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Roberts v. People

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 19, 2017

Monica Roberts, Petitioner
v.
The People of the State of Colorado, Respondent

         Certiorari to the District Court El Paso County District Court Case No. 13CV31542 Honorable Thomas L. Kennedy, Judge

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender Tracy C. Renner, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Daniel H. May, District Attorney, Fourth Judicial District Katherine Brownlow, Deputy District Attorney Colorado Springs, Colorado

          OPINION

          GABRIEL, JUSTICE

         ¶1 In this case, we review the district court's order in People v. Roberts, No. 13CV31542 (El Paso Cty. Dist. Ct. May 27, 2014), affirming petitioner Monica Roberts's county court conviction for harassment.[1] Ms. Roberts's contention is narrow. She asserts that pursuant to our opinion in People v. Pickering, 276 P.3d 553 (Colo. 2011), self-defense is an affirmative defense to all crimes requiring intent, knowledge, or willfulness. She thus contends that (1) she was entitled to a self-defense affirmative defense instruction to the specific intent crime of harassment and (2) the county court's refusal to give such an instruction constituted reversible error.

         ¶2 Because Pickering does not establish the broad, bright-line rule that Ms. Roberts asserts, we are not persuaded by her argument. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's judgment.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3 The People charged Ms. Roberts with one count each of third-degree assault and harassment.[2] The charges stemmed from a May 2012 incident in which Ms. Roberts hit her estranged husband, Scott Roberts, in the face several times during an argument.

          ¶4 The case proceeded to a jury trial in county court. At trial, Mr. and Ms. Roberts both testified and provided differing accounts of the incident at issue.

         ¶5 According to Mr. Roberts's testimony, the couple began arguing while driving home from dinner. The argument escalated, and Ms. Roberts became combative, hitting him on the arm several times, although the impact "wasn't that major." Once the two arrived home, Ms. Roberts jumped out of the vehicle and "took off" down the sidewalk. Mr. Roberts, concerned for her safety, went after her and tried to calm her down and get her to come home. Ms. Roberts, whom Mr. Roberts characterized as "an angry drunk, " continued cursing and "flexing" and ultimately hit Mr. Roberts with a closed fist in the mouth and eye, leaving him dazed. Mr. Roberts returned home and reported the incident to the police.

         ¶6 Ms. Roberts, in contrast, testified that while Mr. Roberts was driving, he called her "a whore and a bitch" and that she just wanted to get out of the car. She began to "mess[]" with the door handle to get out, and Mr. Roberts accelerated. Ms. Roberts then went to grab the steering wheel "to try to scare [Mr. Roberts], so he would pull the car over." Mr. Roberts struck her, and the two began hitting each other. The couple eventually arrived home, and before Mr. Roberts had even parked, Ms. Roberts jumped out and ran. Mr. Roberts chased after her and grabbed her arms. Fearing that if Mr. Roberts got her into the house, then she "wasn't going to be able to get out, " Ms. Roberts punched Mr. Roberts twice. He let go of her, and she ran.

          ¶7 As pertinent here, Ms. Roberts specifically denied striking Mr. Roberts with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm him. She said that her sole intent was "just to get as far away from him as [she] could."

         ¶8 At the close of the evidence, the county court held a jury instruction conference. During the conference, Ms. Roberts tendered two separate instructions describing the relationship between self-defense and the harassment charge.

         ¶9 The first proffered instruction provided:

The evidence in this case has given rise to an affirmative defense to the charge of third degree ...

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