People v. Snelling

Citation523 P.3d 477,2022 COA 116 M
Decision Date06 October 2022
Docket NumberCourt of Appeals No. 20CA1144
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Reginald SNELLING, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Colorado

Philip J. Weiser, Attorney General, Brittany Limes Zehner, Assistant Solicitor General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Mark G. Walta, Alternate Defense Counsel, Andrew W. Shulman, Alternate Defense Counsel, Denver, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellant


¶ 1 Defendant, Reginald Snelling, appeals his convictions for second degree burglary, first degree criminal trespass, and second degree criminal tampering. He contends that the trial court erred in not providing a supplemental instruction to the jury on the effects of voluntary intoxication, and we agree.

¶ 2 Additionally, Snelling and the People agree that the criminal trespass conviction should have merged into the burglary conviction, and we concur. In reaching this conclusion, we determine that the supreme court's decision in People v. Garcia , 940 P.2d 357 (Colo. 1997), has been implicitly overruled by subsequent supreme court decisions clarifying the doctrine of merger.

¶ 3 Accordingly, we reverse his convictions for second degree burglary and second degree criminal tampering and remand this case for a new trial on those charges. However, we affirm his trespassing conviction subject to further proceedings on the merger issue, as we discuss below.

I. Background

¶ 4 In March 2019, Snelling was drinking alcohol and spending the day with his friend, Thomas Rogers, at Rogers's apartment. Later that evening, some of Rogers's friends—Mark McNellan, Kyle Danley, and D.B., a seventeen-year-old girl—came to the apartment, along with two girls whom Rogers did not know, J. and P. Everyone present had consumed alcohol, marijuana, or both. Rogers testified that he did not know that the girls were minors, and no evidence was presented that Snelling knew the girls’ ages.

¶ 5 At one point, Snelling began behaving inappropriately toward J. and P.; D.B. pushed Snelling, and she, Rogers, and McNellan told Snelling to leave the apartment. Snelling left, but he returned to the apartment shortly afterward and knocked on the door, saying that he had lost his keys and cell phone. Danley cracked open the door, and Snelling and Rogers talked through the opening. Rogers said that he would look for Snelling's keys and phone, but that Snelling could not come inside because the guests did not feel safe with him present.

¶ 6 Rogers looked for the phone and keys for several minutes but could not find them. When Rogers told Snelling so, and refused to let him into the apartment, Snelling became increasingly agitated, began yelling at the people in the apartment, and tried to force his way inside. Danley, D.B., and McNellan scuffled with Snelling while trying to keep him out, and Rogers returned to his bedroom. As Snelling tried to force his way in, he yelled, "I'm going to get that boy" and "I'm going to mess up you boys," and he struck D.B. during the scuffle. Rogers called 911 and reported that Snelling was breaking into his apartment. Eventually, Danley pushed Snelling out of the apartment and into the common area outside.

¶ 7 The police arrived shortly thereafter. After the police interviewed witnesses, they arrested Snelling and placed him in the back of a patrol vehicle.

¶ 8 While the officers transported Snelling to the jail, he alternated between calmness and screaming; he also spit on a window and on the partition between the officers and himself.

¶ 9 The prosecution charged Snelling with second degree burglary and first degree criminal trespass for breaking into the apartment, harassment for striking D.B., and second degree criminal tampering for spitting in the patrol car.

¶ 10 Snelling took his case to a jury trial and was acquitted of harassment but convicted of second degree burglary, first degree criminal trespass, and second degree criminal tampering. He was sentenced to concurrent sentences of two years of probation and eighty-eight days in jail. This appeal followed.

II. Jury Instruction

¶ 11 Snelling argues that the court erroneously declined to answer the jury's question on the legal effect of voluntary intoxication as it pertains to his two specific intent charges—second degree burglary and second degree criminal tampering. The People concede that the trial court erred but maintain that the error was harmless. We agree that the trial court erred but conclude that the error was reversible.1

A. Additional Facts

¶ 12 Snelling endorsed voluntary intoxication as a defense before trial, and the evidence presented at trial suggested Snelling was intoxicated during the incident. However, he did not request a voluntary intoxication instruction.

¶ 13 After the jury began deliberations, it asked the court, "Can you be so inebriated that you are unable to form intent?" The prosecution argued that the defense had not tendered an intoxication defense instruction, so the court could not answer the question. Defense counsel argued that because voluntary intoxication is a defense to specific intent crimes, the court should instruct the jury that voluntary intoxication could negate the mens rea requirements of burglary and tampering. The court responded by telling the jurors that they "must consider the instructions as given."

B. Standard of Review and Law

¶ 14 When the jury indicates that it does not understand a matter central to the guilt or innocence of the accused—such as the ability to form specific intent—the trial court must clarify the matter for the jury. Leonardo v. People , 728 P.2d 1252, 1256 (Colo. 1986). Additionally, "[w]here the evidence supports an intoxication defense, it is appropriate for a trial court to instruct on that defense." Brown v. People , 239 P.3d 764, 769 (Colo. 2010) (quoting People v. Mattas , 645 P.2d 254, 259 (Colo. 1982) ). Voluntary intoxication may negate specific intent, and both burglary and tampering are specific intent crimes. See § 18-1-804(1), C.R.S. 2021; Palmer v. People , 964 P.2d 524, 526 (Colo. 1998) ("[A]ll offenses in the criminal code in which the mental culpability requirement is expressed as ‘intentionally’ or ‘with intent’ are specific intent offenses."); § 18-4-203(1), C.R.S. 2021 (a second degree burglary conviction requires a finding that the defendant acted "with intent to commit therein a crime against another person or property"); § 18-4-506, C.R.S. 2021 (tampering requires an offender to act "with intent to cause injury, inconvenience, or annoyance to that person or to another").

¶ 15 A trial court's not providing "a jury instruction after a defendant requests such instruction will be reviewed under the harmless error standard." Brown , 239 P.3d at 767. Under this standard, reversal is warranted only if the error affected the defendant's substantial rights; otherwise, it must be disregarded as harmless unless there is a reasonable probability that the error contributed to the defendant's conviction. Id.

C. Analysis

¶ 16 There is no dispute that the trial evidence could support a jury finding that Snelling was intoxicated at the time of the burglary and tampering. There is also no dispute that the jury was confused about the application of voluntary intoxication as a defense in this case. Further, there is no dispute that the trial court did not provide a voluntary intoxication instruction at trial in response to the jury's question. Settled law makes two things clear: (1) voluntary intoxication could have negated Snelling's ability to form specific intent regarding the burglary and tampering offenses; and (2) the trial court had an obligation to clarify the voluntary intoxication issue for the jury. See § 18-1-804(1) ; Leonardo , 728 P.2d at 1256. Thus, we conclude—and both parties agree—that the trial court erred when it did not give the jurors a voluntary intoxication explanation in answer to their question. See Brown , 239 P.3d at 769.

¶ 17 Regarding Snelling's trespassing charge, we conclude the error was harmless because trespassing is not a specific intent crime. See § 18-4-502(1)(a), C.R.S. 2021. However, we further conclude the error was not harmless in connection with Snelling's burglary and tampering charges because a reasonable probability exists that the error contributed to his convictions, and we find Leonardo instructive.

¶ 18 In that case, after the jury began deliberations, it sent a note to the court asking, "Is Knowing or Believing in instruction Number 6 The Same as Having a Suspicion of?" Leonardo , 728 P.2d at 1254. The court, without consulting counsel for either side or informing the defendant, responded, "Ladies and Gentlemen: You must reach your verdict applying the words as you find them in the instructions." Id. The jury made no further inquiries and returned guilty verdicts shortly afterward. Id. The defendant appealed based on the court's handling of the jury question, and a division of this court upheld his convictions because it found the original instructions were adequate. Id. The supreme court reversed, holding that the central issue was not the adequacy of the instructions, but the jury's demonstrated misunderstanding of them. Id. at 1255. The supreme court explained that when a jury affirmatively indicates that it has a fundamental misunderstanding of an instruction, the basis for presuming that the jury understood and heeded the instruction disappears. Id.

¶ 19 Here, when the jury asked the trial court about the role of voluntary intoxication, it "demonstrate[d] that the jury had considered the relevant instruction" but did not know if its concern was encompassed in that instruction. Id. Therefore, "[r]eferring the jury back to the same instruction that created the doubt in their minds could serve no useful purpose." Id. The trial court had an obligation to clarify the matter for the jury in a concrete...

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