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People v. Luna

2020 COA 123. No. 16CA1993. Juvenile Law—Attempted Reckless Manslaughter—Assault—Direct Filing—Self-Defense—Jury Instructions.

August 20, 2020

Luna was living with T.M. and was at home when T.M. and her boyfriend J.P. arrived intoxicated. After T.M. went upstairs, J.P. approached Luna to speak to him about picking up after himself. J.P. later woke up with nine stab wounds. Luna was charged with several crimes related to the incident. He was just under 18 at the time of the charged incident, and the prosecution successfully moved to have the case direct-filed against him in district court, allowing him to be tried as an adult. At trial, J.P. testified that he had no memory of the events that took place after he spoke with Luna. Luna testified that he stabbed J.P. in self-defense after J.P. physically assaulted him multiple times. A jury found Luna guilty of attempted reckless manslaughter and second degree assault (heat of passion).

On appeal, Luna argued that the court’s self-defense instruction was contradictory and misstated the law of self-defense as it applies to crimes requiring recklessness, extreme indifference, or criminal negligence. With respect to such crimes, self-defense is not an affirmative defense, but rather an element-negating traverse. Here, the trial court correctly instructed that, if Luna acted in self-defense, he could not be found guilty of reckless or criminally negligent conduct. But the court also told jurors that the affirmative defense of self-defense does not apply to attempted reckless manslaughter or to second degree assault “done recklessly.” While it is technically correct that the affirmative defense of self-defense does not apply to those charges, the court did not explain the significant distinction between an affirmative defense and a traverse. Accordingly, the jury instruction was erroneous, and the error was substantial.

Luna also argued that the trial court erred by denying his tendered “reasonable child” instruction. While Colorado’s self-defense statute allows a juvenile defendant to argue his subjective belief and the circumstances that formed that belief, including his age, a court is not required to give a “reasonable child” instruction. Here, the self-defense instruction properly instructed the jury to consider Luna’s subjective state of mind and the totality of the circumstances. The trial court did not err.

The judgment of conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.

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

Related Topics

Juvenile Law, Attempted Reckless Manslaughter, Assault, Direct Filing, Self-Defense, Jury Instructions

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