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State v. Schimetz - 328 N.W.2d 808 (N.D. 1982)

Rule:

An appellate court's role in cases involving circumstantial evidence is to review the record to determine if competent evidence was presented from which the jury could have drawn a justifiable inference reasonably tending to prove guilt and fairly warranting a conviction.

Facts:

Defendant Mark Schimetz, who was intoxicated, stabbed Myron Scott whom he thought was trying to steal his car. There were several witnesses who testified that a struggle ensued between Scott and defendant, although there were no witnesses who actually saw the stabbing incident. Defendant was charged with and found guilty by a jury of aggravated assault, a violation of North Dakota Century Code § 12.1-17-02(1).  Defendant moved for a new trial, the motion of which was denied. Defendant appealed from both the order denying his motion for a new trial and from the judgment of conviction. 

Issue:

(a) Was there sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict? (b) Did the trial court err when it failed to grant his requested instruction defining “excuse”?

Answer:

(a) Yes (b) No

Conclusion:

(a) Although the defendant pointed out that none of the State's witnesses saw the actual stabbing or knew exactly what happened, the court noted that this did not alter the undeniable fact that Scott received a stab wound in his back. It is also uncontroverted that an incident occurred between defendant Schimetz and Scott and a struggle ensued; that defendant drew a knife during the incident; and that tests conducted by the State Laboratory after the incident established that traces of human blood were on the knife. Although no evidence was introduced that anyone saw the actual stabbing, there was sufficient circumstantial evidence presented to warrant a finding of guilt by the jury. Without weighing the evidence, the appellate court concluded that suffient evidence presented at trial warranted and sustained a conviction as  a matter of law of the crime of aggravated assault;

(b) The basic premise of Defendant's argument is that he believed the circumstances existing at the scene of the incident made his conduct necessary and appropriate. However, the evidence presented at trial did not make applicable the principles of law regarding excuse. Defendant in substance denied, rather than admitted, stabbing Scott. He testified that if Scott was cut by him at all, "it was accidental." Schimetz further testified that he thought Scott was putting the key in the ignition switch and was stealing his car. Nothing in the record establishes that Scott was proceeding in a violent or dangerous manner. The trial court gave instructions on the use of force in defense of property and on limits on the use of force.  The failure of the trial court to give the requested instruction on excuse must be considered in conjunction with the instructions given on the limits on the use of force, and in particular deadly force, in defending property and the testimony contained in the record.

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