The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Delgado on Thursday, December 1, 2016.
The victim was drinking at a bar and left, drunk, around closing time. He went back to the bar, but the doors were locked. The victim began pounding on the door and the bar personnel called the police. The victim eventually gave up and started walking away. He saw two men walking toward him and turned around. He was attacked from behind; someone hit and kicked him until he collapsed, unconscious.
An officer responding to the bar’s call saw Delgado bending over the unconscious victim, going through his pockets. The officer shouted at Delgado to stop, but he took off running. Backup officers arrived in time to chase and arrest Delgado.
At trial, the prosecution argued that Delgado could be convicted of both robbery and theft from the person of another. The trial court gave instructions on each, and the jury convicted Delgado of both offenses. The robbery instruction informed that Delgado could be found guilty if he 3. knowingly, 4. took anything of value, 5. from the person or presence of another, 6. by the use of force, threats, or intimidation. The theft from the person of another instruction informed that Delgado could be found guilty if he 3. knowingly, a. obtained or exercised control over, b. anything of value, c. which was the property of another person, d. without authorization or by threat or deception, and 4. with intent to permanently deprive the other person of the use or benefit of the thing of value, and 5. the thing of value was taken, a. from the person of another, b. by means other than the use of force, threats or intimidation.
On appeal, Delgado argued that the verdicts were legally and logically inconsistent. Both parties agreed the inconsistent verdict issue was not preserved, so the court of appeals reviewed for plain error. The court of appeals concluded that the force elements of the two crimes were legally and logically inconsistent, since the robbery count required use of force, threats, or intimidation, whereas the theft count required that the theft be committed by means other than the use of force, threats, or intimidation. The court found the error was plain because it casts serious doubt on the reliability of the conviction.
The prosecution argued that the court of appeals should enforce the more serious conviction for robbery and vacate the theft conviction. The court of appeals disagreed, finding that when jury verdicts are legally and logically inconsistent, there is no way to know what the jury actually found. It is not possible to discern the jury’s intent. The court thus remanded for a new trial.
The court of appeals reversed the judgment and sentence and remanded for a new trial with the prosecution choosing to retry Delgado on either the robbery count or the theft count, and, if the prosecution chooses to submit both counts, the jury must be instructed that it can choose one count or the other but not both.