The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its decision in People v. Arzabala on June 21, 2012.
Vehicular Assault—Leaving the Scene of an Accident—Evidence—Double Jeopardy—Unit of Prosecution—Jury Instructions—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Testimony.
Defendant appealed the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of two counts of vehicular assault (reckless); two counts of leaving the scene of an accident; two counts of providing alcohol to a minor; and one count of aggravated driving after revocation prohibited (ADARP)—leaving the scene of an accident. The judgment was affirmed, the sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded.
Defendant was driving with two female passengers, K.E. and O.C., both of whom were 18 years old at the time. All three were drinking alcohol, which defendant had bought earlier that night. Defendant struck a car driven by K.P., who had been parked on the right side of the road and was attempting to make a U-turn at the time of the collision. K.P. and her passenger, E.P., were seriously injured. K.E. also hit her head and suffered minor injuries, but neither defendant nor O.C. was injured.
On appeal, defendant contended that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions for leaving the scene of an accident and for ADARP—leaving the scene of an accident. Although there was conflicting testimony at trial, the prosecution presented sufficient evidence that defendant left the scene after failing to provide his driver’s license and registration to the officers at the scene.
Defendant also contended that his two convictions for leaving the scene of an accident violated constitutional protections against double jeopardy. Here, defendant was charged with two counts of leaving the scene of an accident with serious bodily injury. One count corresponded to defendant’s leaving the scene of the accident resulting in serious bodily injury to K.P.; the other count corresponded to his leaving the scene of the same accident resulting in serious bodily injury to E.P. Thereafter, the trial court imposed two sentences of three years each corresponding to defendant’s two convictions for leaving the scene of an accident, to be served concurrently and concurrently with defendant’s five-year sentence for vehicular assault (reckless) against K.P. The unit of prosecution for the offense of leaving the scene of an accident, however, is the number of accident scenes, not the number of victims involved in any one accident. Therefore, defendant’s two convictions for leaving the scene of an accident violated his right to be free from double jeopardy. The case was remanded to the trial court with directions to merge defendant’s two convictions for leaving the scene of an accident into one; to vacate the sentence imposed as to one of the convictions; and to correct the mittimus accordingly.
Defendant also contended that the trial court reversibly erred by giving the jury two instructions that allegedly lessened the prosecution’s burden of proof and misled the jury in violation of his constitutional rights. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The jury instructions correctly instructed the jury on the elements of vehicular assault (reckless) and vehicular assault (DUI) and the proper culpable mental state necessary for a conviction for these charges.
Defendant contended that the prosecution twice committed misconduct during closing and rebuttal closing argument by misstating the law and the evidence. The prosecutor’s arguments, however, did not misstate the law and any references to incorrect facts were harmless.
The Court also rejected defendant’s contention that the trial court erred by admitting the testimony of K.P.’s mother. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting this testimony to show K.P.’s lack of injuries before the accident.
Defendant also argued that the trial court committed plain error by admitting his unredacted driving record into evidence. The driving record was relevant to show defendant had knowledge of his license revocation as a habitual offender under ADARP. Therefore, the trial court did not err by admitting the driving record.
Defendant further argued that the court erred by permitting the prosecution to elicit testimony from K.E. that she, defendant, and O.C. were en route to smoke marijuana at the time of the accident. K.E.’s testimony was relevant and admissible as res gestae evidence because it provided the fact finder with a fuller and more complete understanding of the surrounding events and context on the night of the accident. Therefore, there was no error in the admission of K.E.’s testimony.
Summary and full case available here.