People v. Smoots, Court of Appeals No. 11CA2381

Docket NºCourt of Appeals No. 11CA2381
Citation396 P.3d 53
Case DateNovember 21, 2013
CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado

396 P.3d 53

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
Ruben Charles SMOOTS, Defendant–Appellant.

Court of Appeals No. 11CA2381

Colorado Court of Appeals, Div. V.

Announced November 21, 2013


John W. Suthers, Attorney General, John T. Lee, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff–Appellee

Douglas K. Wilson, Colorado State Public Defender, Ryann S. Hardman, Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant–Appellant

Opinion by JUDGE GRAHAM

¶ 1 Defendant, Ruben Charles Smoots, appeals the judgment of conviction entered on three jury verdicts finding him guilty of vehicular assault—DUI, DUI, and DUI per se. We affirm the convictions for vehicular assault and DUI per se. We vacate the DUI conviction.

¶ 2 According to the People's evidence, defendant was driving a vehicle east on a two lane highway while the victim was driving west bound. Defendant swerved into the

396 P.3d 55

victim's lane, striking the victim's vehicle. The victim suffered serious injuries.

¶ 3 Defendant's blood alcohol level shortly after the collision was .346. Defendant did not dispute that he was intoxicated at the time. Instead, he argued that he was not guilty of vehicular assault because the physical evidence did not support the victim's version of the facts and because he (defendant) was not the proximate cause of the victim's injuries.

I. Instructional Error

¶ 4 Defendant first contends that the trial court improperly charged the jury with erroneous jury instructions. We are not persuaded.

¶ 5 "We review jury instructions de novo to determine whether the instructions as a whole accurately informed the jury of the governing law." People v. Lucas, 232 P.3d 155, 162 (Colo.App.2009). Where the defendant objects to a jury instruction at trial, as was the case here, we apply a harmless error standard. People v. Grassi, 192 P.3d 496, 500 (Colo.App.2008). When we discern error, we will reverse only where the error affects a substantial right of the defendant. People v. Garcia, 28 P.3d 340, 344 (Colo.2001).

¶ 6 Defendant argues that an instruction inaccurately defined proximate cause and thus lowered the prosecution's burden of proof. The prosecution's burden in proving vehicular assault—DUI is to establish that the defendant "operate[d] or [drove] a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol ... and this conduct [was] the proximate cause of a serious bodily injury to another." § 18–3–205(1)(b)(I), C.R.S.2013. Because vehicular assault is a strict liability crime, the prosecution's burden is to prove only that the "defendant voluntarily drove while intoxicated and that his driving resulted in the victim's [serious bodily injury]." People v. Garner, 781 P.2d 87, 89 (Colo.1989). Thus, "fault" is not relevant in determining whether an intoxicated driver causes an accident resulting in serious bodily injury to another.

¶ 7 Here, the trial court instructed the jury that "[f]or the purposes of the strict liability crime of Vehicular Assault, ‘proximate cause’ is established by the voluntary act of driving under the influence of alcohol." This instruction appears to be based in part upon Grassi, 192 P.3d at 500 (suggesting as acceptable language "Proximate cause is established by the voluntary act of driving while intoxicated."). Defendant claims that this instruction was erroneous because it diminished the People's burden to prove that his conduct resulted in the victim's injury. However, defendant conceded at trial that he was intoxicated at the time of the accident, that he was driving one of the vehicles involved in the collision, and that the victim was injured in the accident. Against these facts, and reading all of the instructions as a whole, we cannot say that the trial court erred in giving this instruction. Although the instruction could have been clearer, the jury instructions as a whole correctly informed the jury of the elements of the charge, the People's burden of proof, and the theory of defense advanced by defendant.

¶ 8 Defendant also contends that the trial court should have given his tendered instruction on intervening cause.

¶ 9 An intervening cause defense is treated as an affirmative defense for the purpose of determining the amount of evidence necessary to submit the defense to the jury. People v. Reynolds, 252 P.3d 1128, 1131 (Colo.App.2010). A defendant is therefore entitled to an affirmative defense instruction if he presents "some credible evidence" on the issue addressed in the instruction. People v. Garcia, 113 P.3d 775, 783–84 (Colo.2005) ; Reynolds, 252 P.3d at 1131.

¶ 10 Actions qualify as intervening causes if they are unforeseeable. People v. Stewart, 55 P.3d 107, 121 (Colo.2002). Negligence of another is foreseeable and will not constitute an intervening cause. Id. However, "[g]ross negligence ... is unforeseeable behavior that may serve as an intervening cause." Id . Gross negligence is abnormal human behavior that constitutes "an extreme departure from the ordinary standard of care." People v. Lopez, 97 P.3d 277, 282 (Colo.App.2004).

396 P.3d 56

¶ 11 Here, defendant requested an intervening cause instruction on the basis that the physical evidence did not entirely support the victim's testimony that defendant first swerved into his lane. When viewed in the light most favorable to defendant, the evidence might suggest that it was the victim, not defendant, who swerved into the wrong lane prior to the accident. However, even in this light, the victim's actions would not constitute abnormal human behavior sufficient for a finding of gross negligence. See id . (driver's decision to turn in front of an approaching car was negligent, and a driving error, but not abnormal human behavior). Thus, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that defendant was not entitled to an intervening cause instruction.

¶ 12 Because we discern no error in the instructions, we necessarily reject defendant's additional argument that there was cumulative instructional error.

II. Multiplicity

¶ 13 We agree with defendant that his DUI conviction should be vacated because it constitutes a lesser included offense of his vehicular assault—DUI conviction.

¶ 14 The Double Jeopardy Clauses of the United States and Colorado Constitutions bar multiple punishments for the same offense. Meads v. People, 78 P.3d 290, 293 (Colo.2003) ; People v. Cruthers, 124 P.3d 887, 890 (Colo.App.2005). We review an unpreserved double jeopardy challenge for plain error. Cruthers, 124 P.3d at 890. Thus, we will reverse only if the error so undermined the fundamental fairness of the trial that it creates a serious doubt about the reliability of the conviction. Id. (citing People v. Miller, 113 P.3d 743 (Colo.2005) ).

¶ 15 We reject the People's contention that defendant failed to preserve his claim for review because he did not raise an objection to being charged twice for the same conduct pursuant to Crim. P. 12(b) prior to trial. Their citation to federal cases to the effect that a defendant failing to raise such objections waives defects in the information or indictment is not persuasive. Indeed, the People acknowledge that divisions of this court have held that unpreserved multiplicity claims are reviewable for plain error. See,e.g ., People v. Zadra, 2013 COA 140, ¶70, 396 P.3d 34, 2013 WL 5761415 ; People v. Herron, 251 P.3d 1190, 1193 (Colo.App.2010) ; People v. Vigil, 251 P.3d 442, 448 (Colo.App.2010) ; People v. Tillery, 231 P.3d 36, 47–48 (Colo.App.2009), aff'd sub nom. People v. Simon, 266 P.3d 1099 (Colo.2011).

¶ 16 Section 18–1–408(1)(a), C.R.S.2013, bars conviction for two offenses if one is included in the other. One establishes such a lesser included offense by showing that proof of the same or less than all of the facts required to establish commission of the greater offense will also establish commission of the lesser offense. Cruthers, 124 P.3d at 890. We apply a strict elements test to determine whether one offense is included in another. Meads, 78 P.3d at 297. "When applying a strict elements test, courts should not examine the facts or evidence of the individual case, but should limit their comparison to the language of the statutory elements of the two offenses." Id .

¶ 17 An offense is committed under the vehicular assault statute, "[if] a person operates or drives a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, and this conduct is the proximate cause of a serious bodily injury to another." § 18–3–205(1)(b)(I). That section further provides that a violation of the statutes constitutes a "strict liability crime." Id.

¶ 18 The DUI statute provides that "[i]t is a misdemeanor for any person who is under the influence of alcohol ... to drive a motor vehicle or vehicle." § 42–4–1301(1)(a), C.R.S.2013. DUI is also a strict liability crime. Id.

¶ 19 Divisions of this court have previously concluded that under the strict elements test, commission of an offense under the...

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31 practice notes
  • People ex rel. T.B., Supreme Court Case No. 19SC690
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 28, 2021
    ...J., dissenting), and that those divisions were due "considerable deference," id. at ¶ 62 (quoting People v. Smoots, 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53, 57 ). He therefore declined to revisit all but one of the Mendoza-Martinez factors: "whether the sanction appears excessive in relation to the......
  • People ex rel. T.B., Court of Appeals No. 16CA1289
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • June 20, 2019
    ...the precedent established by another division," we give "such decisions considerable deference." People v. Smoots , 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53, aff'd sub nom. Reyna-Abarca v. People , 2017 CO 15, 390 P.3d 816. And we do not take the prospect of departing from this court's uniform prece......
  • People v. Bondsteel, Court of Appeals No. 11CA1784
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • November 19, 2015
    ...2014 CO 8, 318 P.3d 511. Still, the later division should give the prior decision some deference. People v. Smoots, 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53 (cert. granted in part on other grounds June 30, 2014).¶ 15 For our part, such deference does not extend to following decisions that would be d......
  • People v. Short, Court of Appeals No. 15CA1175
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 5, 2018
    ...her.2 Necessarily, then, we decline to follow the Davis division’s holding to the contrary. See People v. Smoots , 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53 (stating that one division of the court of appeals is "not obligated to follow the precedent established by another division"), aff'd sub nom. R......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • People ex rel. T.B., Supreme Court Case No. 19SC690
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court of Colorado
    • June 28, 2021
    ...J., dissenting), and that those divisions were due "considerable deference," id. at ¶ 62 (quoting People v. Smoots, 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53, 57 ). He therefore declined to revisit all but one of the Mendoza-Martinez factors: "whether the sanction appears excessive in relation to the......
  • People ex rel. T.B., Court of Appeals No. 16CA1289
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • June 20, 2019
    ...the precedent established by another division," we give "such decisions considerable deference." People v. Smoots , 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53, aff'd sub nom. Reyna-Abarca v. People , 2017 CO 15, 390 P.3d 816. And we do not take the prospect of departing from this court's uniform prece......
  • People v. Bondsteel, Court of Appeals No. 11CA1784
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • November 19, 2015
    ...2014 CO 8, 318 P.3d 511. Still, the later division should give the prior decision some deference. People v. Smoots, 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53 (cert. granted in part on other grounds June 30, 2014).¶ 15 For our part, such deference does not extend to following decisions that would be d......
  • People v. Short, Court of Appeals No. 15CA1175
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals of Colorado
    • April 5, 2018
    ...her.2 Necessarily, then, we decline to follow the Davis division’s holding to the contrary. See People v. Smoots , 2013 COA 152, ¶ 20, 396 P.3d 53 (stating that one division of the court of appeals is "not obligated to follow the precedent established by another division"), aff'd sub nom. R......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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