October 5, 2011

Colorado Supreme Court decisions 9-12-11 People v. Pickering

People v. Pickering                   Self-Defense and Reckless Manslaughter
Facts: A jury found Mr. Pickering not guilty of second-degree murder, but found him guilty of manslaughter. Mr. Pickering ran self-defense at trial. The Court of Appeals reversed, and held the trial court shifted the burden when it instructed the jury on how self-defense and the manslaughter charge related to each other.
Issue: Whether the trial court shifted the burden to the defense when it gave the following instruction to the jury, “the people do not bear the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense with respect to the reckless manslaughter charge.”
Held:  No.
Reasoning:  Justice Rice wrote the majority opinion, and really did nothing more than state the following in her reasoning:
“The General Assembly addressed the issues raised in Fink by enacting section 18–1–704(4). 4 The first clause of section 18–1–704(4) codifies Fink in part, requiring trial courts, in accordance with the United States Supreme Court's holding in Martin v. Ohio, 480 U.S. 228, 233–34, 107 S.Ct. 1098, 94 L.Ed.2d 267 (1987), to permit defendants accused of crimes to which self-defense is not an affirmative defense—i.e., those involving recklessness, extreme indifference, or criminal negligence—to nevertheless present evidence of self-defense. The second and third clauses abrogate Fink to a limited extent by requiring trial courts to instruct the jury in such cases regarding the law of self-defense and to explain to the jury that it may consider evidence of self-defense in determining whether a defendant acted recklessly or with extreme indifference or with criminal negligence. Finally, the fourth clause, at issue here, clarifies that the self-defense law instruction required in such cases is not an affirmative defense instruction and that the prosecution does not bear the burden of disproving
Justice Martinez, with Bender and Hobbs dissented. In Justice Martinez’s view, the instruction shifted the burden and misled the jury. Justice Martinez wrote:
The majority does not require that trial courts give this instruction, and neither does the statute. Section 18–1–704(4) requires trial courts to: (1) allow defendants to present evidence of self-defense; (2) give a “self-defense law instruction” where evidence of self-defense is presented; and (3) inform the jury that it may consider self-defense evidence “in determining whether the defendant acted recklessly, with extreme indifference, or in a criminally negligent manner.” In contrast, although the statute states the prosecution has no burden to disprove self-defense, it does not require that juries be so informed: “[T]he self-defense law instruction shall not be an affirmative defense instruction and the prosecution attorney shall not have the burden of disproving self-defense.”

(citations omitted).

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