Bennett v. People

Decision Date08 June 1964
Docket NumberNo. 20511,20511
Citation155 Colo. 101,392 P.2d 657
PartiesGordon W. BENNETT, Plaintiff in Error, v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Defendant in Error.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Gorsuch, Kirgis, Campbell, Walker & Grover, Dwight D. Murphey, Denver, for plaintiff in error.

Duke W. Dumbar, Atty. Gen., Frank E. Hickey, Deputy Atty. Gen., John E. Bush, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for defendant in error.

McWILLIAMS, Chief Justice.

In a violent collision between an automobile and a truck in the intersection of West Mississippi Avenue and South Santa Fe Drive in Denver, one Tinsley driving a truck owned by the plaintiff in error, Bennett, caused the death of Dr. Sayer.

This particular intersection is controlled by signal lights and just prior to the impact Dr. Sayer was proceeding in a westerly direction on West Mississippi Avenue approaching Santa Fe. Drive. At the moment of impact Dr. Sayer was in the intersection proper and on a green or go light.

Immediately prior to the accident Tinsley was proceeding in a southerly direction on South Santa Fe Drive approaching West Mississippi Avenue and at the moment of impact he too was in the intersection proper, but on the red or stop light.

In explaining why he admittedly 'ran' the red light, Tinsley stated that as he approached this intersection at a speed of from 25 to 35 miles per hour, the speed limit of South Santa Fe being 45 miles per hour, he specifically noticed that his signal light was red or stop, but that when he tried to stop his truck he could not do so, because of a complete brake failure.

As was mentioned above, the truck driven by Tinsley was owned by his employer, Bennett, and Tinsley at the time had completed his day's work and was enroute to his employer's parking area near Fort Logan. He was alone in the truck when the accident occurred.

By direct information Tinsley and Bennett were jointly charged with the crime of involuntary manslaughter. C.R.S. '53, 40-2-7. Upon arraignment each pled not guilty and, Bennett's motion for a separate trial having been denied, a joint trial by jury ensued. As to Tinsley the jury returned a verdict of 'not guilty', but the same jury at the same time found Bennett guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

In due time Bennett's motion for entry of a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial was denied. Bennett was thereupon sentenced to a six month term in the common jail, which sentence the trial court then promptly suspended because Bennett had already 'suffered a great deal' and the 'case is one of first impression in Colorado.' By the present writ of error Bennett seeks reversal of this judgment and suspended sentence.

The dominant issue posed by this writ of error pertains to the sufficiency of the evidence. At the conclusion of the People's evidence Bennett under Rule 29, Colo.R.Crim.P. moved for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that the evidence was insufficient to sustain the charge of involuntary manslaughter. The trial court declined to rule on this motion, reserving its decision 'until the conclusion of all the evidence.' The practice, if such it be--and we suspect it is, of reserving a ruling on a motion for a judgment of acquittal interposed by a defendant in a criminal proceeding at the close of the People's presentation of evidence is not authorized by the Colo.R.Crim.P. and is hereby disapproved. See Jackson v. United States, 5 Cir., 250 F.2d 897.

At the conclusion of all the evidence Bennett renewed his motion for acquittal, which motion was then denied by the trial court. Thereafter Bennett in his motion for judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict of the jury or for a new trial again challenged the sufficiency of the evidence and in our view such is the only issue which need be considered. This being the case, a brief recital of the facts is deemed helpful to an understanding of the reasoning which forms the basis for our firm conclusion that the evidence is legally insufficient to sustain the jury's verdict that Bennett is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Before proceeding to an analysis of the evidence, it is perhaps helpful to consider the amount of evidence necessary to sustain a conviction of involuntary manslaughter. In Trujillo v. People, 133 Colo. 186, 292 P.2d 980, where this Court reversed a conviction of a bus driver on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, it was stated:

'It is clear that before defendant could be convicted of manslaughter, there must have been evidence tending to prove he recklessly and wantonly failed to exercise the care and caution that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under similar circumstances, and that his conduct was such as to indicate a reckless and wanton disregard for the safety of others. Ordinary or simple negligence is not sufficient to sustain a charge of involuntary manslaughter. We see no difference in the degree of negligence required to sustain a charge of manslaughter and that necessary to support a verdict in favor of a claimant in an action for damages under the guest statute. C.R.S. '53, 13-9-1. In each instance the essential ingredient is a wanton and wilful disregard of the rights and safety of others.'

In the instant case, then is, there evidence to support the determination by the jury that Bennett was guilty of negligence consisting of a reckless and wanton disregard of the rights and safety of others, which negligence caused and resulted in the tragic death of Dr. Sayer? Our examination of the record convinces us that the evidence in this regard is wholly lacking and is therefore insufficient to sustain the verdict. What does the record disclose as to possible criminal negligent on the part of Bennett?

Bennett was engaged in the business of hauling water which was used in and around construction sites, and in conducting this business Bennett owned several trucks, including the one driven by Tinsley at the time of the collision with Dr. Sayer's vehicle. This particular truck was a 1947 G.M.C. truck and had an air brake system which if properly operating maintained a pressure of from 90-110 pounds. It was established that Bennett on the day preceding the accident had himself driven this particular truck and on this occasion had noted that when the truck was stopped and idling this pressure dropped to 60 pounds. This dropping in pressure was due to a 'slow leak in the truck's quick release valve' and Bennett went on to relate that when the truck was moving, the air pressure went back up to normal because of the increased action of the motor driven compressor. There was no evidence that Bennett had experienced even a partial brake...

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22 cases
  • People v. Schoondermark, 84SA99
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • May 6, 1985
    ...taken in the light most favorable to the prosecution, to support it. People v. Gonzales, 666 P.2d 123 (Colo.1983); Bennett v. People, 155 Colo. 101, 392 P.2d 657 (1964). Defendant does not seriously dispute the fact that he struggled violently with Officer Goodwin, Sergeant Murphy and two d......
  • People v. Thornton, 26422
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • March 22, 1976
    ...the conclusion of a reasonable mind that the defendant committed the crime herein charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Bennett v. People, 155 Colo. 101, 392 P.2d 657 (1964); People v. Sanchez, 184 Colo. 25, 518 P.2d 818 (1974); See also Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 62 S.Ct. 457, 86 ......
  • Daniels v. People
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • February 7, 1966 to indicate a reckless and wanton disregard for the safety of others. Trujillo v. People, 133 Colo. 186, 292 P.2d 980; Bennett v. People, 155 Colo. 101, 392 P.2d 657. Thus, in this case, at least, all of the elements of involuntary manslaughter, absent proof of intoxication or if upon th......
  • State v. Smith, 17780
    • United States
    • Utah Supreme Court
    • November 8, 1983
    ...26 Ariz.App. 376, 378, 548 P.2d 1188, 1190 (1976). See also Jackson v. United States, 250 F.2d 897 (5th Cir.1958); Bennett v. People, 155 Colo. 101, 392 P.2d 657 (1964). In the instant case, the trial court reserved its decision until after the defendant presented his evidence, and then den......
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