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State v. Colby

Court of Appeals of Oregon

December 5, 2018

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
RAYMOND WILLIAM COLBY, III, Defendant-Appellant.

          Lane County Circuit Court 16CR44155; Debra K. Vogt, Judge.

          Argued and submitted June 7, 2018.

          Kyle Krohn, Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. Also on the brief was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, Office of Public Defense Services.

          Greg Rios, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent. Also on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Before Lagesen, Presiding Judge, and James, Judge, and Schuman, Senior Judge.

         Case Summary: Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction entered for assault in the fourth degree, ORS 163.160, following a bench trial. On appeal, defendant assigns error to the trial court's refusal to disclose its interpretation of the elements of fourth-degree assault that it applied to convict him. Held: In a bench trial, as in a jury trial, a party is entitled, upon request, to a ruling with regard to the elements of the law that will be applied in the case. That can occur through the offer and acceptance of instructions, as in a jury trial, or through another means that creates a record that explains what law the trial court applied in reaching its verdict. On this record, the Court of Appeals was unable to meaningfully review whether the trial court correctly applied the law because the trial court did not disclose its understanding of the law. Without knowing what standard was applied, the Court of Appeals was unable to determine whether the trial court based its ruling on the correct legal premises. Reversed and remanded.

          [295 Or.App. 247] JAMES, J.

         Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction entered for assault in the fourth degree, ORS 163.160, following a bench trial. On appeal, defendant assigns error to the trial court's refusal to disclose its interpretation of the elements of fourth-degree assault that it applied to convict him. As we explain, in a bench trial, as in a jury trial, a party is entitled, upon request, to a ruling with regard to the elements of the law that will be applied in the case. In bench trials, that can occur through the offer and acceptance of instructions, as in a jury trial, or through another means that creates a record that explains what law the court applied in reaching its verdict. On this record, we agree with defendant that the trial court should have made that type of record of its ruling on the elements of the charged offense, and we therefore reverse and remand.

         The sequence of events underlying the charges is largely undisputed. On the evening of July 15, 2016, Stewart heard a commotion in front of her house in Eugene. She saw one of her dogs across the street and defendant, her neighbor, on the sidewalk pointing and yelling at her. She retrieved her dog and returned it to the backyard. Stewart then heard defendant knocking loudly on her front door. Stewart tried to open the door, but defendant was standing too close for her to open it all of the way. Stewart tried to grab defendant's sleeve to make him move out of the way, and defendant hit her in the face. Stewart asked, "Why'd you hit me?" and defendant responded, "You touched me." Stewart's husband then came running out of the house and tackled defendant off the porch. The police arrived shortly after and arrested defendant.

         The state charged defendant with one count of assault in the fourth degree, ORS 163.160. During the bench trial, both the state and defense counsel submitted jury instructions, including special jury instructions requested by the defense. The special instructions provided, among other things, that the factfinder had to find that defendant "was aware of the assaultive nature of his conduct." Along with the instructions, defendant stated that, "under the analysis in [State v. Wier, 260 Or.App. 341, 354, [295 Or.App. 248] 317 P.3d 330 (2013)], physical injury, whether serious or not, is a result element, and that as a result element for a crime in the criminal code, a culpable mental state must apply." The trial court did not discuss the proposed instructions prior to deliberating on its verdict, or at any point indicate its acceptance of the proffered instructions. In particular, the trial court did not explain what culpable mental state, if any, it determined applied to the result element of fourth-degree assault. After the court announced its verdict, finding defendant guilty, defense counsel spoke with the court about the special jury instructions:

"[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: We'd like to be sentenced today, Your Honor. But before we proceed to that sentence, with regard to the special jury instructions that I submitted, is the Court taking those into consideration in this verdict?
"THE COURT: Well, I'm not taking them into consideration as jury instructions 'cause I'm not a jury. I take into consideration the law. Just as if it-there were a jury, you wouldn't be able to question them as to their reasoning regarding a verdict.
"If you-if that's what you're doing, it's a little bit unusual- "[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: But-
"THE COURT: -because you wouldn't be able to do that to a jury. I can tell you that I render this verdict based on credibility. And I take into account the law, which I'm required to do. So-so I take them in-take them into ...

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