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Law School Case Brief

State v. Saunders - 175 W. Va. 16, 330 S.E.2d 674 (1985)

Rule:

Instructions in a criminal case which are confusing, misleading or incorrectly state the law should not be given.

Facts:

Defendant Robert Saunders fatally shot Phillip Kincannon in the left buttocks, a wound from which Kincannon later bled to death on a pool table. At trial in West Virgina state court there was confusion and conflicting testimony surrounding the circumstances that led to the shooting. It was clear, however, that Saunders retrieved a gun from the vehicle of a person that was witnessing a fight between Saunders' brother and two others. Saunders argued that he shot in self-defense of his brother as one of the others involved in the fight held his brother to the ground while threatening to kill him. Saunders insisted that he was afraid for his brother's life. Nevertheless, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentence of life imprisonment. Saunders appealed, contending that the court erred in refusing to give instructions on defense of another as an extension of the affirmative defense of self-defense.

Issue:

Did the court err in refusing to give instructions on defense of another as an extension of the affirmative defense of self-defense?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state's highest court held that reversal of Saunders' conviction was necessary because the lower court refused the instruction and proceeded under the erroneous assumption that defense of another was not law in West Virginia. The jury should have been provided with the proffered instruction on defense of another because the defense existed in West Virginia and there was sufficient evidence to allow the jury to consider whether Saunders believed the other two were going to injure seriously or even kill his brother.

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