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Law School Case Brief

State ex rel. Kuntz v. Mont. Thirteenth Judicial Dist. Court - 2000 MT 22, 298 Mont. 146, 995 P.2d 951

Rule:

Pursuant to Mont. Code Ann. § 45-3-102, a person is justified in the use of force or threat to use force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other's imminent use of unlawful force. The defendant has the burden at trial of producing sufficient evidence on this issue to raise a reasonable doubt of guilt. Ultimately, whether or not her use of force was justified will be determined by the jury. Such a determination will be made based on evidence of what the defendant reasonably believed at the time she was confronted with the alleged imminent use of unlawful force.

Facts:

Defendant, Bonnie Kuntz, was charged with negligent homicide for causing the death of her boyfriend, with whom she had been living for six years, by stabbing him once in the chest. Kuntz pleaded not guilty, asserting justifiable use of force. The State filed an amended information charging the same offense but alleged that Kuntz caused the victim's death by stabbing him and then failed to obtain medical assistance. Kuntz filed a motion to dismiss or strike an amended information, contending that her affirmative defense of justifiable use of force nullified any conceivable duty she had to render aid to her boyfriend following the stabbing, and therefore, the portion of the information pertaining to her failure to summon medical aid should be amended or stricken. In denying Kuntz's motion, the District Court stated that because Kuntz may have had such a duty, both she and the State would be permitted to argue whether her "actions after the stabbing tend to refute her claim of justification. Kuntz sought a writ of supervisory control.

Issue:

  1. Did one, who justifiably used deadly force in defense of her person, nevertheless have a legal duty to summon aid for the mortally wounded attacker?
  2. If a person who justifiably used deadly force failed to summon aid for her attacker, was she criminally culpable for that failure?

Answer:

1) No. 2) Yes, when the cause-in-fact of death was the failure to summon aid.

Conclusion:

The Court held that when a person justifiably used force to fend off an aggressor, that person has no duty to assist her aggressor in any manner that may conceivably create the risk of bodily injury or death to herself, or other persons. Under the general factual circumstances described in the case at bar, the Court concluded that the victim has but duty after fending off an attack, and that is the duty owed to one's self--as a matter of self-preservation--to seek and secure safety away from the place the attack occurred. Thus, the person who justifiably acted in self-defense is temporarily afforded the same status as the innocent bystander under the American rule. However, the Court noted that the duty to summon aid may be “revived,” but only after the victim of the aggressor has fully exercised her right to seek and secure safety from personal harm. Then, and only then, may a legal duty be imposed to summon aid for the person placed in peril by an act of self-defense. The Court averred that in order to find a person who justifiably acted in self-defense criminally culpable for negligently causing the death of the aggressor, the failure to summon medical aid must be the "cause in fact" of the original aggressor's death, not the justified use of force. Applying these principles to the case at bar, the Court affirmed the order denying Kuntz’s motion and directed the district court, in its evidentiary rulings, to be guided by the Court's conclusion that, if a finding that defendant's use of force was indeed justified, then a subsequent delay in seeking medical aid would be immaterial in addressing the factors that caused the victim's death.

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