Habitual Offender Sentences: Irrational Or Just Ironic?

by Jon Hormachea


The Colorado Supreme Court tackled an equal protection question last week regarding a narrow subset of the state’s habitual offenders.

Thursday morning, the justices heard oral arguments in Dean v. People, a case that arose out of a 2012 Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the defendant’s conviction.

Specifically, the court will answer if the appeals decision constituted reversible error based on the holding “that it does not violate the equal protection clauses of the United States and Colorado constitutions to sentence a habitual offender, who was convicted of second-degree murder and has no prior violent felony convictions, more harshly than if he had prior violent felony convictions.”

The defendant’s lawyer, Allison Ruttenberg, argued the state’s habitual offender statute is “irrational beyond a reasonable doubt” as applied to a narrow class of offenders like Dean. Assistant attorney general Ryan Crane countered by saying even if a statute is “ironic,” it’s not irrational or a constitutional violation.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the May 4, 2015 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.