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People v. Vigil.

2021 CO 46. No. 20SA240. Criminal Code—Serious Bodily Injury—Substantial Risk of Death.

June 14, 2021


In this interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court considered the meaning of the phrase “substantial risk of death” in the criminal code’s definition of serious bodily injury, CRS § 18-l-901(3)(p). Here, defendant allegedly stabbed the victim in the neck, the knife missed all vital structures, and the victim needed only stitches for treatment. The People and defendant disagree on what controls the substantial risk of death determination—the facts of the actual injury or the risk generally associated with the type of conduct or injury in question.

The Court held that the facts of the actual injury control the substantial risk of death determination under CRS § 18-l-901(3)(p), not the risk generally associated with the type of conduct or injury in question. In doing so, the Court reaffirmed its decision in Stroup v. People, 656 P.2d 680 (Colo. 1982), and to the extent inconsistent with Stroup and this opinion, overruled the Court of Appeals’ decisions in People v. Sanchez, 751 P.2d 1013 (Colo.App. 1988), and People v. Covington, 988 P.2d 657 (Colo.App. 1999), rev’d on other grounds, 19 P.3d 15 (Colo. 2001). Accordingly, because the knife missed all vital structures, the stab wound to the neck here did not involve substantial risk of death, and thus defendant did not cause serious bodily injury.

Therefore, the Court made the rule to show cause absolute and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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

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