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Colorado Supreme Court: Convictions for Murder and Attempted Murder Violate Double Jeopardy

Jackson, along with other members of the gang known as “Sicc Made,” drove to an apartment complex to kill rival gang member “E.O.” One of Jackson’s cohorts spotted “Y.M.” exiting a vehicle similar to that driven by E.O. Mistaking Y.M. for E.O., the cohort shot Y.M. twice in the head, killing him instantly.

Relying on a complicity theory, the People indicted Jackson on several charges, including first-degree murder (naming Y.M. as the victim) and attempted first-degree murder (naming E.O. as the victim). The jury found Jackson guilty on all charges. The trial court sentenced him to life in prison without parole on the first-degree murder conviction and to a consecutive term of 24 years on the attempted murder conviction.

Jackson appealed, arguing, inter alia, that the murder and attempted murder convictions violated his state and federal constitutional protections against double jeopardy. A division of the court of appeals, believing there were two victims and relying on the doctrine of “transferred intent,” concluded that the two convictions violated double jeopardy. The court of appeals vacated the conviction and sentence for attempted murder and remanded to the trial court for correction of the mittimus (i.e., the transcript of the sentencing proceedings). The Colorado Supreme Court granted the People’s petition for j.

The Court observed that “[t]he doctrine of transferred intent generally provides that when ‘A’ aims and shoots toward ‘B’ but accidentally misses and hits ‘C’ (an innocent bystander), ‘A’ is just as guilty as if his aim had been precise.” Wayne R. LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law, § 6.4(d) (3d ed. 2019). In most jurisdictions, if “A” aims at and shoots toward “B” with the specific state of mind required for first-degree murder but misses due to bad aim and kills “C” instead, “A’s intent” to kill “B” is applied to the killing of “C,” i.e., the doctrine of transferred intent. Otherwise, “A” couldn’t be convicted of first-degree murder in those jurisdictions that require a specific intent to kill the person who was actually killed.

But in Colorado, a person commits first-degree murder if “[a]fter deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, he causes the death of that person or of another person.” C.R.S. 18-3-102(1)(a) (2019). Because the language of the statute holds the perpetrator just as liable for the killing of an unintended victim as when he kills the intended victim, the doctrine of transferred intent is unnecessary.

Additionally, the doctrine of transferred intent has been limited to bad-aim cases. State v. Fekete, 901 P.2d 708 (N.M. 1995). The doctrine does not apply when the perpetrator shoots and kills the person he was aiming at even if the person aimed at was believed to be someone else, that is, when the victim was a case of mistaken identity. Martinez v. State, 844 S.W.2d 279 (Tex. Ct. App. 1992). Consequently, the decision of the court of appeals was incorrect as a matter of law.

However, the Court determined that Jackson’s convictions for both murder and attempted murder violates double jeopardy. Double jeopardy tends to be implicated when multiple punishments are imposed for the same criminal conduct. Woellhaf v. People, 105 P.3d 209 (Colo. 2005). In Colorado, even a conviction without a sentence violates double jeopardy because a conviction “bears sufficiently adverse collateral consequences to amount to punishment.” People v. Wood, 433 P.3d 585 (Colo. 2019). But a legislature may authorize multiple punishments for the same offense (e.g., imprisonment and a fine or imprisonment followed by probation, etc.) without violating double jeopardy protections. Reyna-Abarca v. People, 390 P.3d 816 (Colo. 2017). However, if the legislature has not authorized multiple punishments for an offense, then the protections of double jeopardy prohibit imposition of multiple punishments. Id.

In Colorado, if one offense is a lesser included offense of the other, a defendant may not be convicted of both offenses because it becomes an issue of multiple punishments for the same offense. C.R.S. § 18-1-408(1)(a). In such a case, the court vacates the lesser sentence because trial courts are “to select the combination of offenses that can simultaneously stand to produce the most convictions and the longest sentences, in order to maximize the effect of the jury’s verdict.” Halaseh v. People, 463 P.3d 249 (Colo. 2020).

Contrary to the view of the People and the court of appeals in the instant case that there were two victims, the Court determined there was only one victim, Y.M. That is, when the shooter aimed at and shot Y.M., he intended and attempted to kill Y.M., not E.O., and it was immaterial that the shooter mistakenly believed Y.M. to be E.O. The attempted murder of Y.M. was a lesser included offense of the murder because the prosecutor, in proving murder, necessarily had to prove all of the elements of attempted murder. Reyna-Abarca. Therefore, the conviction and sentence for both offenses were multiple punishments for the same offense and violate the prohibitions against double jeopardy.

Related legal case

People v. Jackson

 

 

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