17 October 2016

Colorado Supreme Court Ignores Big Picture In Sentencing Ruling

Schneider sought review of the court of appeals’ judgment affirming his convictions and consecutive sentences for two counts of sexual assault. The jury returned guilty verdicts on one count of sexual assault of a physically helpless victim and another count of sexual assault by causing submission of a victim by means of sufficient consequence reasonably calculated to cause submission against the victim’s will, based on evidence of a single, continuous penetration of the same victim; and the trial court imposed mandatory consecutive sentences for conviction of separate crimes of violence arising out of the same incident.
From here (emphasis added; quoting the official syllabus of the case, which is Schneider v. People, 2016 CO 70).

Despite the fact that the Defendant raped a single individual in a single incident, both the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court affirm two consecutive sentences for the offense, basically doubling the jail time involved because the defendant was prosecuted on two theories and the jury agreed with both of them. This is an obviously unjust result that the courts managed to talk themselves out of caring about. The fact that the decision is unanimous in the face of such a clear case is particularly troubling.

Also, keep in mind that the more serious of the two offenses is a class 3 felony (one notch below second degree murder) and is subject to an indeterminate sentences with a minimum set by the judge and a maximum life sentence. It is not as if concurrent, rather than consecutive sentencing would have resulted in a lenient sentence for an admittedly serious crime.

This kind of ruling is particularly troubling because a great many particularly long sentences occur because legislatures set sentences largely based on what they deem appropriate when there is a single offense and don't contemplate carefully enough how consecutive sentences can result in a punishment that is more severe than is appropriate for the course of conduct giving rise to the punishment.

For example, I suspect that many legislators would be stunned to learn that consecutive sentences were possible in the fact pattern presented by this case.

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