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Law School Case Brief

People v. Kanan - 186 Colo. 255, 526 P.2d 1339 (1974)

Rule:

Prejudice to the defendant is inevitable when the court instructs the jury in such a way as to reduce the prosecution's obligation to prove each element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Facts:

The defendant, John E. Kanan, wrote three separate checks totaling $75 to the ABC Liquor Store during the course of one week in February 1972. The manager of the store deposited the checks, which were returned with the notation that Kanan’s account was closed for insufficient funds in January. There was conflicting evidence as to whether Kanan had knowledge that his checking account was overdrawn. The bank sent Kanan's monthly bank statements to Kanan's address in October, November, December and January, and each statement showed that Kanan's account was overdrawn. The bank also mailed the notice of closure of the account to the same location. The evidence established that the December and January statements were returned to the bank and were not delivered to Kanan. The trial court instructed the jury that a check drawn and delivered by a person carried with it a representation that such person knew the status of his account. Thereafter, the jury found Kanan guilty. On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court committed error and deprived Kanan of presumption of innocence when it improperly instructed the jury.

Issue:

Did the trial court’s instruction to the jury deprive defendant of presumption of innocence? 

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the trial court erred in giving a jury instruction on the presumption that a check drawn and delivered by a person carried a representation that the person knew the status of his account and that sufficient funds were available to pay the check. The Court held that the presumption in the instruction improperly dispensed with the State's obligation under the Short Check Statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 40-14-20(6) (1967 Perm. Supp.), to prove knowledge of insufficient funds and reversed the burden of proof by forcing defendant to meet and rebut a presumption that he had knowledge of the state of his account. The Court also held that the trial court improperly instructed the jury by eliminating the specific intent element of the crime.

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