Judge stands by rejection of plea deal in Winter Park standoff case
September 8, 2009
District Court Judge Mary Hoak has rejected the argument by lawyers for a man accused in an armed standoff that she didn’t have legal authority to turn down a proposed plea agreement.
In June, representatives of the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s office and lawyers for Brian Wilson, 52, of Denver, struck a deal in which Wilson would have pleaded guilty to one count of felony menacing with a knife.
He initially was charged with three counts of 1st degree assault, three counts of menacing, two counts of obstructing a police officer, three counts of prohibited use of a weapon, and one count each of obstructing a highway, driving under the influence, and DUI per se.
In her ruling rejecting the plea agreement, Hoak said the proposed deal would send the wrong message to the community about the seriousness of the case and violent crimes.
Citing a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, Wilson’s lead attorney Harvey Steinberg argued in July that Hoak did not have the legal discretion to reject the plea on grounds of what charges it includes.
(The judge) “can’t tell the district attorney … what charges to make,” he said.
“When it comes to charge-bargaining, the court can’t interfere,” he said. To do so, he continued, would be “an intrusion into the executive branch function.”
Last Thursday, Hoak issued an order in the case stating that her rejection of the plea deal stands. Among the rationale the order cites were:
• “The People (DA’s office) did not allege … that the Defendant was in possession of a knife. As a result, there is no factual basis for the proposed plea …”
• Of the seven cases referenced by the defense in its argument that Hoak overstepped her authority in rejecting the plea, “not one of the cases cited addresses the situation at hand: the rejection of plea bargain by a Court.”
• Colorado statutes and Colorado Rule of Criminal Procedure state: “Notwithstanding the reaching of a plea agreement between the district attorney and defense counsel or defendant, the judge in every case should exercise an independent judgment in deciding whether to grant charge and sentence concessions.”
• “It is this Court’s understanding … that the defendant in this matter allegedly engaged in a multiple-hour standoff with police during which time he threatened law enforcement with a firearm and caused the closure of the major thoroughfare through the county.”
The charges against Wilson stem from a three-hour standoff with police last Thanksgiving between the town of Winter Park and Winter Park Resort.
During the standoff, according to the arrest affidavit, Wilson poured drinks from a 1.75-liter bottle of tequila and handled his loaded .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol.
At one point, Wilson “pointed it directly at several officers” with the hammer cocked and the safety off while holding the gun by the barrel, the affidavit says.
Officers eventually shot Wilson with a non-lethal “beanbag” round from a 12-gauge shotgun. The charge knocked the suspect to the ground, where five officers tried to subdue him, according to the affidavit. During the struggle, Wilson “indiscriminately” discharged four rounds from the pistol, the document says.
Hoak’s Sept. 3 order continues the case for arraignment at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25. If that date doesn’t work, the order instructs attorneys to find another date in September.
“The Court is unwilling, at this time, to continue this matter into October 2009 or beyond without progress being made,” Hoak’s order says.
– Drew can be reached at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19600 or at firstname.lastname@example.org