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Colorado Supreme Court Holds Prisoners Entitled to Preliminary Hearing on New Charges

David Subjack and Darryl Lewis Lynch are Colorado State Penitentiary prisoners who were charged with the class 4 felony of possession of contraband in the first degree, in violation of § 18-8-204.1(1), (3). C.R.S. (2020). The unrelated cases were assigned to the same court and a cash-only bond was set in each case. Neither prisoner posted bond.

Both prisoners requested preliminary hearings pursuant to section 16-5-301(1)(b)(II), C.R.S. (2020) and Crim. P. 7(h)(l). The former statute states, in relevant part, “Any defendant accused of a class 4, 5, or 6 felony... who is not otherwise entitled to a preliminary hearing... may demand and receive a preliminary hearing... if the defendant is in custody for the offense for which the preliminary hearing is requested.”

The district court judge initially scheduled a preliminary hearing for Subjack. The state opposed the hearing, arguing that under People v. Taylor, 104 P.3d 269 (Colo. App. 2004), and People v. Pena, 250 P.3d 592 (Colo. App. 2009) Subjack was not entitled to a preliminary hearing. The court held that, pursuant to Taylor and Pena, Subjack was only entitled to a hearing if the case for which the hearing is requested is the primary basis for his incarceration. After stating that the reason for preliminary hearings was to secure a defendant’s release should there be no probable cause to support the charge, the court held that Subjack would not be released even if he prevailed in the hearing. The court then reasoned that the charge for which the hearing was not the primary basis of Subjack’s confinement and denied the hearing.

A magistrate granted Lynch a hearing over the prosecution’s objections. Before the hearing could be held, the prosecutor petitioned the district court for review. The court then cited reasoning similar to that used in the Subjack case to hold that Lynch was not entitled to a preliminary hearing.

In the Colorado Supreme Court, Subjack and Lynch filed separate original proceedings pursuant to C.A.R. 21 which the court consolidated. Subjack was represented by Salida, Colorado public defenders Megan A. Ring and Kyle Robert Nettleblad. Lynch was represented by Colorado Springs attorney Carrie E. Skahan of CS Law. The court exercised original jurisdiction and issued a rule to show cause in each case.

The court noted that nothing in the plain language of Section 16-5-30l(l)(b)(II) and Crim P. 7(h)(l) required the offense for which a preliminary hearing is sought to be the “primary basis” of the defendant’s custodial status.

The argument that the purpose for a preliminary hearing is to safeguard the defendant’s pretrial liberty where there is no probable cause for the charge cannot override the plain language of the statutes. Further, the argument that a preliminary hearing functions solely to protect a defendant’s pretrial liberty is erroneous. The court had previously held that a preliminary hearing also functions as a “screening device,” testing “the sufficiency if the prosecution’s case before an impartial judge” and weeding out “the fatally weak case,” Maestas v. Dist Ct., 541 P.2d 889 (Colo. 1975).

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Related legal case

In re People v. Subjack