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People v. Childress

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

November 23, 2015

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
v.
Kenneth Leon Childress, Respondent

AS MODIFIED January 11, 2016.

Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals Case No. 08CA2329.

SYLLABUS

The People petitioned for review of the court of appeals' judgment vacating Childress's conviction of vehicular assault while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Although it was undisputed that Childress was not driving the vehicle in question, the jury was instructed that he could be found guilty as a complicitor. The court of appeals concluded that because vehicular assault while under the influence is designated a strict liability offense, it requires no culpable mental state on the part of the driver, and it further found that the supreme court had previously held complicitor liability inapplicable to crimes lacking a culpable mental state requirement.

The supreme court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals vacating Childress's conviction for vehicular assault. The court reconsidered and clarified the reach and requirements of complicitor liability in this jurisdiction and determined that, as clarified, complicitor liability can extend to strict liability offenses. It then remanded the matter to the court of appeals with directions to address any other of Childress's assignments of error possibly impacting his conviction of vehicular assault.

Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Majid Yazdi, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

Attorneys for Respondent: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Elizabeth Griffin, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado.

JUSTICE COATS delivered the Opinion of the Court. CHIEF JUSTICE RICE concurs in the judgment.

OPINION

COATS, JUSTICE.

[¶1] The People petitioned for review of the court of appeals' judgment vacating Childress's conviction of vehicular assault while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Although it was undisputed that Childress was not driving the vehicle in question, the jury was instructed that he could be found guilty as a complicitor. The court of appeals concluded that because vehicular assault while under the influence is designated a strict liability offense, it requires no culpable mental state on the part of the driver, and it further found that this court had previously held complicitor liability inapplicable to crimes lacking a culpable mental state requirement.

[¶2] As we clarify its reach and requirements today, complicitor liability in this jurisdiction is not limited to crimes defined as containing a culpable mental state. Because complicitor liability can extend to strict liability offenses, the judgment of the court of appeals vacating Childress's conviction for vehicular assault is reversed. Whether the jury was adequately instructed concerning the requirements of complicitor liability, as now clarified by this court, and what effect any deficiency in that regard may have on the defendant's conviction are not before this court. The matter is therefore remanded to the court of appeals with directions to address any other of the defendant's assignments of error possibly impacting his conviction of vehicular assault.

Page 156

I.

[¶3] Kenneth Leon Childress was convicted by jury verdict of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, vehicular assault (driving under the influence), driving while impaired by alcohol, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was sentenced to a term of 28 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections for child abuse, to be served concurrently with a 6-year sentence for vehicular assault (DUI), a 6-month jail sentence for driving while impaired, a 6-month sentence for reckless endangerment, and a 90-day sentence for reckless driving. He was ...


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