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People v. DeGreat

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

October 15, 2018

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner
v.
Edward Kevin DeGreat. Respondent

          Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals Court of Appeals Case No. 10CA2481

          Attorneys for Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General John T. Lee, Senior Assistant Attorney General Kevin E. McReynolds, Assistant Attorney General Denver, Colorado

          Attorneys for Respondent: Megan A. Ring, Public Defender Jason C. Middleton, Deputy Public Defender Denver, Colorado

          OPINION

          GABRIEL, JUSTICE.

         ¶1 This case requires us to decide whether a division of the court of appeals erred in concluding that the statutory right to self-defense can apply to justify a defendant's robbery of taxi cab services.[1] Prosecutors charged respondent Edward Kevin DeGreat with attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, and aggravated robbery arising out of an incident in which DeGreat did not pay his taxi fare after an altercation with a taxi driver. According to DeGreat, he initially intended to pay the fare but then realized that he was a few dollars short and offered to go into his apartment to retrieve the rest of the money. DeGreat claims that the driver then attacked him, the two began fighting, and when DeGreat believed he saw the driver brandish a weapon, he stabbed the driver in self-defense. Thereafter, the driver fled and DeGreat left the scene.

         ¶2 On these unique facts, we conclude that the division correctly determined that DeGreat was entitled to a self-defense instruction as to the aggravated robbery charge, although our reasoning differs from that on which the division relied. In our view, DeGreat presented some credible evidence to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the robbery of services that DeGreat allegedly committed was committed in self-defense.

         ¶3 Accordingly, we affirm the division's judgment, albeit based on different reasoning.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         ¶4 One evening, DeGreat and two neighbors shared a taxi ride home. When they arrived, the neighbors exited the cab, leaving DeGreat to pay the fare, as the passengers had agreed he would do.

         ¶5 The parties disagree about what happened next. According to DeGreat, when he attempted to pay the fare, he realized that he was four dollars short, and he told the driver that he would go get the remaining amount from his apartment. The driver asked DeGreat for his identification, DeGreat provided it to the driver, and the driver put it in his pocket. The driver then made a telephone call and locked DeGreat in the taxi. DeGreat asked the driver why he had locked the doors, and the driver responded that he had called the police. DeGreat, who had been sitting in the front passenger seat, then jumped into the backseat to try to get out of the locked taxi, after which the driver got out, unlocked the doors, and allowed DeGreat to get out. DeGreat reiterated that he would go get the money, but the driver responded that he should not leave because the police were on their way. DeGreat again said that he was going to get the money, and he turned around to go to his apartment.

         ¶6 According to DeGreat, the driver then grabbed him by the back of his shirt, and the two men began fighting. In the course of this altercation, DeGreat felt a burning sensation on his chin, saw blood on his shirt, and asked the driver if the driver had stabbed him. According to DeGreat, the driver then put his hand behind his leg, and DeGreat "saw something gleam in the [driver's] hand." The driver walked toward DeGreat and said, "I told you, you not going nowhere. I'm tired of this, people running off with my money . . . . I want all of my money." At that point, DeGreat decided that he needed to protect himself. So, he took a knife from his pocket and started swinging at the driver. DeGreat felt the knife hit the driver, after which the driver fled and DeGreat walked away toward his apartment.

         ¶7 The driver recalled the events differently. He claimed that after DeGreat had handed over his identification, he refused to get out of the car and became agitated. DeGreat then suddenly jumped into the backseat. The driver did not know what was going on, but he "knew it was not good in any case," and so he got out of the taxi. According to the driver, DeGreat then became more agitated, an altercation ensued, and DeGreat ultimately stabbed him, causing him to flee.

         ¶8 The People subsequently charged DeGreat with attempted second degree murder, first degree assault, aggravated robbery, and two crime of violence counts, and the case proceeded to trial. At trial, DeGreat admitted that he stabbed the driver and that he did not pay the driver for the taxi services. He asserted, however, that in doing so, he acted in self-defense.

         ¶9 At the close of the evidence, the trial court instructed the jury, as pertinent here, that self-defense is an affirmative defense to the attempted second degree murder and first degree assault charges, as well as to a number of lesser included offenses on which the jury was instructed. The court denied DeGreat's request for a self-defense instruction on the aggravated robbery charge, however, relying on People v. Beebe, 557 P.2d 840, 841 (Colo.App. 1976), in which the division had concluded that "self-defense is not an affirmative defense to the crime of aggravated robbery," and People v. Laurson, 15 P.3d 791, 794 (Colo.App. 2000), which cited Beebe for the same proposition.

         ¶10 The jury ultimately convicted DeGreat of aggravated robbery, second degree assault-reckless, and two of the crime of violence counts. The jury acquitted DeGreat of the remaining counts.

         ¶11 DeGreat appealed, arguing, as pertinent here, that the trial court had erroneously refused to instruct the jury on self-defense in relation to the aggravated robbery charge. DeGreat contended that the trial court improperly relied on Beebe because, after that decision, Colorado courts, including this court, had made clear that self-defense is an affirmative defense to specific and general intent offenses. In particular, DeGreat relied on this court's decision in People v. Pickering, 276 P.3d 553, 555 (Colo. 2011), in which we stated, "With respect to crimes requiring intent, knowledge, or willfulness, such as second-degree murder, self-defense is an affirmative defense." DeGreat asserted that because aggravated robbery is a general intent crime and he had offered evidence that he acted in self-defense, the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense as an affirmative defense to robbery.

         ¶12 In a unanimous, published decision, a division of the court of appeals reversed DeGreat's aggravated robbery and related crime of violence convictions, remanded for a new trial on those counts, and otherwise affirmed the trial court's judgment. People v. DeGreat, 2015 COA 101, ¶ 57, ___ P.3d ___. As pertinent here, relying on Pickering, the division concluded that self-defense could apply to any general intent crime, irrespective of the type of crime at issue. Id. at ¶¶ 11-13, ___ P.3d at ___. The division thus concluded that because DeGreat presented evidence that his failure to pay was "entangled with his belief" that the use of physical force was necessary to defend himself from the driver's use of force, DeGreat was entitled to a self-defense instruction as to the aggravated robbery charge. Id. at ¶ 15, ___ P.3d at ___. In so ruling, the division acknowledged the prior division's ruling in Beebe but observed that Beebe did not analyze the self-defense statute and was irreconcilable with Pickering. Id. at ¶ 16, ___ P.3d ___.

         ¶13 The People petitioned this court for certiorari review, and we granted that petition.

         II. Analysis

         ¶14 We begin by setting forth the applicable standard of review. We then discuss the statutes and case law related to robbery and self-defense. ...


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