May 19, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Universal Malice Requires Potential Harm to More than One Person

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Anderson on Thursday, April 7, 2016.

Richard Anderson became depressed after his wife’s death and decided to commit suicide. After a night of drinking at a bar, he went to his car and pulled a gun on another of the bar’s patrons. He then left, and the other patron called the police. A police officer found him quickly and pulled him over in an isolated area with no other cars or people. Anderson shot at the officer multiple times, grazing his arm with one of the bullets, and the officer shot him, ending the conflict.

Anderson was charged with and convicted of attempted extreme indifference first degree murder; first degree assault, threatening a peace officer with a weapon; first degree assault, serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon; and first degree assault, extreme indifference. At trial, Anderson admitted shooting the officer but maintained that he did not mean to harm the officer but rather intended to have the officer shoot and kill him, and thus lacked the requisite mens rea for extreme indifference first degree murder. During trial, the jurors submitted five separate notes to the court, evidencing trouble reconciling the intent element of the extreme indifference charge. He was convicted and sentenced to a total of 108 years.

On appeal, Anderson contended the evidence was insufficient to support the extreme indifference conviction, the jury was improperly instructed on the mens rea element for both attempted extreme indifference murder and extreme indifference murder, his convictions for first degree assault violate double jeopardy, and his sentences are based on identical evidence and must run concurrently. The Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with his sufficiency challenge on the attempt conviction because his conduct only endangered one person. The court held that Anderson’s conduct was not the type that demonstrated the universal malice contemplated by the statute.

The court also agreed with Anderson that he should receive a single conviction for first degree assault because his three convictions violate double jeopardy. Since the three convictions were based on the same victim and the same act, they must be merged. The court did not address Anderson’s contentions about concurrent sentencing because of its double jeopardy finding.

The court of appeals vacated Anderson’s convictions for attempted extreme indifference murder, first degree assault (extreme indifference), and either first degree assault (peace officer) or (serious bodily injury), and remanded for correction of the mittimus.

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