Wells-Yates v. ColoradoAnnotate this Case
In this case and two companion cases announced at the same time, Melton v. Colorado, 2019 CO 89, and Colorado v. McRae, 2019 CO 91, the Colorado Supreme Court considered “multiple issues that lie at the intersection of proportionality review and habitual criminal punishment.” In June 2012, an undercover agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, received information from a confidential informant that Belinda May Wells-Yates was stealing identity documents from cars, and arranged a meeting, during which she sold him a birth certificate, a social security card, and a driver’s license. Several days later, the Waldo Canyon fire started. Wells-Yates told the agent that she was “chasing the fire” - stealing property from homes that had been evacuated. The agent scheduled another meeting, during which she sold him additional stolen property. Wells-Yates was arrested; a search revealed a bag containing a small amount of methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia. The prosecution charged Wells-Yates in 2012 with second degree burglary, conspiracy to commit second degree burglary, theft, possession with intent to sell or distribute 7 grams or less of a schedule II controlled substance, four counts of identity theft, and three habitual criminal counts. In February 2013, a jury found Wells-Yates guilty of all the substantive charges. Following a bench trial in May 2013, the court adjudicated her a habitual criminal based on three predicate offenses. In total, Wells-Yates received an aggregate prison term of 72 years, eligible for parole. The trial court found that the sentence was not unconstitutionally disproportionate, and a division of the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court held that a reviewing court must consider each triggering offense and the predicate offenses together and determine whether, in combination, they are so lacking in gravity or seriousness as to raise an inference that the sentence imposed on that triggering offense is grossly disproportionate. Because the court of appeals’ decision was at odds with the conclusions the Court reached in this opinion, it reversed judgment. The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.