Colorado v. McRaeAnnotate this Case
In this case and two companion cases announced at the same time, Wells-Yates v. Colorado, 2019 CO 90, and Melton v. Colorado, 2019 CO 89, the Colorado Supreme Court considered issues “that lie at the intersection of habitual criminal punishment and proportionality review.” In July 2013, Clifton McRae sold methamphetamine for $350 to his girlfriend, who was working as a confidential informant. The prosecution later brought six drug-related charges against McRae, only two of which arose from the July 2013 transaction, and six habitual criminal charges. In August 2014, the jury found McRae guilty of selling or distributing a schedule II controlled substance, a class 3 felony, and possessing drug paraphernalia, a petty offense, in connection with the July 2013 transaction. During a subsequent bench trial, the court adjudicated McRae a habitual criminal based on six predicate offenses. Before sentencing, McRae advanced a preemptive proportionality challenge, arguing that the 64-year habitual criminal sentence required by law for the triggering offense of selling or distributing a schedule II controlled substance was grossly disproportionate. Despite finding that the triggering offense and five of the six predicate offenses (the drug-related predicate offenses) were per se grave or serious, the trial court concluded that the required prison sentence of 64 years raised an inference of gross disproportionality and sentenced McRae to 16 years in prison instead. The State appealed. The Supreme Court held that in determining the gravity or seriousness of triggering and predicate offenses during an abbreviated proportionality review, the court should consider any relevant legislative amendments enacted after the dates of those offenses, even if the amendments do not apply retroactively. Although the court of appeals reached a similar conclusion, it erred in failing to recognize that, rather than consider relevant prospective legislative amendments enacted after the dates of the triggering and predicate offenses, the trial court actually applied those amendments retroactively. Therefore, its judgment was reversed. And, because additional factual determinations are necessary to properly address the defendant’s proportionality challenge, the case was remanded with instructions to return it to the trial court for a new proportionality review in accordance with Wells-Yates and Melton.