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People v. Jackson.

2020 CO 75. No. 18SC607. Transferred Intent—Bad-Aim Cases—Mistaken-Identity Cases—Double Jeopardy.

September 21, 2020

Defendant was convicted, as a complicitor, of both first degree murder and attempted first degree murder after his codefendant aimed at, shot, and killed Y.M. under the mistaken belief that Y.M. was E.O. A Court of Appeals division ruled that the Double Jeopardy Clauses of the federal and state constitutions dictate that Jackson cannot stand convicted of both offenses because the latter is a lesser included offense of the former. But in doing so, the division relied on the doctrine of transferred intent, a legal fiction that some courts use largely to ensure that a defendant doesn’t escape liability in what is widely known as a bad-aim situation (i.e., A aims at and shoots toward B, but misses due to his bad aim and accidentally hits and kills C, an innocent bystander).

Because Colorado’s broad statutory definition of first degree murder encompasses unintended victims and renders the transferred intent doctrine unnecessary, the Supreme Court disapproved of the doctrine in first degree murder cases. Further, the Court held that, even if the first degree murder statute didn’t make the transferred intent doctrine unnecessary, the doctrine would still be irrelevant here because this is a mistaken-identity case, not a bad-aim case. Unlike a bad-aim case, where A aims at and shoots toward B but misses and accidentally kills C (an innocent bystander), in a mistaken-identity case, A aims at, shoots, and kills C by mistake (A hits his target, mistakenly believing that C is B). Hence, while a bad-aim case involves two victims (the person the perpetrator aimed at and shot toward and the unintended victim harmed by the bullet), a mistaken identity case involves only one victim (the person the perpetrator aimed at and shot with the intent to kill, albeit by mistake). It follows that in a mistaken-identity case, there is no need to transfer the perpetrator’s intent from one victim to another; the concept of transferred intent is immaterial.

The Court determined that the shooter here did not attempt to kill E.O. when he aimed at and shot Y.M. Rather, in aiming at and shooting Y.M., the shooter intended and attempted to kill Y.M., the same person he actually killed. That the shooter wanted to kill E.O. and mistakenly believed Y.M. was E.O. is of no moment. Therefore, defendant’s convictions for first degree murder and attempted first degree murder are based on the same criminal conduct and relate to the same victim.

Accordingly, although the Court agreed that the trial court plainly erred in entering convictions and imposing sentences for both offenses in question, its rationale differs from the division’s. The division’s judgment was thus affirmed on other grounds. The matter was remanded with instructions to return the case to the trial court to vacate the conviction and sentence for the lesser included offense of attempted first degree murder.

Official Colorado Supreme Court proceedings can be found at the Colorado Supreme Court website.

Related Topics

Transferred Intent Bad-Aim Cases Mistaken-Identity Cases Double Jeopardy

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