Posted on 09 September 2009
By Peter Rossi, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — The first case of its kind for the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Colorado Springs ended in the conviction of a man for making a death threat against a judge — which is exactly what the legislature addressed last year.
“It was the first time in this office that anyone has handled a case like this, so it’s pretty rare,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Jeff Lindsey, who prosecuted the case.
A six-person jury last week found 36-year-old Shannon Dillon Berry guilty of the Class 4 felony charge of retaliation against a judge. Berry told a doctor during an interview that he wanted to kill his lawyer, his ex-wife and 4th Judicial District Judge Jann DuBois, who presided over the divorce. The conviction carries a prison sentence between two and six years.
But the penalty would not have been that stiff without the passage of House Bill 1115, which passed in the 2008 legislative session and went into effect that July.
Prior to the bill’s passage there was a gap in law that called for prosecution if a juror, witness or victim was retaliated against, but it did not include judges. There was a statute that dealt with threatening a judge during a trial, but nothing dealing with acts of revenge.
“I’m a firm believer in the system and the integrity of the system so I’m a proponent of trying to keep it above threats,” Lindsey said. “If you threaten a judge, you should be punished.”
The crime of retaliation against a judge occurs when a person harasses or makes a “credible threat” against a judge who presided over his or her case. A credible threat is defined as threats communicated to persons other that the judge, which Berry did when he spoke with the doctor. The law also applies to threats made against a judge’s family or friends.
Lindsey, through the course of the trial, successfully argued Berry’s threat was credible and that he had access to his roommate’s gun.
The case was moved to the 10th Judicial District in Pueblo after the threat was made toward DuBois is a judge in the 4th.
10th Judicial District Judge David Alan Cole will sentence Berry on Nov. 3. Lindsey said he will review the facts again and then determine what sentence to seek between the two- and six-year range.