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Stalnaker v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

May 28, 2015


Editorial Note:

This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the printed official reporter.


Danny Stalnaker, Pro se appellant.

Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Pamela Rumpz, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.




In 2013, Danny Stalnaker was found guilty by a jury of murder in the second degree and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to an aggregate term of 540 months' imprisonment and a fine of $20,000. The Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed. Stalnaker v. State, 2014 Ark.App. 412, 437 S.W.3d 700.

Subsequently, Stalnaker timely filed in the trial court a verified, pro se petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2013), claiming that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the petition. Stalnaker brings this appeal.[1]

We do not reverse the grant or denial of postconviction relief unless the trial court's findings are clearly erroneous. Lemaster v. State, 2015 Ark. 167, S.W.3d . A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Sales v. State, 2014 Ark. 384, 441 S.W.3d 883.

We assess the effectiveness of counsel under the two-prong standard set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). Sartin v. State, 2012 Ark. 155, 400 S.W.3d 694. Under this standard, the petitioner must first show that counsel's performance was deficient. Id. This requires a showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel deprived the petitioner of the counsel guaranteed to the petitioner by the Sixth Amendment. Id. Second, the deficient performance must have resulted in prejudice so pronounced as to have deprived the petitioner of a fair trial whose outcome cannot be relied on as just. Wainwright v. State, 307 Ark. 569, 823 S.W.2d 449 (1992). Both showings are necessary before it can be said that the conviction resulted from a breakdown in the adversarial process that renders the result unreliable. Lemaster, 2015 Ark. 167.

Stalnaker was originally charged with first-degree murder in the death of Chris Patterson. Evidence adduced at trial reflected that Stalnaker and Patterson were at a camping area and that Patterson, who was heavily intoxicated, had been annoying other persons throughout the day with verbal abuse and threats of physical harm. In the evening, Stalnaker retrieved a shotgun, exchanged some words with Patterson, who was seated at a picnic table, and then struck Patterson on the side of the head with the stock of the shotgun. Stalnaker said that he acted out of fear of Patterson, he did not intend to kill him, and he did not realize that Patterson would die from the blow. The medical examiner described the injury as significant and life threatening.

At trial, Stalnaker's counsel requested that the jury be instructed on the justifiable use of " physical force" because Stalnaker believed that he was defending himself from Patterson's threat of physical force, as found in Arkansas Model Jury Instruction--Criminal 704. The trial court denied the request and offered to give the " deadly physical force" instruction found in Arkansas Model Jury Instruction--705. Counsel declined 705, arguing that the facts would not support that instruction. Counsel ultimately withdrew the request that the jury be instructed on a justification defense at all and proffered 704. Counsel also proffered jury instructions on the lesser included offenses of negligent homicide and manslaughter after the trial court declined to instruct the jury on those offenses.

On direct appeal, Stalnaker raised the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion in declining the proffered justification-defense instruction in 704. The court of appeals held that there was no abuse of discretion in declining 704 because the facts supported the " deadly ...

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