People v. Gibson, 79SA125

Decision Date02 February 1981
Docket NumberNo. 79SA125,79SA125
Citation623 P.2d 391
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Gary Michael GIBSON, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

J. D. MacFarlane, Atty. Gen., Richard F. Hennessey, Deputy Atty. Gen., Edward G. Donovan, Sol. Gen., Kathleen M. Bowers, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for plaintiff-appellee.

J. Gregory Walta, State Public Defender, Joseph P. McMahon, Jr., Sp. Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, for defendant-appellant.

ERICKSON, Justice.

The defendant, Gary Michael Gibson, appeals his conviction for second-degree assault. Section 18-3-203(1)(f), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). He asserts that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury as to his good faith, but his unreasonable belief that he acted in self-defense. He also claims that the jury should have been instructed as to the lesser offense of third-degree assault. We affirm.

On the date of the assault, Gibson was an inmate at the Colorado State Penitentiary. The incident which formed the basis of the assault centered on an attempt by prison guards to move Gibson to a new cell. When Gibson refused to move to his new cell, two guards grabbed his arms in an attempt to force him out of the cell. Gibson reacted by kicking a guard in the groin and inflicting serious injury. Gibson claims, however, that the guards' prior threats and the fact that he had filed several pro se legal actions against prison officials, caused him to believe that the guards intended to assault him and not to merely move him from one cell to another.

An information was filed charging Gibson with second-degree assault. 1 Second-degree assault is a class 4 felony punishable by a maximum sentence of ten years. 2 The information also charged Gibson under sentencing alternatives set forth in section 16-11-101(1)(d), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8) to enhance possible punishment. 3

Gibson contended that he was entitled to an instruction on the affirmative defense of self-defense. As a result, the court gave the jury the following instruction on self-defense:

"It is an affirmative defense to the crime of Assault in the Second Degree that the defendant used the physical force upon another person

(1) In order to defend himself from what he reasonably believed to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by others against him, and

(2) He used a degree of force which he reasonably believed to be necessary for that purpose."

"In passing upon the question as to whether or not the defendant had reasonable grounds for believing that there was imminent danger that the complainant and others were about to do him bodily harm, you should determine this question from the standpoint of the defendant at the time he acted, under his surrounding at the particular instant of time, and determine whether or not he acted as a reasonable and prudent person would have acted under like circumstances. It is not enough that the defendant believed himself in danger, unless the facts and circumstances shown by the evidence and known to the defendant at the time, or by him then believed to be true, are such that you can say that as a reasonable person he had grounds for such belief." 4

The jury was also given the following instruction on second-degree assault:

"A person commits the crime of 'assault in the second degree' if: While lawfully confined or in custody, he violently applies physical force against the person of a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties, and the person committing the offense knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties.

"The elements of 'assault in the second degree' are therefore:

(1) While lawfully confined or in custody

(2) With specific intent

(3) Violently applying physical force against a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties and

(4) Knowing or reasonably should know the victim is a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties.

"If, after considering all of the evidence, you find that the prosecution has established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Gary Michael Gibson acted in such a manner so as to satisfy all of the above elements at or about the date and place stated in the information, you should find the defendant guilty of assault in the second degree; if you do not so find, you should find the defendant not guilty of assault in the second degree."

The jury found Gibson guilty of second-degree assault and a sentence of two to ten years was imposed. See section 16-11-101(1)(d), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8).

I.

Gibson relying on People v. Bramlett, 194 Colo. 205, 573 P.2d 94 (1977), cert. denied, 435 U.S. 956, 98 S.Ct. 1590, 55 L.Ed.2d 808 (1978), asserts that if he committed the assault with the good faith, but unreasonable belief that his actions were justified, the sentence imposed can be no greater than that which can be imposed under the criminally-negligent homicide statute. Section 18-3-105, C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). 5 Criminally-negligent homicide is a class 1 misdemeanor that carries a sanction of six months to two years imprisonment. 6

The prosecution, on the other hand, argues that the rationale of People v. Bramlett, supra, does not apply because section 18-3-203(1)(f), C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8) (assault while in custody) proscribes conduct which has no relationship to the unlawful acts set forth in either the criminally-negligent homicide statute, or section 1(a) of the first-degree assault statute.

We agree with the prosecution. In People v. Bramlett, supra, we concluded that the intent and the conduct defined in the first-degree assault statute and the criminally-negligent homicide statute were not sufficiently distinguishable to justify a greater penalty for the infliction of serious bodily injury which would be imposed when death occurred. In reversing Bramlett's conviction for first-degree assault, we stated:

"A statute which prescribes different degrees of punishment for the same acts committed under like circumstances by persons in like situations is violative of a person's right to equal protection of the laws." (Citations omitted.) Id. 194 Colo. at 208, 573 P.2d 94.

The issue here is whether the intent and the conduct proscribed by the second-degree assault statute and the criminally-negligent homicide statute, are sufficiently distinguishable to justify a greater penalty when the conduct proscribed by the assault statute results in the application of violent physical force as contrasted with death under the criminally-negligent homicide statute. 7

It is clearly within the legislature's prerogative to establish the penalties and defenses which apply to specific criminal offenses, subject, of course, to constitutional restraints. People v. Bramlett, supra. Harsher penalties for crimes committed under different circumstances than those which accompany the commission of other crimes do not violate equal protection guarantees if the classification is rationally based upon differences in the acts or the conduct which is proscribed. People v. Montoya, 196 Colo. 111, 582 P.2d 673 (1978). See also People v. Thompson, 197 Colo. 299, 592 P.2d 803 (1979).

It is only where the same acts or conduct are set forth in two statutes with different criminal sanctions or to which different defenses are available, that equal protection guarantees are violated. People v. Hulse, 192 Colo. 302, 557 P.2d 1205 (1976); People v. Calvaresi, 188 Colo. 277, 534 P.2d 316 (1975). Here, the two criminal statutes in issue are distinguishable. The second-degree assault statute requires that the defendant be lawfully confined or in custody and the violent application of force must be against a person engaged in the performance of his duties while employed by or under contract with a detention facility. By contrast, criminally-negligent homicide requires that the defendant knowingly, in the good faith, but unreasonable belief that one or more grounds for justification exist, causes the death of another person.

In our view, the second-degree assault statute (assault while in custody) creates a separate and distinct offense which turns on substantial differences which have a reasonable relationship to the persons involved and the public purposes to be achieved. See People v. Calvaresi, supra; People v. Bramlett, supra. Accordingly, it was not error for the trial court to refuse to instruct the jury as to Gibson's good faith, but unreasonable belief that he had a right of self-defense.

II.

Gibson asserts that the trial court erred in refusing his tendered instruction on the lesser offense of third-degree assault, section 18-3-204, C.R.S. 1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). 8 Gibson contends the evidence at trial supports his theory that he acted with a general, and not a specific, intent when he kicked the guard who was standing in front of him. Additionally, he claims that the evidence at trial raised the issue of whether the guard was "engaged in the performance of his duties," or whether he was acting as part of the "goon squad" which disciplined inmates who were believed to be out of line. He then argues that, under appropriate instructions, the jury could have found that the guard was not "engaged in the performance of his duties," and could have determined that he was only guilty of third-degree assault.

The prosecution answers with the assertion that there was no evidence in the record which would have permitted the jury to find that Gibson acted with general intent when he kicked the guard. Under the instructions on second-degree assault and self-defense, the prosecution points out that if the jury had found that the guard was acting illegally, the jury, under the instructions, would have had to find that Gibson had the right to defend himself against illegal force.

We have reviewed the record and conclude that...

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8 cases
  • People v. Schoondermark, 84SA99
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • May 6, 1985
    ...P.2d 2 (Colo.App.1982); People v. Walker, 634 P.2d 1026 (Colo.App.1981); People v. Mason, 632 P.2d 616 (Colo.App.1981); People v. Gibson, 623 P.2d 391 (Colo.App.1981); People v. Olinger, 39 Colo.App. 491, 566 P.2d 1367 (1977). Defendant's argument is correct; the application of physical for......
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    • Colorado Supreme Court
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    ...and to establish sanctions designed to prevent criminal conduct and to punish persons who engage in criminal conduct. People v. Gibson, 623 P.2d 391, 395 (Colo.1981); People v. Childs, 199 Colo. 436, 439, 610 P.2d 101, 103 (1980); People v. Bergstrom, 190 Colo. 105, 108, 544 P.2d 396, 398-9......
  • People v. Roy
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    • Colorado Supreme Court
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    ...based upon differences in the acts or the conduct which is proscribed. People v. Armstrong, 720 P.2d 165 (Colo.1986); People v. Gibson, 623 P.2d 391 (Colo.1981). There is no violation of equal protection in this case because the defendant's conduct differs from that proscribed by the genera......
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    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • October 17, 1985
    ...distinguishable from that required for criminally negligent homicide to justify a harsher sentence for the former. See People v. Gibson, 623 P.2d 391 (Colo.1981). VII. Lucero lastly argues that the trial court abused its discretion by imposing what he claims is an excessive sentence for his......
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2 books & journal articles
  • ARTICLE 3
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association C.R.S. on Family and Juvenile Law (2022 ed.) (CBA) Title 18 Criminal Code
    • Invalid date
    ...differences which have a reasonable relationship to the persons involved and the public purposes to be achieved. People v. Gibson, 623 P.2d 391 (Colo. 1981). The term "serious bodily injury" is not facially unconstitutionally vague. Defendant's challenge that "serious bodily injury" include......
  • ARTICLE 3 OFFENSES AGAINST THE PERSON
    • United States
    • Colorado Bar Association C.R.S. on Family and Juvenile Law (CBA) Title 18 Criminal Code
    • Invalid date
    ...differences which have a reasonable relationship to the persons involved and the public purposes to be achieved. People v. Gibson, 623 P.2d 391 (Colo. 1981). The term "serious bodily injury" is not facially unconstitutionally vague. Defendant's challenge that "serious bodily injury" include......

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