August 16, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Attempted Murder Conviction Must Be Vacated When Arising from Same Event as Actual Murder Conviction

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Johnson on Thursday, May 31, 2018.

Criminal Law—Murder—Accessory—Fifth Amendment—Double Jeopardy—Undisclosed Alibi Defense—Mistrial—Testimonial Hearsay Statements—Doctrine of Forfeiture by Wrongdoing—Residual Hearsay Exception—Complicity Jury Instruction—Lesser Included Offense—Transferred Intent.

Jackson and his friends were members of “Sicc Made,” a subset of the Crips gang. Jackson drove a vehicle to the apartment of E.O., a rival gang member, with the intention of shooting E.O. Victim Y.M. lived in E.O.’s apartment complex. Believing Y.M. was E.O., another “Sicc Made” gang member got out of Jackson’s car, walked over to an SUV, and shot Y.M. twice in the head, killing him instantly. When they realized they had killed the wrong man, the men turned and fired numerous shots into E.O.’s apartment. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder after deliberation, attempted first degree murder after deliberation, attempted first degree murder with extreme indifference, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and accessory.

On appeal, Jackson first challenged the court’s decision to declare a mistrial after cross-examination of his ex-wife revealed an undisclosed alibi defense. A defendant may not elicit alibi evidence, absent good cause, without first complying with the Crim. P. 16(II)(d) alibi disclosure requirements. It is undisputed that the defense provided no notice to the prosecution of the alibi, despite receiving it a month before trial. The defense decided not to disclose the new information but to elicit it on cross-examination in violation of Rule 16. Further, the trial court carefully considered the parties’ arguments and its available options and was in the best position to assess the prejudicial impact. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to declare a mistrial.

Jackson next contended that the trial court erroneously admitted testimonial hearsay statements of uncharged co-conspirator Walker to law enforcement officials under the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing and under the CRE 807 residual hearsay exception. However, (1) the prosecution proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Jackson forfeited his right to confront Walker because he caused Walker’s refusal to testify, and (2) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Walker’s statements under CRE 807.

Jackson also contended that the complicity instruction was erroneous. The jury instruction defining first degree murder after deliberation, when read with the complicity instruction, accurately required the jury to find that Jackson was aware that the shooter acted after deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of the victim. Accordingly, there was no error in the complicity instruction.

Finally, Jackson contended that the trial court erred in imposing two convictions and consecutive sentences for his attempted murder convictions. When a defendant attempts to deliberately kill one person but mistakenly kills a different person and is convicted of both the attempted murder of the intended victim and the actual murder of the unintended victim, the attempted murder conviction must be vacated because it is a lesser included offense of the murder conviction. Here, the undisputed evidence shows that the shooter and Jackson intended to kill E.O. and mistakenly killed Y.M., believing him to be E.O. Under the doctrine of transferred intent, Jackson’s specific intent to kill E.O. transferred to Y.M. and made him criminally liable for Y.M.’s death. Therefore, the attempted murder of E.O. after deliberation is a lesser included offense of the murder after deliberation of Y.M. The trial court’s error was obvious, substantial, and undermined the fairness of the proceeding.

The convictions of first degree murder after deliberation, attempted first degree murder with extreme indifference, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, and accessory were affirmed. The judgment for attempted first degree murder after deliberation was vacated and the case was remanded for correction of the mittimus.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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