Linnebur v. ColoradoAnnotate this Case
In March 2016, law enforcement contacted Charles Linnebur after receiving a call that he had crashed his vehicle into a fence and might have been driving under the influence of alcohol. Although he initially denied that he had been drinking, Linnebur eventually admitted that he had consumed whiskey that day. He was arrested, and a blood test revealed that his blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit. The State charged Linnebur with DUI and DUI per se, seeking felony convictions under sections 42-4-1301(1)(a) and (2)(a), which provided that DUI and DUI per se were felonies if they “occurred after three or more prior convictions” for, among other things, DUI, DUI per se, or DWAI. Prior to trial, Linnebur filed a motion in limine arguing that the fact of his prior convictions was a substantive element of felony DUI that had to be found by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial court denied the motion, concluding instead that Linnebur’s prior convictions were “merely sentence enhancers or aggravating factors” and could be proved to the court by a preponderance of the evidence. The jury found Linnebur guilty of the lesser included offense of DUI, DWAI, and DUI per se. The State submitted certified copies of Linnebur’s three prior impaired driving convictions and his state driving record. Rather than applying a preponderance of the evidence standard (as it had earlier indicated it would), the trial court instead concluded that these exhibits proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Linnebur had three prior convictions, and entered judgment for felony DWAI, merged the DUI per se conviction, and sentenced Linnebur to four years in community corrections. The Colorado Supreme Court held, contrary to the trial court, the statutory provisions that defined and provided penalties for felony DUI treated the fact of prior convictions as an element of the crime, which had be proved to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt, not as a sentence enhancer, which a judge could find by a preponderance of the evidence. Because the court of appeals erred in arriving at the opposite conclusion, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for sentencing on the misdemeanor DUI charges that were properly proved to the jury in this case.