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State v. Barnett

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

July 16, 2019

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
ANDREW BARNETT, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS The Honorable Thomas J. Frawley, Judge

          PAUL C. WILSON, JUDGE

         Andrew Barnett ("Barnett") appeals the circuit court's judgment following a jury trial convicting him of first-degree assault and armed criminal action. Barnett argues the circuit court erred in failing to submit a self-defense instruction. This Court has jurisdiction under article V, section 10 of the Missouri Constitution. Because there was substantial evidence to support the submission of a self-defense instruction, the circuit court's judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded.

         Background

         Barnett was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The following evidence was adduced at trial. On the night in question, Barnett and Victim were both at the Little Bar ("the bar"). Throughout the night, Victim urged Barnett to go outside so the two could fight. Later in the evening, Victim approached Barnett in a threatening manner, and the two got into a physical altercation. The bartenders ordered both men to leave the bar. Before Barnett left, a friend gave Barnett back his knives the friend had been holding. After exiting the bar, Barnett stopped to urinate near a dumpster. At that time, Victim approached Barnett from behind and shouted threatening obscenities, such as "now you're going to die you [expletive]." The two got into a physical altercation, and Barnett saw a "metal and shiny" object in Victim's hand coming toward Barnett's face. In response, Barnett testified he knocked Victim's hand away, shoved Victim to the ground, and left the scene. A witness who saw the altercation from afar claimed he saw Victim "drop like a bag of rocks." Shortly thereafter, Victim was lying on the ground, bleeding severely, and appeared to have several stab wounds. A few hours after the incident, police officers asked Barnett if he stabbed Victim in self-defense, but Barnett adamantly denied stabbing Victim at all.

         During the jury instruction conference, Barnett offered a self-defense instruction. The state objected, claiming Barnett was not entitled to such an instruction because he denied committing the stabbing. The circuit court sustained the state's objection. The circuit court submitted an instruction for first-degree assault, along with a mitigating heat of passion instruction. An instruction for armed criminal action also was submitted.

         The jury found Barnett guilty of first-degree assault and armed criminal action, and Barnett was sentenced accordingly. Barnett filed a motion for new trial, arguing, among other things, the circuit court erred by refusing to submit a self-defense instruction. The circuit court overruled the motion for new trial. Barnett appeals.

         Analysis

         The state claims Barnett is not entitled to a self-defense instruction principally because Barnett expressly denied stabbing Victim. According to the state, Barnett is entitled to a self-defense instruction only if the evidence supporting the theory of self-defense was offered by the state or injected by the testimony of a third party. Because neither the state nor a third party introduced the issue of self-defense, the state concludes Barnett was not entitled to the requested instruction. For the reasons set forth below, the Court rejects this argument.

         I.

         In determining whether a defendant is entitled to an instruction, this Court has long held if there is substantial evidence to support the theory propounded in the requested instruction, the court is required to submit that instruction to the jury. State v. Bidstrup, 140 S.W. 904, 907 (Mo. 1911). In making this determination, a court must view "the evidence in a light most favorable to the defendant[] in order to determine whether the evidence was sufficient to support and authorize instructions on the mentioned matters." State v. Cole, 377 S.W.2d 306, 307 (Mo. 1964). Although the law on this issue was clear as early as 1911, see Bidstrup, 140 S.W. at 907, it has had a long and tortured history over the last century. This inconsistency in the law, which is addressed in Section III, has caused the state mistakenly to rely on cases holding an exception to the rule in Bidstrup exists when a defendant attempts to introduce his own testimony contrary to the requested instruction. Because no such exception exists, the state's reliance on these cases is improper.

         The rule that a court is required to submit an instruction when there is substantial evidence to support it does not change when the defendant's testimony contradicts the requested instruction. Bidstrup, 140 S.W. at 907.[1] If the opposite were true, the court - not the jury - would be tasked with determining which version of the defendant's statements to believe. This, of course, would be a usurpation of the jury's fact-finding role. State v. Jackson, 433 S.W.3d 390, 399 (Mo. banc 2014). As a result, when the evidence supports two conflicting versions of events, even when both versions have been provided by the defendant, the court must refrain from determining which version is correct. Id.[2]

         The question of whether a defendant is entitled to an instruction cannot turn on which party introduced the evidence supporting the instruction. Bidstrup, 140 S.W. at 907. This remains true when the evidence supporting the instruction is the defendant's own testimony because, in making a sufficiency of the evidence determination, a court must "consider all the evidence in the case, without regard to the party by whom it was introduced." Id. It is irrelevant "whether the issue arises from the testimony of the one side or the other, or both, [because in each instance] a question of law is presented upon which it becomes the duty of the court to instruct the jury for their information in giving their verdict." Id. at 908. Therefore, if the evidence relied upon by the party requesting the instruction has been admitted into evidence (an evidentiary determination that is made before the question of jury instructions is decided), it must be considered by the court in determining whether the instruction shall be submitted. Id. at 907-08.

         In short, there is no justifiable reason to deprive a defendant of his freedom without first allowing him to defend himself on every theory supported by the evidence. Accordingly, the only relevant inquiry when a defendant requests an instruction on a theory of defense is whether, after viewing all the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the theory propounded by the defendant, Cole, 377 S.W.2d at 307-08, there was substantial evidence to support the requested instruction. Bidstrup, 140 S.W. at 907. This inquiry remains the same regardless of which party introduced the testimony supporting the instruction and regardless of whether the defendant testified to the contrary. Id. at 907-08. As a result, going forward, it will be simplest if, when determining whether a defendant is entitled to a requested instruction, the court evaluates each requested instruction individually. S ...


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