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People v. Grudznske.

2023 COA 36. No. 19CA1928. Extreme Indifference First Degree Murder—Vehicular Homicide (DUI)—Attempted Extreme Indifference First Degree Assault—Attempted Vehicular Assault (DUI)—Equal Protection—Motion to Suppress Blood Draw Results—Jury Instructions—Admission of Evidence—Cumulative Error.

April 27, 2023

Grudznske drove his pickup through residential and commercial areas, exceeding the speed limit by 30 to 40 miles per hour. He recklessly drove into bike lanes and over curbs, and ultimately drove into another vehicle, fatally injuring its driver. The struck vehicle was propelled into an intersection, where it collided with other vehicles, injuring those occupants. Grudznske attempted to flee the scene, and after the accident, he was combative, did not ask about the condition of the driver of the car he had hit, and repeatedly requested that he be allowed to go home. Paramedics transported Grudznske to the hospital, where his blood was drawn approximately 90 minutes after the collision and showed his blood alcohol content was .341. Grudznske was convicted of extreme indifference first degree murder, vehicular homicide (DUI), three counts of attempted extreme indifference first degree assault, and three counts of careless driving (one of which was merged into the other two). The trial court sentenced Grudznske to life in prison on the extreme indifference first degree murder conviction and to lesser concurrent sentences on the remaining convictions.

On appeal, Grudznske argued that the trial court violated his equal protection rights by allowing him to be (1) charged with and convicted of extreme indifference first degree murder in addition to vehicular homicide (DUI), and (2) charged with attempted extreme indifference first degree assault rather than attempted vehicular assault (DUI). He maintained that no intelligent standard exists to decide whether his actions demonstrated knowing conduct with an extreme indifference to the value of human life as compared to reckless, drunken conduct. As a matter of first impression in Colorado, the court of appeals determined that a defendant’s prosecution and resulting convictions under DUI laws and the general criminal statutes addressing extreme indifference crimes do not violate the defendant’s right to equal protection. The material difference between the two homicide statutes and the two assault statutes is that the extreme indifference count requires the prosecution to prove that under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, a defendant knowingly engaged in conduct that created a grave risk of death to another and thereby caused the other to suffer serious bodily injury. The facts of this case provided the jury with a rational basis to apply the differing elements. Accordingly, there was no equal protection violation, and the trial court did not err.

Grudznske also contended that the Colorado General Assembly intended for the DUI statutes to be the exclusive means of prosecuting defendants who cause death or serious bodily injury to others while driving while under the influence. However, the vehicular homicide and assault statutes do not evidence the General Assembly’s intent to invoke the full extent of the state’s police powers to the exclusion of the general homicide and assault statutes; nor do they reflect a comprehensive and thorough regulatory scheme to control all aspects of homicides or assaults resulting from an intoxicated driver’s use of a vehicle to cause the death or bodily injury of another person.

Grudznske further argued that the trial court erred by not suppressing the results of his blood draws. Here, the warrant authorizing the blood draws contained an obvious error as to the incident date, but the parties agreed it was an innocent mistake, and the trial court correctly interpreted this error. And even assuming that the underlying affidavit did not support the warrant’s issuance, the trial court correctly ruled that evidence of the blood draws was admissible under the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by declining to suppress Grudznske’s blood alcohol content.

Grudznske also asserted that there were several errors in the jury instructions. However, (1) voluntary intoxication is not a defense to the circumstances element of extreme indifference first degree murder, so court did not err by declining to give a broader voluntary intoxication instruction; (2) the trial court’s instructions correctly stated the proper application of the knowingly mens rea to the extreme indifference offenses, so the trial court did not err by giving the extreme indifference instructions; and (3) any potential error attributable to the trial court’s initial decision not to define universal malice was obviated by the trial court’s subsequent instruction and the overwhelming evidence supporting the existence of universal malice.

Grudznske also contended that reversal is warranted because the trial court erred by admitting a prejudicial CD into evidence. The CD was a composite exhibit with documents derived from Grudznske’s cell phone records, including the probable cause affidavit underlying the warrant for the blood draws and information about Grudznske’s past alcohol-related offenses. Here, the record does not show that the jury was given the hardware necessary to view the CD. Therefore, there is no record support for the conclusion that the jury accessed the CD. Further, there was overwhelming independent evidence of Grudznske’s guilt. Accordingly, Grudznske failed to demonstrate that the CD’s admission casts serious doubt on the reliability of the conviction.

Lastly, the court rejected Grudznske’s cumulative error argument because he failed to demonstrate the existence of multiple errors.

The judgment of conviction was affirmed.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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