May 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Self-Defense Instruction Warranted if Evidence Shows Defendant Acted in Self-Defense

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Wakefield on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Second Degree Murder—Self-Defense—Jury Instruction—Voluntary Statements—Photographic Evidence.

Defendant and the victim were longtime friends, and the victim was visiting defendant from out of state. The victim and defendant argued and were involved in a series of increasingly violent physical fights. Defendant shot the victim, killing him. Right after the shooting defendant indicated to two people that he had acted in self-defense. Defendant testified at trial that when the victim stepped forward and reached for the shotgun defendant was holding, defendant pulled the gun up and away from the victim’s reach, and the gun “went off.” According to defendant, he thought that the victim was going to grab the gun and hurt him with it. Defendant maintained that he did not intend to shoot or hurt the victim. Defendant was tried for first degree murder, but was convicted of the lesser included offense of second degree murder.

On appeal, defendant first argued that the trial court erred by declining to give his tendered jury instruction on self-defense. Article II, section 3 of the Colorado Constitution recognizes the right of a person to act in self-defense, and under binding case law, when a defendant presents at least a scintilla of evidence in support of a self-defense instruction, the court must instruct the jury on self-defense. Here, defendant’s claim of accident in the course of self-defense was not so inconsistent as to deprive him of the right to have the jury instructed on self-defense, and counsel’s tendering of the self-defense instruction was sufficient to preserve the issue for appeal. The trial court’s error warrants reversal of the conviction.

Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by declining to suppress statements he made to both a private security guard and the police following his apprehension. The trial court did not err in declining to suppress the statements under Miranda v. Arizona because they were (1) made to a private security guard and not subject to Miranda; (2) based on Miranda’s public safety exception; or (3) volunteered and therefore not the product on an interrogation. However, the trial court did not make the required findings as to whether defendant’s statements to the police warranted suppression because of defendant’s assertion that the statements were involuntary.

Defendant further argued that the trial court erred by admitting photographs showing a large amount of marijuana in his apartment. Because the probative value of this evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, it should have been excluded under CRE 403, and the court erred in admitting the photos.

The judgment of conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial. On remand, the court must conduct an evidentiary hearing on the voluntariness and admissibility of defendant’s statements to the police officers, and photos depicting marijuana should be excluded from evidence.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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