People v. Hall, No. 99SC105.

Docket NºNo. 99SC105.
Citation999 P.2d 207
Case DateApril 10, 2000
CourtSupreme Court of Colorado

999 P.2d 207

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Petitioner,
v.
Nathan HALL, Respondent

No. 99SC105.

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc.

April 10, 2000.


999 P.2d 210
F. Michael Goodbee, District Attorney, Fifth Judicial District, Robert H. Wheeler, Deputy District Attorney, Eagle, Attorneys for Petitioner

Heckman & O'Connor, P.C., Brett Steven Heckman, Edwards, Attorneys for Respondent.

Justice BENDER delivered the Opinion of the Court.

I. INTRODUCTION

We hold that Nathan Hall must stand trial for the crime of reckless manslaughter. While skiing on Vail mountain, Hall flew off of a knoll and collided with Allen Cobb, who was traversing the slope below Hall. Cobb sustained traumatic brain injuries and died as a result of the collision. The People charged Hall with felony reckless manslaughter.

At a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable cause for the felony count, the county court found that Hall's conduct "did not rise to the level of dangerousness" required under Colorado law to uphold a conviction for manslaughter, and

999 P.2d 211
the court dismissed the charges. On appeal, the district court affirmed the county court's decision. The district court determined that in order for Hall's conduct to have been reckless, it must have been "at least more likely than not" that death would result. Because the court found that "skiing too fast for the conditions" is not "likely" to cause another person's death, the court concluded that Hall's conduct did not constitute a "substantial and unjustifiable" risk of death. Thus, the district court affirmed the finding of no probable cause

The charge of reckless manslaughter requires that a person "recklessly cause[ ] the death of another person." § 18-3-104(1)(a), 6 C.R.S. (1999). For his conduct to be reckless, the actor must have consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death could result from his actions. See § 18-1-501(8). We hold that, for the purpose of determining whether a person acted recklessly, a particular result does not have to be more likely than not to occur for the risk to be substantial and unjustifiable. A risk must be assessed by reviewing the particular facts of the individual case and weighing the likelihood of harm and the degree of harm that would result if it occurs. Whether an actor consciously disregarded such a risk may be inferred from circumstances such as the actor's knowledge and experience, or from what a similarly situated reasonable person would have understood about the risk under the particular circumstances.

We hold that under the particular circumstances of this case, whether Hall committed the crime of reckless manslaughter must be determined by the trier of fact. Viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, Hall's conduct—skiing straight down a steep and bumpy slope, back on his skis, arms out to his sides, off-balance, being thrown from mogul to mogul, out of control for a considerable distance and period of time, and at such a high speed that the force of the impact between his ski and the victim's head fractured the thickest part of the victim's skull— created a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death to another person. A reasonable person could infer that the defendant, a former ski racer trained in skier safety, consciously disregarded that risk. For the limited purposes of a preliminary hearing, the prosecution provided sufficient evidence to show probable cause that the defendant recklessly caused the victim's death. Thus, we reverse the district court's finding of no probable cause and we remand the case to that court for trial.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 20, 1997, the last day of the ski season, Hall worked as a ski lift operator on Vail mountain. When he finished his shift and after the lifts closed, Hall skied down toward the base of the mountain. The slopes were not crowded.

On the lower part of a run called "Riva Ridge," just below where the trail intersects with another called "North Face Catwalk," Hall was skiing very fast, ski tips in the air, his weight back on his skis, with his arms out to his sides to maintain balance. He flew off of a knoll and saw people below him, but he was unable to stop or gain control because of the moguls.

Hall then collided with Cobb, who had been traversing the slope below Hall. The collision caused major head and brain injuries to Cobb, killing him. Cobb was taken to Vail Valley Medical Center, where efforts to resuscitate him failed. Hall's blood alcohol level was .009, which is less than the limit for driving while ability impaired. A test of Hall's blood for illegal drugs was negative.

The People charged Hall with manslaughter (a class 4 felony)1 and misdemeanor charges that are not relevant to this appeal. At the close of the prosecution's case at the preliminary hearing, the People requested that, with respect to the manslaughter count, the court consider the lesser-included charge of criminally negligent homicide (a class 5 felony).2

The county court held a preliminary hearing to determine whether there was probable

999 P.2d 212
cause to support the felony charges against Hall. At the preliminary hearing, the People presented testimony from an eyewitness, the coroner who conducted the autopsy on Cobb's body, an investigator from the District Attorney's office, and the detective who investigated the accident for the Eagle County Sheriff's department

Judge Buck Allen, who serves as a judge for several mountain towns and lives in Vail, testified that he is an expert skier and familiar with Vail's slopes. He was making a final run for the day when he first noticed Hall on the slope. Allen was on part of the run called "Lower Riva," which is just below the "North Face Catwalk." From that part of the slope, Allen had a direct line of sight to the bottom of the run. Allen said that he could see other skiers traversing the slope below him at least from their waists up and that there were no blind spots on that part of the run.

Hall passed Allen skiing "at a fairly high rate of speed." Allen estimated that Hall was skiing about three times as fast as he was. Allen stated that Hall was "sitting back" on his skis, tips in the air, with his arms out to his sides in an effort to maintain his balance. Hall was skiing straight down the fall line; that is, he was skiing straight down the slope of the mountain without turning from side-to-side or traversing the slope. Hall "bounded off the bumps as he went," and "[t]he terrain was controlling [Hall]" rather than the other way around. In Allen's opinion, Hall was skiing too fast for the skill level he demonstrated, and Hall was out of control "if you define `out of control' as [not] being able to stop or avoid someone." Although he watched Hall long enough to note Hall's unsafe skiing—approximately two or three seconds—Allen did not see the collision.

Detective McWilliam investigated the collision for the Eagle County Sheriff's office. McWilliam testified that Deputy Mossness said that while Hall could not remember the collision, Hall admitted that as he flew off a knoll and looked down, he saw people below him but could not stop because of the bumps:

Mr. Hall told [the deputy] that he had been skiing that day, he was an employee of Vail Associates. That he was coming down the mountain and that he—he said he flew off of a knoll, looked down and saw some people below him down the slope, tried to slow down, and that because of the bumps, he wasn't able to stop. And he doesn't remember beyond that point. But he was told that somebody—that he had collided with someone.

McWilliam testified that he interviewed Jonathan Cherin, an eyewitness to the collision between Hall and Cobb. Cherin stated that he saw Hall skiing straight down the slope at a high speed and out of control. He said that Cobb, who appeared to be an inexperienced skier, traversed the slope below Hall when Hall hit some bumps, became airborne, and struck Cobb.

McWilliam testified that Deputy Bishop, an officer on the scene, told McWilliam about the observations of other witnesses to the collision. Bruce Yim said that Hall was skiing too fast, that he was out of control, and that Hall collided with Cobb as Cobb traversed the slope. Loic Lemaner, who was skiing below Cobb at the time of the collision, saw Hall after the collision. Lemaner said that after the collision, Hall struck Lemaner's skis and poles, breaking one of Lemaner's poles in half.

McWilliam said that the trail was 156 feet across at the point of the collision. Cobb's body came to rest slightly to the right of the center of the slope. Hall came to rest in the center of the trail, approximately eightythree feet below Cobb's body.

Upon cross-examination, McWilliam testified that in eleven years' experience in Eagle County, he was aware of two other collisions between skiers on Vail mountain that resulted in the death of a skier. McWilliam said that deaths on Vail mountain from such collisions are rare.

Sandberg, an investigator for the District Attorney's office, testified that he spoke with Mark Haynes, who had been Hall's high school ski coach. Haynes told Sandberg that in the years he coached Hall, Hall was one of the top two or three skiers on the team and that Hall was "talented and aggressive." Haynes said that Hall participated in slalom

999 P.2d 213
and giant slalom races when he was in high school. Haynes taught his skiers to ski safely and under control.

Dr. Ben Galloway, the coroner who performed the autopsy on Cobb's body, testified that Cobb died from a single and traumatic blow to his head that fractured his skull and caused severe brain injuries. The coroner said that the injury was consistent with the impact from an object, such as a ski, striking Cobb's head on a perpendicular plane. In addition to the skull fractures and brain injuries, Cobb had a contusion or bruise around his right eye and had...

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75 practice notes
  • CBS Corp. v. Fed. Commc'ns Comm'n, No. 06–3575.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • November 2, 2011
    ...book contained, despite his denial. Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147, 154, 80 S.Ct. 215, 4 L.Ed.2d 205 (1959); see also Colorado v. Hall, 999 P.2d 207, 220 (Colo.2000) (“In addition to the actor's knowledge and experience, a court may infer the actor's subjective awareness of a risk from w......
  • People v. Vigil, No. 04SC532.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 13, 2006
    ...Assembly enacted a complete revision of the criminal code, drawing heavily from the recently drafted Model Penal Code. See People v. Hall, 999 P.2d 207, 216-17 (Colo.2000); Marianne Wesson, Mens Rea and the Colorado Criminal Code, 52 U. Colo. L.Rev. 167, 172 (1981). At the time of the revis......
  • Commercial Cash Flow, L.L.C. v. Matkins (In re Matkins), Case No. 18-50047-SCS
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • August 22, 2019
    ...that may occur from the debtor's conduct to determine if the risk is substantial. In re Cupit , 514 B.R. at 52 (quoting People v. Hall , 999 P.2d 207, 218 (Colo. 2000) ). The "unjustifiable" condition requires the Court to explore " ‘the nature and purpose of the actor's cond......
  • State v. Thomas, No. 33, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • June 24, 2019
    ...dangerousness of distributing heroin with the attendant environmental risk factors presented by each case. See also People v. Hall , 999 P.2d 207, 218 (Colo. 2000) ("[I]n order to determine whether a risk is substantial, the court must consider both the likelihood that the harm will oc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
74 cases
  • Godwin v. United States, CIVIL ACTION NO. 2:16cv509-MHT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
    • February 28, 2020
    ...of the risk but was not, while recklessness requires that the defendant actually be aware of the risk but disregard it." People v. Hall , 999 P.2d 207, 219-20 (Col. 2000) (citation omitted).10 One of the cases, United States v. McNeal , did address an argument that "bank robbery by ‘intimid......
  • Commercial Cash Flow, L.L.C. v. Matkins (In re Matkins), Case No. 18-50047-SCS
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fourth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Eastern District of Virginia
    • August 22, 2019
    ...that may occur from the debtor's conduct to determine if the risk is substantial. In re Cupit , 514 B.R. at 52 (quoting People v. Hall , 999 P.2d 207, 218 (Colo. 2000) ). The "unjustifiable" condition requires the Court to explore " ‘the nature and purpose of the actor's conduct relative to......
  • CBS Corp. v. Fed. Commc'ns Comm'n, No. 06–3575.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • November 2, 2011
    ...book contained, despite his denial. Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147, 154, 80 S.Ct. 215, 4 L.Ed.2d 205 (1959); see also Colorado v. Hall, 999 P.2d 207, 220 (Colo.2000) (“In addition to the actor's knowledge and experience, a court may infer the actor's subjective awareness of a risk from w......
  • People v. Vigil, No. 04SC532.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • February 13, 2006
    ...Assembly enacted a complete revision of the criminal code, drawing heavily from the recently drafted Model Penal Code. See People v. Hall, 999 P.2d 207, 216-17 (Colo.2000); Marianne Wesson, Mens Rea and the Colorado Criminal Code, 52 U. Colo. L.Rev. 167, 172 (1981). At the time of the revis......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Rethinking Police Expertise.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 2, November 2021
    • November 1, 2021
    ...627, 641-42 (2016) (discussingnegligence); Heinrich v. Sweet, 308 F.3d48, 63 (1st Cir. 2002) (discussing malpractice); People v. Hall, 999 P.2d 207, 223 (Colo. 2000) (discussing criminal recklessness). See generally Linsey McGoey, Strategic Unknowns: Toimrds a Sociology of Ignorance, 41 ECO......

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