After a jury convicted him of “three felony counts of stalking” in violation of Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-602(1)(b)and “three misdemeanor counts of harassment” in violation of Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-9-111(1)(e) and a judge sentenced him to “a prison sentence of twelve years”, Jerry L. Chase appealed. People v. Chase, __ P.3d __, 2013 WL 979519 (Colorado Court of Appeals 2013).
(He was sentenced to four years on each of the felony counts, the sentences to run consecutively. People v. Chase, supra.)
According to this opinion, the case arose from events that occurred between 2002 and 2008, when Chase lived in Wapiti Meadows,
a low-income housing complex in Grand County, Colorado, where he met the three named victims in this case: G.B., D.D., and M.G. G.B. lived at Wapiti Meadows and was its property manager . . .; D.D. was its former property manager; and M.G. was the maintenance supervisor at the time. M.G. and D.D. were also husband and wife. . . .
Chase made frequent complaints to D.D., G.B., and M.G. regarding his next-door neighbors, the B. family. He complained about [their] ethnicity and alleged they were purposefully making noise to disturb him. In September 2008, Mr. B. accused Chase of putting sugar in his gas tank.
Chase was charged with criminal mischief, and the district court entered a restraining order against Chase. Chase violated the order by banging on the B. family's wall and yelling an ethnically charged threat at them.
People v. Chase, supra. (The opinion notes that he was “later acquitted” of the criminal mischief charge. People v. Chase, supra.)
As a result of all this, the Wapiti Meadows management G.B. posted an eviction notice on Chase’s door on October 1, 2008. People v. Chase, supra. On October 2, Chase emailed G.B. and asked her how he could fight the eviction; he also said he had “gone to Boston for a time, which G.B. knew he did every year.” People v. Chase, supra. G.B. said she could not offer any legal advice. People v. Chase, supra.
The eviction and, perhaps this response, triggered a series of emails from Chase:
On . . . October 6, 2008, Chase sent an e-mail to twenty-three recipients, including G.B., M.G., and D.D. Chase was in Boston at the time. The e-mail was sent to G.B.'s work e-mail address and M.G.'s and D.D.'s personal e-mail addresses. It stated:
`I am 60 years old. I did 14 years in Walpole, MA for arson. Do NOT FUCK WITH ME. REMOVE THE FUCKING EVICTION NOTICE YOU FUCKING ASSHOLES. YOU BETTER PUT ME AWAY FOR LIFE MOTHERFUCKERS, OR THERE WILL BE HELL TO PAY. THAT SOVIET ASSHOLE [referring to Mr. B.]. HOW DARE YOU!!!! REMOVE THAT FUCKING NOTICE NOW!!!!!!!!!!!’
[On] October 7, 2008, Chase sent a second e-mail to thirty-four recipients, including G.B., M.G., and D.D., the three of whom were specifically mentioned in the e-mail. He wrote, in pertinent part:
`Kicking a 60 year-old man out of his apartment because of one Soviet immigrant? Fuck You!! THAT IS EVIL. YOU PIECES OF SHIT. That's a death sentence. . . . “To those whom evil is done, do evil in return.” . . . DO EVIL TO ME WILL YOU? You pieces of shit -- from that ugly-ass housing officer[ ], to those cunts [D.D.] and [G.B.], to Mr. “thinks he's a badass” [M.G.], I won't take a death sentence lying down. . . .’
Twenty-five minutes later, [he] sent the group a third e-mail, which included a photograph of a man pointing a gun at a judge. It demanded that the eviction notice be removed and stated:
`SOMEONE'S GOING TO GET HURT, OR WORSE!!!!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND? SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET HURT. IT'LL PROBABLY BE ME -- no it will be me -- BUT WHAT HAVE I GOT TO LOSE? I WILL NOT GIVE UP MY APARTMENT WITHOUT A SERIOUS FIGHT.’
Twenty-five minutes later, Chase sent a fourth e-mail to the group. . . .:
`I've got NOTHING TO LOSE, YOU PIECES OF SHIT. I HATE THE LORD GOD FOR GIVING YOU LIFE!!!!!!!!! cc: CUNT-ASS [D.D.] CUNT-ASS [G.B.]’
`TAKE THE EVICTION NOTICE OFF MY DOOR Your [sic] playing a very, very, dangerous game of bluff with me.’
Twenty minutes later, Chase sent the group a fifth e-mail criticizing the legal system, and then forty minutes later he sent them a sixth and final e-mail, stating:
`Better check out my football pictures at [Chase's myspace.com address.] I will headbutt someone, and I can and will kick as you can see from my yoga pictures. Someone . . . is playing a very dangerous game of bluff with me.'
People v. Chase, supra.
While they lived in Grand County, Colorado, M.G. and DD were in Baltimore, Maryland
when they opened and read the six e-mails in one sitting on October 7. They . . . return[ed] to Colorado a few days later, and evidence at trial showed they believed Chase was in Colorado when he sent the e-mails. M.G. called G.B. in Colorado to warn her of the e-mails, because he feared for her safety, and she went to the Winter Park police station to open and read the six e-mails from Chase.
People v. Chase, supra.
On appeal, Chase argued that his convictions on
counts two and three of felony stalking of M.G. and D.D. must be vacated, because there was insufficient evidence to establish that Colorado had subject matter jurisdiction over those counts given that no part of the offenses against M.G. and D.D. was committed in Colorado.
People v. Chase, supra. (He did not challenge his conviction on count one, the felony count relating to G.B., because “she was in Colorado when she read the emails.” People v. Chase, supra.)
As Wikipedia explains, subject-matter jurisdiction refers to a court’s power “to hear a case involving a specific subject or type of criminal proceeding.” As it also notes, “most state courts are courts of general jurisdiction, which includes the authority to prosecute violations of the criminal laws of that state.” People v. Chase, supra.
Chase also raised subject-matter jurisdiction at trial, when he moved for an acquittal. People v. Chase, supra. The trial judge denied the motion because he found that even if “M.G. and D.D. read the e-mails while . . . out of the state,” his court “had jurisdiction over those counts because it had jurisdiction over” count one, which “related to G.B.,” who “opened and read her e-mails while in Colorado.” People v. Chase, supra.
The Court of Appeals agreed “with the trial court's conclusion that it had jurisdiction over counts two and three,” but reached that “conclusion based on different reasoning from that employed by the trial court.” People v. Chase, supra.
It began by examining the relevant state criminal jurisdiction statutes. People v. Chase, supra. Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-1-201(1)(a) says a person is “subject to prosecution in this state for an offense which he commits, by his own conduct . . . if . . .[t]he conduct constitutes an offense and is committed either wholly or partly within the state.” Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-2-201(2) states that an “offense is committed partly within this state if conduct occurs in this state which is an element of an offense or if the result of conduct in this state is such an element.”
The Court of Appeals therefore had to decide if either (i) conduct that was an element of the crime of stalking occurred in Colorado or (ii) the result of conduct in Colorado was an element of the crime of stalking. People v. Chase, supra. To determine whether either was true, it had to examine the elements of the crime of which Chase was convicted. People v. Chase, supra.
Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-9-111(4)(b)(II) defines felony stalking, the crime of which Chase was convicted, as follows:
`A person commits stalking if directly, or indirectly through another person, such person knowingly . . . [m]akes a credible threat to another person and, in connection with such threat, repeatedly makes any form of communication with that person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship, regardless of whether a conversation ensues.’
People v. Chase, supra (quoting § 18-9-111(4)(b)(II))) (emphasis added). The court also noted that Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-9-111(4)(c)(II), which was in effect when this case arose, defined “credible threat” as
a threat, physical action, or repeated conduct that would cause a reasonable person to be in fear for the person's safety or the safety of his or her immediate family or of someone with whom the person has or has had a continuing relationship. Such threat need not be directly expressed if the totality of the conduct would cause a reasonable person such fear.
People v. Chase, supra (quoting § 18-9-111(4)(c)(II))) (emphasis added).
Chase, of course, argued that because “he wrote and sent the e-mails in Boston, and because M.G. and D.D. opened the e-mails in Baltimore, none of the conduct occurred in Colorado.” People v. Chase, supra. The court, though, found that the key issue was not “where the e-mails were written or read, but rather whether the result of Chase's conduct, namely, causing a reasonable person to be in fear for his or her safety, occurred, at least in part, in Colorado.” People v. Chase, supra.
The Court of Appeals found there was “sufficient evidence to establish that the threats made by Chase in the e-mails would have caused a reasonable person in the position of M.G. and D.D. to be in fear for their own safety and the safety of other persons in Colorado.” People v. Chase, supra. It noted that testimony at the trial showed that
(1) Chase did not know that M.G. or D.D. was in Baltimore at the time, but he knew they lived in Colorado; (2) Chase knew where M.G. and D.D. lived in Colorado; (3) M.G. and D.D. knew they would be returning to Colorado; (4) Chase lived in Colorado; and (5) the conduct Chase demanded from the victims (removing the eviction notice) necessarily had to occur in Colorado. . . .
[T]he jury could reasonably infer that Chase would have to be in Colorado to determine whether the eviction notice had been removed, and, thus, his threatened retribution against the victims would occur in Colorado.
People v. Chase, supra.
It also pointed out that M.G. testified at trial that upon reading Chase’s emails,
he `was alarmed and concerned for the safety of [his] home, which was 1700 miles away, and the safety of some other people who are mentioned in the e-mail,’ including his mother and D.D.'s mother, who both lived in Colorado. M.G. called G.B. in Colorado, because he feared for her safety, encouraging her to go to the authorities and avoid Wapiti Meadows.
He called his neighbor in Colorado and asked him to `keep an eye out’ on his house and automobiles. He also called his house-sitter and warned her to not go to his house alone. D.D. testified that the e-mails were threats to her, and something could be done to her and M.G.
People v. Chase, supra.
And, finally, the Court of Appeals found that Chase’s conduct of making a credible threat
occurred at least partly in Colorado because he sent his email messages to e-mail addresses associated with individuals he knew to reside in Colorado. Although e-mail addresses can be accessed from any locale, as occurred here when M.G. and D.D. accessed their e-mail accounts in Baltimore, Chase used their personal e-mail addresses to communicate with individuals he knew lived in Colorado.
People v. Chase, supra.
The court therefore found that the trial judge did not err in denying Chase’s motion challenging its subject-matter jurisdiction over the stalking charges. People v. Chase, supra. For this and other reasons, it affirmed his convictions and sentences. People v. Chase, supra.