act carefully defines different types of offenses in detail. (citations omitted).”

(Citation omitted)

The Colorado Court of Appeals reasoned that False Reporting, unlike liquor laws or gaming statutes, is not included in some regulatory scheme; and nothing in the statutes limits prosecutions under this statute alone.

Equal Protection: Clearly there is a concern that two people committing the same actions will be punished differently and, ergo, violative of the constitutional right to equal protection (and equal treatment) under the law;  however, the Colorado Court of Appeals saw it differently:

“The United States Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Colorado Constitution guarantee a defendant equal protection under the law. In the context of criminal law, equal protection prohibits punishing identical criminal conduct with disparate penalties. The corollary to this rule is that if a criminal statute proscribes different penalties for identical conduct, and a defendant is convicted under the statute imposing the harsher penalty, then the defendant’s right to equal protection is violated unless there are reasonable differences or distinctions between the statutes at issue.”

(Citation omitted)  Thus, the appellate court held that False Reporting and Attempting to Influence a Public Servant require different mental states and punish different conduct. Thus, the government did not violate the Equal Protection clause by charging Mr. Blue with Attempting to Influence a Public Servant – rather than False Reporting.

***Commentary contributed by Eric Sims Jr., Esq.***

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