Court Opinions – Sep 28, 2020

People v. Jackson

Brandon Jackson was convicted, as a complicitor, of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder after his codefendant shot and killed Y.M. under the mistaken belief that Y.M. was someone else. A division of the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled the double jeopardy clauses of the federal and state constitutions dictate that Jackson cannot stand convicted of both offenses because the latter is a lesser included offense of the former. But in doing so, the division relied on the doctrine of transferred intent, a legal fiction that some courts use largely to ensure that a defendant doesn’t escape liability in what is widely known as a bad-aim situation (i.e., A aims at and shoots toward B, but misses due to his bad aim and accidentally hits and kills C, an innocent bystander). 

Because Colorado’s broad statutory definition of first-degree murder encompasses unintended victims and renders the transferred intent doctrine unnecessary, the Colorado Supreme Court disapproved of the doctrine in first-degree murder cases. Further, the court held that, even if the first-degree murder statute didn’t make the transferred intent doctrine unnecessary, the doctrine would still be irrelevant here because this is a mistaken-identity case, not a bad-aim case. Unlike a bad-aim case, in a mistaken-identity case, A aims at, shoots, and kills C by mistake (A hits his target, mistakenly believing that C is B). Hence, while a bad-aim case involves two victims (the person the perpetrator aimed at and shot toward and the unintended victim harmed by the bullet), a mistaken-identity case like this one involves only one victim (the person the perpetrator aimed at and shot with the intent to kill, albeit by mistake).

 It follows that in a mistaken-identity case, there is no need to transfer the perpetrator’s intent from one victim to another — the concept of transferred intent is immaterial. 

The Supreme Court determined the shooter here did not attempt to kill his intended victim when he aimed at and shot Y.M. 

Rather, in aiming at and shooting Y.M., the shooter intended and attempted to kill Y.M., the same person he actually killed. That the shooter wanted to kill someone else originally and mistakenly believed Y.M. was that person is of no moment. 

Therefore, Jackson’s convictions for first degree murder and attempted first degree murder are based on the same criminal conduct and relate to the same victim, Y.M. 

Accordingly, although the Supreme Court agreed the trial court plainly erred in entering convictions and imposing sentences for both offenses in question, its rationale differs from the division’s. The division’s judgment was affirmed on other grounds. The Supreme Court remanded with instructions to return the case to the trial court to vacate the conviction and sentence for the lesser included offense of attempted first-degree murder. 

People v. Manzanares

Donald Manzanares’s girlfriend, S.M., reported to law enforcement authorities that he had physically assaulted her. Specifically, S.M. reported that Manzanares strangled her and threatened to kill her while in her car, and then ran away. S.M. said that Manzanares later returned to her house, forced his way in, put his hand over her mouth, poked her in the chest and threatened to kill her if she called the police. In a case not at issue here, Manzanares was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, burglary, two counts of second-degree assault, and two counts of felony menacing. 

While awaiting trial in jail, Manzanares allegedly solicited two other inmates, Marcus Martinez and Salvador Avitia, to intimidate S.M., prevent her from testifying, retaliate against S.M. for reporting him to the police and murder S.M. to prevent her from testifying at his trial. Manzares was then charged with six counts of solicitation.

A jury acquitted Manzanares of the solicitation for murder charges but convicted him of the other four solicitation counts. The trial court sentenced him to a cumulative prison term of eighteen years to run consecutively to the sentence he received in the burglary, second-degree assault and felony menacing case. 

Manzanares appealed the judgment of conviction entered on jury verdicts finding him guilty of two counts of solicitation to commit witness retaliation and two counts of solicitation to commit witness intimidation. 

Addressing a matter of first impression, a division of the Colorado Court of Appeals concluded the unit of prosecution in the solicitation statute, section 18-2-301(1), C.R.S. 2019, is based on each person solicited, not the number of victims targeted. It affirmed the judgment of conviction. 

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