February 18, 2012

Colorado Court of Appeals 2-2-12 People v. Chirico

People v. Chirico  Self-Defense - Totality of the Circumstances - 'Citizen's Arrest' / Improper Instruction / Harmless Error
Facts:  Only in my town, Boulder, Colorado, would a jury convict Mr. Chirico of anything. Super Champ (the complaining witness), attending a kegger, thought he’d be a super hero. After he heard what he assumed was Mr. Chirico damaging the fence in front of the house holding the kegger, Super Champ, ‘somewhat intoxicated’, went out to confront Mr. Chirico. Super Champ called Mr. Chirico and three others with Mr. Chirico ‘babies’, ‘fucking pussies’, and threatened to ‘kick all their asses’ and ‘kill all of them’. Showing the patience of Zen Master, Mr. Chirico did not unleash a reasonable beat down on Mr. Keg-Party Hero, but instead walked away. Not content, Super Champ then got into Mr. Chirico’s face, talked ‘smack’ to Mr. Chirico, grabbed Mr. Chirico’s shirt collar, and pushed him. Finally, Young Kane err Grasshopper err Mr. Chirico exchanged punches with Super Champ; the two wrestled to the ground; and finally, Mr. Chirico put Super Champ in a headlock. While holding the headlock, Mr. Chirico landed a few well-earned punches and broke some bones in Super Champ’s face. Instead of celebrating Mr. Chirico for protecting himself from a bully, Boulder charges him with 2˚ assault. The prosecution ran the argument that because Super Champ was merely attempting to effectuate a citizen’s arrest, Mr. Chirico had no right to employ self-defense. To bolster the prosecution’s theory, the trial court’s instructions included this DA submitted gem, “Because every person is presumed to know the law, it is presumed that the defendant knew the person could employ lawful force against him if the defendant committed a crime in the person's presence.” Curiously, the prosecution never charged Mr. Chirico with criminal mischief for damaging the fence. The jury convicted Mr. Chirico of the lesser 3˚ assault. Mr. Chirico appealed.
Issue: Whether the idiotic and false instruction conjured up by the DA and submitted to the jury deprived Mr. Chirico of a fair trial by denying his right self-defense?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: The Court of Appeals, timidly, reversed the conviction, and wrote “Thus, although the presumption instruction, in general, did not misstate the law, we conclude that it was error to give it to the jury in this case.” (Italics in the original). The District Court and Court of Appeals got caught up in the DA’s hyperventilating about ‘citizen’s arrest’ and the lawful use of force a citizen may use to effectuate an arrest. However, the Court of Appeals finally cut through the Boulder BS: no one in their right mind would ever believe Super Champ was looking to arrest someone, and anyone, in the shoes of Mr. Chirico would see Super Champ’s actions, demeanor, and words as a bully seeking retaliation. Further, the presumption language placed a false burden upon Mr. Cirico. The prosecution lifted this instruction from People v. Hayward, 55 P.3d 803, 806 (2002). However, as the Court of Appeals noted, Mr. Hayward sought to use self-defense as a trespasser against an occupant employing force under the Make My Day statute. Under Make My Day the occupant may unleash a coup de grace upon a trespasser. Here, the only consideration for the jury is the totality of the circumstances from Mr. Chirico's point of view. Mr. Chirico objected to the idiotic instruction during trial, and the Court of Appeals held that the error could not be harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Steven Louth not only represented Mr. Chirico on appeal, but also tried the case. Nice work, Mr. Louth.

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