June 22, 2011

Colorado Supreme Court 5-31-11- criminal law decision Townsend v. People

Townsend v. People             Escape / Instructions
Facts: On November 5, DOC paroled Mr. Townsend to nowhere – he was homeless.  The sentence dictated the parole last only one year. According to the opinion, the parole officer set up a temporary residence at New Genesis, some kind of homeless shelter. Unfortunately, police arrested Mr. Townsend 7 days after being released, and on November 16, the parole office filed a complaint to revoke Mr. Townsend’s parole. After sitting in jail from November 10 to March 3, the prosecution dismissed the new charge, the parole officer dismissed the complaint, and DOC again paroled Mr. Townsend. However, the parole officer did not have Mr. Townsend sign a new parole agreement.  The Court points out this homeless barely surviving man “verbally agreed that he understood the terms of the ISP.” Further, the Court states, “Townsend signed a form certifying that he understood the requirements that he report to the parole office and/or his residence of record” to go over the conditions of parole. During the trial, DOC and the prosecution purposely conflated simple parole violations with escape. The trial court was not smart enough to figure out that some conditions simply violate parole and do not amount to an escape whereas others do qualify as escape. For example, if Mr. Townsend actually left the Denver area that would qualify as an escape. However, Mr. Townsend never left Denver, got arrested on the warrant a mere three weeks after being released from jail, and the prosecution never claimed Mr. Townsend left the Denver area.
Issue: Whether the instructions adequately advised the jury?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Justice Bender in dissent best explains the case, "Despite the disconcerting facts of Townsend's trial for felony escape, the majority affirms his conviction. Townsend was convicted of felony escape, which requires a five-year sentence to run consecutively to his revoked parole, under circumstances where: (1) he was not provided notice of which facts would constitute the new crime of felony escape as opposed to which facts would result only in parole revocation; (2) Townsend's parole officers testified that any violation of his ISP parole requirements could constitute felony escape; (3) the trial court's instructions failed to inform correctly the jury as to which kinds of ISP parole violations constitute felony escape; and (4) the prosecutor, in closing argument, repeatedly told the jury that violating any directive of the parole officer, including failing to report to meetings, constitutes the crime of escape. Hence, in my view, these cumulative errors lowered the prosecution's burden of proof and caused an injustice requiring reversal of Townsend's conviction."
            Bottom line, in limine the simple violations, and hammer home that anything short of actually leaving the Denver area does not amount to escape. Thus, a parole officer getting stood up for an office meeting is akin to blowing off a a scheduled date. Rude, yes. Escape? No. The parole officer like many spurned suitors never got over his/her hurt feelings. Juries get this, and it wins ISP parole escape cases where the guy is found in the "extended area of confinement."

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