Paso County District Court No. 14CR5013 Honorable Thomas K.
J. Weiser, Attorney General, Jillian J. Price, Assistant
Attorney General, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee
A. Ring, Colorado State Public Defender, Jeffrey Svehla,
Deputy State Public Defender, Denver, Colorado, for
1 Defendant, April Jo Coahran, was convicted of criminal
mischief arising from damage she caused to her
ex-boyfriend's car door after he grabbed her wrist and
wouldn't let go. But according to Coahran, she kicked the
car door to distract the ex-boyfriend and also to gain enough
leverage to free herself and get away. So, she argued, she
acted in self-defense and was entitled to an affirmative
defense instruction under section 18-1-704(1), C.R.S. 2018.
The prosecution responded that Colorado's self-defense
statute applies only to situations involving the use of
physical force against other persons, not against property,
and so it didn't apply to Coahran's situation. The
trial court agreed. Now on appeal, Coahran challenges her
conviction because of this alleged instructional error, among
other reasons. She also appeals the trial court's
2 As a matter of first impression in Colorado, we are faced
with the question whether a defendant charged with criminal
mischief may be entitled to a jury instruction on
self-defense as an affirmative defense. We answer that
question "yes." We reverse Coahran's
conviction, vacate the restitution order, and remand for a
3 At trial, the facts surrounding what happened between
Coahran and her ex-boyfriend were disputed.
4 In November 2014, according to Coahran, her ex-boyfriend
owed her money, so she reached out to him and suggested they
meet for lunch, at which time the ex-boyfriend could repay
her. On the day they planned to meet, Coahran had another
appointment. So she suggested they cancel their lunch plans
and meet instead at the ex-boyfriend's workplace. The
ex-boyfriend rejected this idea, and he went to the
restaurant during his lunch break as originally planned.
5 Coahran arrived as soon as she could and saw the
ex-boyfriend walking out of the restaurant. According to
Coahran, he looked frustrated. When she asked him what was
wrong, the ex-boyfriend began yelling at her for being late.
Coahran asked the ex-boyfriend for the money, which he
refused to give her. Coahran turned to walk away, but the
ex-boyfriend grabbed her wrist to stop her. She asked him
twice to let her go, but he refused. Worried the situation
would escalate and "not wanting to see that side of
him," Coahran kicked the ex-boyfriend's car door,
hoping to distract him momentarily and gain enough leverage
to free herself. The ex-boyfriend let go of her wrist and she
quickly returned to her car and drove away.
6 At trial, the prosecution introduced photos of the damage
to the ex-boyfriend's car door. Coahran admitted she had
kicked the car door, but denied that she had intended to
cause any damage to it. Instead, Coahran argued in a pretrial
conference that she had kicked the car door in self-defense.
Specifically, she argued that after the ex-boyfriend grabbed
her wrist and wouldn't let go, she was worried the
situation would escalate. She kicked the car door to distract
the ex-boyfriend so he'd let her go. Kicking the door
also gave her leverage to pull away from the
ex-boyfriend's grasp, which she didn't have the power
to do on her own.
7 The prosecutor argued, and the trial court agreed, that
self-defense as an affirmative defense wasn't available
for Coahran's criminal mischief charge because her use of
physical force was directed toward property (the car) rather
than another person (the ex-boyfriend). The court, however,
permitted Coahran to argue that self-defense was an
element-negating traverse, that is, her actions were taken in
self-defense and negated the "knowingly" mens rea
required for the criminal mischief charge.
8 Coahran was convicted of criminal mischief and ordered to
pay restitution to the ex-boyfriend.
9 On appeal, Coahran asserts that (1) the court improperly
instructed the jury on self-defense; (2) the court erred by
prohibiting evidence of the ex-boyfriend's prior bad
acts; (3) the prosecution failed to prove the damage amount
necessary to sustain a conviction for class 6 felony criminal
mischief; (4) comments by the ex-boyfriend and the prosecutor
improperly shifted the burden of proof to Coahran to prove
her innocence; and (5) the court ordered restitution without
a hearing and without requiring the prosecution to prove
actual pecuniary loss.
10 Coahran contends the trial court made two critical errors
regarding the self-defense jury instructions, warranting
reversal of her conviction, by (1) refusing to instruct the
jury on self-defense as an affirmative defense, which
impermissibly lowered the prosecution's burden of proof;
and (2) misstating the law in its jury instruction.
11 The People respond that Coahran wasn't entitled to an
affirmative defense self-defense instruction because the
self-defense statute applies only to situations involving
physical force used against other persons, not against
property. And, the People contend, even if the jury
instruction given by the court incorrectly stated the law, it
inured to Coahran's benefit because she wasn't
entitled to such an instruction in the first place. Thus, the
People continue, any error is harmless.
12 Because we conclude that Coahran was entitled to an
affirmative defense self-defense jury instruction, we
don't address her second contention as to the instruction
given to the jury.
Standard of Review
13 A trial court has a duty to correctly instruct the jury on
the governing law. Townsend v. People, 252 P.3d
1108, 1111 (Colo. 2011). We review jury instructions de novo
to determine whether the instructions accurately do so.
Riley v. People, 266 P.3d 1089, 1092 (Colo. 2011).
We consider all the instructions given by the trial court
together to determine whether they properly informed the
14 We review a court's decision whether to give a
particular jury instruction for an abuse of discretion.
People v. Gwinn, 2018 COA 130, ¶ 31. A court
abuses its discretion if it bases its ruling on an erroneous