By Christopher Zoukis

The Colorado Supreme Court has upheld a trial court’s decision to sentence a prisoner to a consecutive term for assaulting a prison guard and to enhance the sentence because it was committed by a prisoner in custody.

Curtis Gordon Adams was found guilty of second degree assault for kicking and head-butting a guard at the Colorado State Penitentiary. He was sentenced to a consecutive term of 12 years, enhanced from the statutory range of two to six years because the assault was committed while Adams was in prison as a felon. This would not be an unusual or noteworthy turn of events were it not for one thing: the second degree assault which Adams was convicted of and given a consecutive sentence for included a requirement that the assault was committed while he was in prison as a felon.

In practice, this meant that Adams was subjected to two different enhancements for the same action — committing an assault on a guard while in prison.

The intermediate-level appeals court found that this was an improper double enhancement and vacated Adams’ 12-year consecutive sentence. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, reversed and re-imposed the sentence.

The court reasoned that the enhancement found within the statute, which required a consecutive sentence, addressed only when the sentence would be served, while the enhancement that increased the sentence from two to six years to 12 years addressed the duration of the sentence. Finding that these two provisions were not in conflict, the court applied them both and upheld the original 12-year, consecutive sentence.

“A defendant can be sentenced to a greater number of years based on the general aggravator, and he can be made to serve that sentence following completion of his other sentences,” held the court.

The Colorado Supreme Court came to this conclusion by way of statutory interpretation. When engaging in such analysis, “[i]f the statute is unambiguous and does not conflict with other statutory provisions, this court looks no further.” Had the court taken its own analysis a few steps further, however, it may have determined that the distinction between an aggravator that impacts when a sentence is served and an aggravator that impacts a sentence’s duration is not a clear one. This is so because an aggravator that requires a consecutive sentence does not, in reality, solely impact when a sentence is served. Instead, in every case, including Adam’s, a consecutive sentence directly impacts the overall duration of confinement. See:  People v. Adams, Case No. 14SC94 (Sup. Ct. Colo. 2016).

Related legal case

People v. Adams

This article originally appeared in Prison Legal News on September 6, 2017.

About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis is an outspoken prisoner rights and correctional education advocate who is incarcerated at FCI Petersburg Medium in Virginia. He is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely in major publications such as The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News and various other print and online publications. Learn more about Christopher Zoukis at christopherzoukis.com and prisoneducation.com.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).