June 27, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Error in Denying Defendant His Tendered Self-Defense Instruction Not Harmless

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Koper on Thursday, September 20, 2018.

Criminal Law—Jury Instructions—Self-Defense—Transferred Intent—Affirmative Defense—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

While at a bar, defendant said something to Abram’s sister that offended Abram. Defendant tried to make amends by offering Abram a beer. Abram responded by punching defendant twice in the face. Defendant then drew his firearm, for which he had a concealed carry permit, and aimed it at Abram. After a short standoff, defendant handed the gun to his fiancée and the two left the bar. A jury found defendant guilty of two counts of felony menacing and prohibited possession of a firearm. The first count of felony menacing named the alleged victim as a security guard who had stepped between defendant and Abram after defendant drew his weapon; the second count named the alleged victim as another bar patron who had been sitting near Abram.

On appeal, defendant contended that the trial court erred in rejecting his jury instructions on the affirmative defense of self-defense. Here, defendant raised credible evidence that he acted in self-defense against Abram. Defendant’s intent to defend himself against Abram would, if the jury believed his testimony, allow the intent as to Abram to transfer to the encounter with the alleged victims. Thus, the trial court erred in rejecting defendant’s jury instructions on self-defense as an affirmative defense to the menacing charges. Further, the error was not harmless because while the defense’s theory of the case instruction referred generally to self-defense, the instruction did not require the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendant also contended that prosecutorial misconduct required reversal of his conviction for possession of a firearm while intoxicated. Here, the prosecutor asked defendant 44 times whether another witness’s testimony was incorrect, wrong, or untrue, or whether the witness had lied; this went beyond asking non-prejudicial questions designed to highlight discrepancies in the evidence. The error was plain and warranted reversal.

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

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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