This is an audio case brief of People v. Hall, 999 P.2d 207. (Colo. 2000). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
On April 20, 1997, during the last day of the ski season, Hall worked as a ski lift operator on Vail mountain. When he finished his shift and after the lifts closed, Hall skied down toward the base of the mountain. At the time, the slopes were not crowded.
On the lower part of a run called “Riva Ridge,” just below where the trail intersects with another called “North Face Catwalk,” Hall was skiing very fast, ski tips in the air, his weight back on his skis, with his arms out to his sides to maintain balance. He flew off of a knoll and saw people below him, but he was unable to stop or gain control because of the moguls.
Hall then collided with Cobb, who had been traversing the slope below Hall. The collision caused major head and brain injuries to Cobb, killing him. Cobb was taken to Vail Valley Medical Center, where efforts to resuscitate him failed. Hall’s blood alcohol level was .009, which is less than the limit for driving while ability is impaired. A test of Hall’s blood for illegal drugs was negative.
Hall was charged with reckless manslaughter under Colorado criminal code. Under the state’s law, a charge of manslaughter requires that a person recklessly causes the death of another person. And a person recklessly causes the death of another person when that person consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.
A preliminary hearing was conducted by the county court to find out if there was a probable cause for the reckless manslaughter charge against Hall. The county court found that Hall’s conduct did not rise to the level of dangerous required under Colorado law. On Appeal, the district court affirmed the county court’s decision. The district court determined that in order for Hall’s conduct to have been reckless, it must have been at least more likely than not that death would result. And because they found that skiing too fast for the condition is not likely to cause another person’s death, the court concluded that Hall’s conduct did not constitute a substantial and justifying risk of death. For this reason, the district court affirmed the finding of no probable cause. The case was appealed all the way to the Colorado Supreme court.
The issue before the Colorado supreme court is whether there was probable cause to proceed with the charge of reckless manslaughter against Hall.
A person acts recklessly when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.
Explanation ofThe Rule
The key elements of this rules are:
For the defendant to be found to have consciously disregarded a risk, the court may infer that the defendant was subjectively aware of that risk. The defendant cannot be held responsible if he was actually unaware of a risk that a reasonably person would have perceived.
The risk must be unjustifiable for the person’s conduct to be reckless. Whether a risk is justifiable is determined by weighing the nature and purpose of the actors conduct against the risk by that conduct. If a person consciously disregards a risk of death but does so in order to advance an interest that justifies such a risk, the conduct is not reckless.
For a conduct to be substantial and unjustifiable, the risk must be of such a nature that it’s disregard constitute a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise.
The actor must consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death to another person. The risk can be a risk of death to another generally. The actor does not have to risk death to a specific individual.
The court found that the state submitted sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that Hall committed reckless manslaughter. And that the case should have been allowed to go to trial for the jury’s deliberation.
The court stated that Hall was out of control and unable to avoid a collision with another person. Witnesses testified Hall was not traversing the slope and that he was skiing straight down the fall line. Hall was back on his skis, with his ski tips in the air and his arms out to his sides to maintain balance. One witness stated that Hall was bounced around by the moguls on the slope rather than skiing in control and managing the bumps.
Although this opinion from the court does not address whether hall is ultimately guilty of any crime, the evidence was sufficient for the case to go to trail.
The court remanded the case to the trial court.