Saturday, February 08, 2014

Failure to give self-defense requires new trial in second-degree murder case

Carol Longenecker Schmidt won in State v. Williams, No. 107,366 (Kan. App. Jan. 17, 2014)(unpublished), obtaining a new trial in a Sedgwick County second-degree murder prosecution.  Although the COA affirmed a conviction for aggravated battery, the COA held that the failure to give a self-defense instruction required a new trial.  The state charged Mr. Williams with intentional second-degree murder.  The jury convicted Mr. Williams of unintentional second-degree murder.  The district court refused to give a self-defense instruction.  After detailed consideration of the record, the COA held that, viewed in a light most favorable to Mr. Williams, some evidence would have supported self-defense and, therefore, the district court erred by failing to give the requested instruction.

But because the jury acquitted Mr. Williams of intentional second-degree murder, the state argued that any error was harmless in part because self-defense is incompatible with unintentional second-degree murder.  The COA disagreed:
To prove reckless second-degree murder in this case, the State had to show Williams killed Donald “unintentionally but recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” See K.S.A. 21–3402(b). As that statute has been interpreted by the Supreme Court in Deal, however, the State only had to establish that the killing itself was unintentional. The State was not required to establish that the acts prior to and leading up to Donald's death were reckless or careless; in fact, a finding by the jury that the acts causing Donald's death were intentional would be wholly consistent with a conviction for reckless second-degree murder under the statute as interpreted by [State v. Deal, 293 Kan. 872, Syl. ¶¶ 1, 2, 269 P.3d 1282 (2012)] as long as the jury found the killing itself was unintentional. Thus, the fact that a killing itself is unintentional under K.S.A. 21–3402(b) does not preclude a finding that a defendant engaged in voluntary and deliberate acts leading up to and actually causing the death of the victim.
Applying the statute as construed by the Supreme Court in Deal, we conclude Williams had a viable claim of self-defense to murder in the second degree (unintentional), the lesser included offense upon which he was convicted. Williams admitted that he intentionally swung a knife at Donald in order to keep Donald from beating him with the broom or mop. Williams also admitted that after Donald came toward him and grabbed his forearm and hand, Williams intentionally pushed Donald into a glass door and, in the process, inadvertently stabbed Donald in the chest. Williams repeatedly denied, however, that he ever intended to kill Donald. Thus, had the court provided it, an instruction on self-defense would have advised the jury that the voluntary and deliberate acts of deadly force leading up to and actually causing Donald's death were justified to the extent it appeared to Williams and that he reasonably believed the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.
 The COA also rejected the state's claim that, by not convicting of voluntary manslaughter, the jury evinced its rejection of the first element of self-defense:
In this case, however, the jury rejected voluntary manslaughter in favor of unintentional second-degree murder, an unintentional crime. Unlike the jury in Gonzalez, then, the jury here not only rejected the notion that Williams honestly believed the circumstances justified using deadly force, but it also rejected the notion that Williams intentionally killed Donald. Given the jury entered a general verdict, there is no way to determine whether it decided to forgo the option of voluntary manslaughter because the killing was not intentional or because Williams did not subjectively believe deadly force was necessary. Because there is no way to know why the jury passed on voluntary manslaughter, we are not persuaded that the jury already had rejected the subjective belief prong of the two-prong self-defense test at the time it was considering the lesser included offense of unintentional second-degree murder. For this same reason, we similarly are not persuaded that the jury verdict at the first trial resulted in a de facto acquittal of voluntary manslaughter.
As a result, the COA reversed the unintentional second-degree murder conviction and remanded for a new trial, including any lesser-included offenses supported by the evidence.

[Update: the state filed a PR on February 14, 2014.  Mr. Williams filed a cross-PR on February 18, 2014.]

[Further update: the KSC denied both the state's PR and Mr. William's cross-PR and the mandate issue on May 1, 2014.]

No comments: