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Stalnaker v. State

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

June 18, 2014



Louis L. Loyd, for appellant.

Dustin McDaniel, Att'y Gen., by: Pamela A. Rumpz, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.



Page 701


This appeal involves the application of an appropriate self-defense jury instruction in a murder trial. Appellant Danny Stalnaker was charged with the first-degree murder of Chris Patterson, but a Saline County jury ultimately convicted him of second-degree murder.[1] Patterson died after appellant grabbed an unloaded .410 shotgun by the barrel and swung it at Patterson, striking him in the head with the gunstock and causing blunt-force trauma to the brain. Appellant claimed that he was justified in defending himself from what he believed was Patterson's threat of physical force. Appellant requested that the jury be instructed on the justifiable use of " physical force" in defense of a person, as found in Arkansas Model Jury Instruction--Criminal 704 (AMCI 704). The trial court refused AMCI 704 and instead offered to give AMCI 705, entitled " Justification--Deadly Physical Force." Appellant rejected the trial court's offer to give the " deadly physical force" instruction, asserting that the evidence would not support the required elements of that defense, and withdrew his request that the jury be instructed on a justification defense at all. Appellant proffered AMCI 704.

The issue on appeal is whether the trial judge abused his discretion in refusing appellant's proffered justification-defense jury instruction, warranting a reversal and remand for a new trial on the murder charge. We disagree that an abuse of discretion has been shown, and we affirm.

We review a trial court's decision regarding jury instructions under an abuse-of-discretion standard. Hickman v. State, 372 Ark. 438, 277 S.W.3d 217 (2008); Taylor v. State, 2013 Ark.App. 146. There is no error in refusing to give a jury instruction where there is no basis in the evidence to support the giving of the instruction. Purifoy v. State, 307 Ark. 482, 822 S.W.2d 374 (1991). A party is entitled to a jury instruction on a defense if there is sufficient evidence to raise a question of fact or if there is any supporting evidence for the instruction. Humphrey v. State, 332 Ark. 398, 966 S.W.2d 213 (1998). It is the trial court's responsibility to give wholly correct instructions. Elmore v. State, 13 Ark.App. 221, 682 S.W.2d 758 (1985). In determining whether the trial court erred in refusing an instruction in a criminal trial, the

Page 702

test is whether the omission infects the entire trial such that the resulting conviction violates due process. Henderson v. State, 349 Ark. 701, 80 S.W.3d 374 (2002).

Here, the applicable statutes and model jury instructions demonstrated that only the " deadly physical force" model jury instruction was appropriate, if any. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in refusing AMCI 704.

We review the evidence in greater detail for purposes of deciding the appropriate self-defense instruction and whether there was an abuse of discretion. Appellant and several others were spending the day at a camping area along the Saline River on June 16, 2012. Appellant, a retired ironworker in his mid-sixties, had known thirty-five-year-old Chris Patterson for about ten years. Appellant acted as an unofficial caretaker for the camping area, which became known as " Danno's Camp," and considered himself a friend to most of the people who were there that day, including Patterson. There was a .410 shotgun that belonged to the campsite, and it was used by people visiting the campsite, including Patterson, to shoot snakes. On this particular day, the shotgun was loaded and propped up against a nearby tree.

Patterson had been drinking whiskey all day and was very intoxicated.[2] He was a large man--6'2" tall and 255 pounds--and had been intermittently threatening over the course of the day to " kick" or " whoop" various people's " ass." As people left the campsite, appellant asked them to take Patterson with them, but they declined. As the day wore on, Patterson became progressively more ...

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