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People v. Shockey.

2023 COA 121. No. 21CA0311. Special Interrogatories—Inconsistent Verdicts—Structural Error.

December 21, 2023

The prosecution charged Shockey with first-degree murder and two crime of violence sentence enhancers. Before trial, the prosecution submitted proposed jury instructions that did not include a complicity instruction. At the close of the evidence, the prosecutor tendered a complicity instruction, but the court found that the prosecutor had not presented sufficient evidence to warrant the instruction and rejected it. The jury acquitted Shockey of first-degree murder and convicted him of the lesser included offense of second-degree murder. But the jury also found, in a special interrogatory, that Shockey had not used, possessed, or threatened the use of a deadly weapon. The court denied Shockey’s post-trial motion to vacate the conviction based on an inconsistent verdict and sentenced him to 40 years in the custody of the Department of Corrections, consecutive to an unrelated sentence.

On appeal, Shockey argued that the inconsistency between the special interrogatory finding and the verdict requires his conviction to be vacated, because the special interrogatory finding established that he was not the shooter and shows that the prosecution failed to prove identity and causation. As relevant here, Colorado law recognizes that a verdict inconsistency may result in an infirm conviction when a jury’s response to a special interrogatory negates an element of the substantive offense to which that special interrogatory applies. Here, the court instructed the jury that, to convict Shockey of second-degree murder, it had to find that he knowingly caused the victim’s death. Accordingly, by convicting Shockey of second-degree murder, the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Shockey shot the victim. But by finding that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Shockey used, possessed, or threatened to use a deadly weapon, the jury inconsistently concluded that the prosecution had not proved that Shockey was the shooter. Thus, there was an inconsistent finding concerning the identity of the shooter and causation. Further, the only way to reconcile these inconsistent findings is by applying a complicity theory to the facts, for which the jury received no instruction. Therefore, this inconsistency constitutes structural error, because the prosecution failed to prove all the elements of the offense.

The judgment of conviction was vacated.

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

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