Tibbels v. People.
2022 CO 1. No. 20SC22. Jury Instructions—Reasonable Doubt.
January 10, 2022
In this case, the Supreme Court considered whether statements the trial court made to a jury venire to explain the concept of reasonable doubt effectively lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof. During voir dire of the prospective jurors, the trial court provided a real-life example of the doubt a prospective homebuyer would have upon observing a structurally significant crack in the home’s foundation, equating that doubt to a reasonable doubt.
The Court concluded that the proper test for determining whether a trial court’s statements to the jury lowered the prosecution’s burden of proof is a functional one. An appellate court must ask whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the jury understood the court’s statements, in the context of the instructions as a whole and the trial record, to allow a conviction based on a standard lower than beyond a reasonable doubt. Applying this test to the specific facts presented here, the Court concluded that it is reasonably likely that the jury understood the court’s statements to allow a conviction on a standard lower than beyond a reasonable doubt, which constitutes structural error
Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the division below.