A defendant is entitled to an instruction on his theory of the case if there is some foundation for the instruction in the evidence, and if there is such evidence, it is an abuse of discretion for the trial court to refuse to so instruct the jury.
Defendant was charged with two counts of murder. Both charges stated that he beat and burned and thereby caused the victim’s death. Defendant argued that the action taken by him, in repeatedly striking the victim with numchucks was in self-defense. In regard to the burning, defendant argued that he was not guilty of murder because at the time of the burning, he believed that the victim was already dead. The trial court instructed the jury on self-defense, but refused to give defendant's mistake of fact instruction. It later found defendant guilty of the beating and burning murder of the victim. Defendant appealed to the appellate court, which reversed and remanded defendant's conviction. The state supreme court affirmed the reversal of defendant's conviction.
Was defendant denied a fair trial by the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury on mistake of fact despite the evidence supporting such defense?
The court held that because defendant's case rested upon the concepts of self-defense and mistake of fact, and there was some evidence upon which a jury could reasonably conclude that defendant burned the victim under the mistaken belief that he was dead, the failure to give the mistake of fact instruction to the jury was not harmless.