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People v. Snelling.

2022 COA 116. No. 20CA1144. Second Degree Burglary—First Degree Criminal Trespass—Lesser Included Offenses—Supplemental Jury Instructions—Prosecutorial Misconduct—Admissibility of Evidence—Merger.

October 6, 2022

Snelling and several other individuals were drinking alcohol and/or consuming marijuana at his friend’s apartment. Snelling began acting inappropriately toward two girls and was told to leave the apartment. Snelling left but shortly thereafter knocked on the door, saying that he had lost his keys and cell phone. Snelling’s friend looked for the phone and keys and told Snelling he could not find them, and he refused to let Snelling into the apartment. Snelling yelled threats and tried to force himself into the apartment, and his friend called the police. While being transported to jail, Snelling spit on a window and on the partition between the officers and himself. The prosecution charged Snelling with second degree burglary and first degree criminal trespass for breaking into the apartment, harassment for striking one of the girls, and second degree criminal tampering for spitting in the patrol car. Snelling was convicted of second degree burglary, first degree criminal trespass, and second degree criminal tampering.

On appeal, Snelling argued that the trial court erred in not providing a supplemental jury instruction on the effects of voluntary intoxication as related to second degree burglary and second degree criminal tampering. The People conceded that the trial court erred but maintained the error was harmless. Here, the jury asked the trial court about the role of voluntary intoxication, demonstrating that the jurors had considered the relevant instruction but did not know if their concern was encompassed in that instruction. The trial court had an obligation to clarify the matter and committed prejudicial error by not answering the jury’s question. This error was not harmless because a reasonable probability exists that the error contributed to Snelling’s convictions.

Snelling also argued that the trial court erroneously allowed the jury to hear an inadmissible portion of a 911 call, which prejudiced his defense and requires reversal. Snelling asserted that the audio improperly referenced his alleged sexual behavior in violation of the court’s earlier order and exploited racist tropes involving predatory sexual behavior between Black men and white women. However, the jury’s split verdict indicates that the audio did not substantially influence the verdict or affect the trial’s fairness, and Snelling’s acquittal on the harassment charge indicates that the jury followed the court’s instruction not to allow bias or prejudice to influence its decisions. Further, the record does not reveal the race of the girls, and without that information, Snelling’s assertion that the jurors punished him for his sexual behavior toward white women is not supported by the record. Accordingly, there was no error.

Snelling further contended that the court erred by allowing the prosecutor to elicit irrelevant testimony that supported prejudicial racial stereotypes about sexual behavior between Black men and white women, and that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct for the same reasons. However, as stated above, the record does not reveal the race of the girls, so Snelling’s assertion that jurors punished him because he was a Black man being sexually aggressive toward white women is unsupported. Further, the prosecution’s language was not sexually charged, and none of Snelling’s convictions revolved around sexual behavior. In addition, the prosecutor’s statement that Snelling made the girls uncomfortable was relevant because it was a predicate to establishing why the burglary occurred and provided context to the jurors. Therefore, there was no evidentiary error.

Snelling also contended, and the People conceded, that his first degree trespassing and second degree burglary convictions should merge. Because first degree criminal trespass is a lesser included offense of second degree burglary, those convictions must merge.

The convictions for second degree burglary and criminal tampering were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial. The trespassing conviction was affirmed subject to merger if defendant is again tried and convicted of second degree burglary.

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

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