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People v. Watkins - 196 Colo. 377, 586 P.2d 43 (1978)

Rule:

When there is any evidence, however improbable, unreasonable, or slight, which tends to reduce the homicide to a lesser grade, the defendant is entitled to an instruction thereon upon the hypothesis that the same is true, and that it is for the jury, under proper instructions, and not the trial judge, to weigh and consider the evidence and determine therefrom what grade of crime, if any, was committed; the court's refusal to instruct thereon is reversible error.

Facts:

Eddie Watkins and the deceased, Walter McDonald, argued over access to the pool table at a local bar where they were drinking. A fight later on ensued between the respective groups of Watkins and McDonald; this resulted to the death of McDonald. Defendant Henry Lee Watkins asserted that he had shot McDonald as a form of self-defense. Defendant was consequently charged and convicted of second-degree murder of McDonald and of first-degree assault upon David Buckner in Colorado state court. On appeal, defendant contended that it was error for the trial court to refuse to instruct the jury on criminally negligent homicide.

Issue:

Did the trial court err by refusing to give instructions to the jury relating to criminally negligent homicide?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state supreme court reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court for a new trial. The court held that that the trial court erred in failing to give defendant's tendered instruction on criminally negligent homicide. The court noted that defendant testified that he possessed a good faith belief that his and his brother's lives were in danger. The court found that defendant's evidence, even if improbable or unreasonable, entitled defendant to an instruction on criminally negligent homicide.

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