In People v. Childress, — P.3d —-, 2015 WL 7423068 (2015), the Colorado Supreme Court addressed the issue whether complicitor liability can extend to circumstances in which the underlying crime was a strict liability offense.
Specifically, the Court was asked to review the Court of Appeals’ decision to vacate a man’s conviction for vehicular assault on the basis of complicitor liability. At trial a jury had found the defendant guilty of vehicular assault while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs even though he was not driving the car at the time the accident and injuries were sustained.
In its ruling, the Colorado high court clarified and vacated in part prior case law holding that complicitor liability was inapplicable to strict liability crimes.
A strict liability crime is one in which there is no culpable mental state to be guilty of the crime. Examples of strict liability crimes are statutory rape, drug possession and, as was the case in Childress, vehicular assault while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In Colorado, a person can be held liable as a complicitor if he or she “with the intent to promote or facilitate the commission of the offense . . . aids, abets, advises, or encourages the other person in planning or committing the offense.”
In Childress, testimony showed that the defendant, although not operating the motor vehicle, had instructed his 17-year-old son to operate the vehicle and disregard traffic signals. The defendant knew that his son had been consuming alcohol and was impaired at the time he instructed him to drive the automobile. Another passenger, the defendant’s 3-year-old son, was severely injured when the car operated by the older son collided with another motor vehicle and crashed into a building.
By ruling that complicitor liability can extend to crimes for which no culpable mental state is necessary, the court has expanded the number of crimes to which complicitor liability applies. In particular, the number of complicitor liability cases involving drunk driving could be on the rise.
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If you have been charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, call The Moorhead Law Group today at 303-447-1400 or contact them online to set up an appointment with an experienced Colorado drunk driving defense attorney.