May 21, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Person Acting in Self-Defense Has No Duty to Retreat

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Monroe on Thursday, August 8, 2018.

Criminal Law—Self-Defense—Duty to Retreat—Jury Instructions—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Monroe boarded a city bus and sat down next to Faulkenberry. The two almost immediately began to argue. Eight to 10 minutes after the dispute began, Monroe stabbed Faulkenberry in the neck. At trial, Monroe did not testify, but her counsel asserted that Monroe had been acting in self-defense. During closing and rebuttal arguments, the prosecution made several references to Monroe’s ability to retreat from the situation. Defense counsel’s objections to these statements were overruled. The jury was formally instructed regarding the duty to retreat. Monroe was convicted of attempted first degree murder and first degree assault. The trial court adjudicated her a habitual criminal and sentenced her to concurrent prison terms of 96 years on the attempted murder count and 48 years on the assault count.

On appeal, Monroe argued that the trial court committed reversible error when it permitted the prosecution to argue that the jury should consider Monroe’s failure to retreat when deciding whether she had acted in self-defense. A person who reasonably perceives an imminent use of unlawful physical force by another may use force in defending himself or herself without first retreating and does not have to consider whether a reasonable person in the situation would choose to retreat rather than to resort to physical force in defense. Here, the prosecution raised the issue of the availability of retreat five times during its closing and rebuttal arguments, and the prosecution’s argument inappropriately imposed a duty to retreat. The trial court permitted the jury to believe that it could consider whether a reasonable person would have retreated, in direct contravention of its instruction that no such duty exists. Thus, the trial court abused its discretion. Further, although the court and the prosecutors themselves repeatedly stated that Monroe had no duty to retreat, there was a reasonable probability that the jury was misled and that the misleading arguments contributed to the verdict, so the error was not harmless.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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