The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Newell on Thursday, March 9, 2017.
John Robert Newell lived with his girlfriend, Chantel McDowell, and his cousin, Eric Albert, who had been staying with them for a couple of weeks. One night, Albert and Newell had an altercation in which Newell cut Albert’s back with a straight-edged barber’s razor. Newell had a cut under his right eye. Newell was charged with second degree assault and a violent crime sentence enhancer.
The only witnesses to the assault were Newell, Albert, and McDowell, and only Albert and McDowell testified at trial. McDowell testified that she had taken sleeping pills and was asleep when the fight started, but she awoke to yelling. When she came out of the bedroom, she saw Newell with the razor and Albert with a pair of scissors. Albert testified inconsistently about the fight.
Newell repeatedly requested a self-defense jury instruction. The prosecution countered Newell was not entitled to a self-defense instruction because he had not presented a scintilla of evidence showing he was not the initial aggressor, and the trial court agreed, denying the instruction. Newell was convicted of a class 6 felony and sentenced to three years in the custody of the Department of Corrections.
On appeal, Newell argued the court erred in denying him a self-defense jury instruction. The court of appeals agreed. The court found that “If there is any evidence in the record to support the theory that a defendant acted in self-defense, the defendant is entitled to an instruction, and a court’s refusal to give one deprives the accused of his or her constitutional right to a trial by a jury.” The court found that defendant could use any evidence that tended to show he acted in self-defense, including evidence advanced by the prosecution. In this case, the court noted there was ample evidence that defendant acted in self-defense, and it was error for the trial court to deny his request for a jury instruction.
The court also addressed Newell’s second contention to the extent the issue would arise again on remand. Newell argued the court erred in prohibiting him from admitting evidence of Albert’s prior felony conviction. The court instructed that determining whether the remoteness of the prior conviction rendered it inapplicable was within the sound discretion of the trial court.
Newell’s sentence and conviction were vacated and the case was remanded.