October 16, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Entry of Charge Based on Jury’s Special Interrogatory Answers Violated Defendant’s Constitutional Right to Jury Trial

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Oliver on Thursday, October 4, 2018.

Criminal Law—Possession of a Weapon by a Previous Offender—Right to Jury Trial—Waiver.

Defendant was tried on two felony menacing charges. Before trial, the parties agreed to bifurcate a possession of a weapon by a previous offender (POWPO) count. However, near the end of the trial, defense counsel agreed with the court’s suggestion of using a special interrogatory on possession instead of having a separate trial on the POWPO count after the jury returned its verdict on the menacing counts. Counsel also stipulated that defendant was a previous offender. The jury was not instructed on the POWPO charge. The jury acquitted defendant on one count and hung on the other. Based on the stipulation and the jury’s “yes” answer to the special interrogatory that asked whether defendant had possessed a firearm, the trial court entered a judgment of conviction for POWPO.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court directed a verdict on the POWPO charge in violation of his federal and state constitutional rights to a jury trial, which he did not personally waive. To return a verdict, a jury must have been instructed on the offense. Here, even if counsel stipulated to the prior offender element, defendant did not personally waive his right to have the jury return a verdict on the POWPO charge, and the trial court never told the jury that it was deciding the POWPO charge. Therefore, the judgment of conviction on the POWPO charge violated defendant’s constitutional right to a jury trial.

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

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

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