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Law School Case Brief

State v. Bier - 181 Mont. 27, 591 P.2d 1115 (1979)


Unlike deliberate homicide, which requires that the offense be committed purposely or knowingly, negligent homicide does not require such purpose or knowledge. Negligent homicide only requires a gross deviation from a reasonable standard of care. A gross deviation under the statutory definition is analogous to gross negligence in the law of torts. Although somewhat nebulous in concept, gross negligence is generally considered to fall short of a reckless disregard for consequences and is said to differ from ordinary negligence only in degree, not in kind. 


In the early morning of June 25, 1977, Deputy Sheriff Donovan responded to a call concerning a possible suicide at the Red Wheel Trailer Court in Great Falls, Montana. He arrived at about 1:30 a.m. and noticed defendant Richard Bier wave and holler at him to hurry. Donovan entered the trailer and saw defendant's wife, Sharon Bier, on the floor in the doorway between the bedroom and hall of the trailer. She was bleeding from a neck wound. 

Defendant stated he and his wife had been at the stock car races all evening and consumed a total of three six-packs of beer.  When the couple returned home, an argument ensued. Intent on leaving and avoiding further quarrel, defendant went into the bedroom to ready his departure. Mrs. Bier stood in the bedroom doorway, apparently to block his exit. Defendant reached into the closet, pulled a gun from its holster, cocked it and cast it on the bed, stating words to the effect that to stop him from leavin, she would have to shoot him. Defendant turned away and his wife picked up the gun, held it with both thumbs on the trigger and pointed it at her head. Defendant was charged with negligent homicide, to which he entered a plea of not guilty. During the trial, the District Court denied defendant's motion for a jury view of the mobile home in which the shooting occurred. Defendant was convicted of negligent homicide.


Did the State fail to prove negligent homicide and did the District Court abuse its discretion by denying defendant's motion for a jury view of the mobile home in which the shooting occurred?


No; and No.


The court disagreed and affirmed. It explained that defendant's conduct in pulling out, cocking, and throwing a loaded gun within reach of his intoxicated wife clearly qualified as a gross deviation giving rise to criminal culpability. Further, the risk that, in a highly intoxicated state, his wife would shoot either defendant or herself was a foreseeable risk. Indeed, he had challenged her to use the gun. The State met its burden of showing that the victim had been foreseeably endangered, in a foreseeable manner, and to a degree of harm that was foreseeable. As defendant's testimony as to how the gun had been fired was sufficient credible evidence for the jury to find guilt of negligent homicide, there was no prejudice to him in the denial of a jury view, and thus, no abuse of discretion.

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