FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 60CR-13-2176]
HONORABLE J. LEON JOHNSON, JUDGE
Rosenzweig, for appellant.
Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Adam Jackson, Ass't
Att'y Gen., for appellee.
R. BAKER, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE.
2014, appellant, Christopher Aaron Schnarr, was tried for
first-degree murder in the death of Arista Aldridge. The jury
was unable to reach a verdict, and the circuit court granted
a mistrial. Schnarr was tried for a second time in 2015, and
the jury convicted him of manslaughter and sentenced him to
ten years' imprisonment. Schnarr appealed. We recount the
facts from our opinion in that appeal, Schnarr v.
State, 2017 Ark. 10 (Schnarr I) as follows:
The record reflects that on Saturday, May 11, 2013, Schnarr
was driving from North Little Rock when he exited Interstate
30 at Sixth Street and almost collided with a tan SUV that
did not yield the right of way. The victim, Arista Aldridge,
was the driver of the tan SUV, which was also occupied by
Aldridge's girlfriend, Alice Bryant, and their son. As
the vehicles drove parallel to one another down the street,
Schnarr and Aldridge exchanged profanities and hand gestures
through their opened windows. Schnarr turned right onto Sixth
Street and into the outside lane. The tan SUV followed in the
inside lane of Sixth Street and then pulled in front of
Schnarr's vehicle and abruptly stopped. Aldridge, who was
not armed, emerged from the SUV and approached Schnarr's
vehicle. According to Schnarr, Aldridge was yelling and
waving his arms around, and Aldridge also poked Schnarr in
the face with his finger. Witnesses to the altercation
testified that Aldridge backed away from Schnarr's
vehicle. In his testimony, Schnarr stated that Aldridge
started to move back toward Schnarr's vehicle and that he
pointed his handgun at Aldridge and told Aldridge to leave.
Schnarr testified that, when Aldridge did not stop, he fired
two shots at Aldridge, who was approximately six feet away
from him. He said that Aldridge staggered but regained his
balance and advanced toward him again, at which point Schnarr
shot at Aldridge a third time. Aldridge fell to the ground
and later died. Schnarr had shot Aldridge once in the abdomen
and again on the side of Aldridge's right arm. The wound
to the abdomen proved to be fatal.
In his testimony, Schnarr, who possessed a concealed-carry
permit, also explained that he has a condition called Total
Situs Inversus and that he suffers from a faulty heart valve
that has required surgical repair. He testified that his
heart condition restricted his activities and prohibited him
from playing contact sports. Schnarr stated that he did not
see Aldridge with a weapon.
Schnarr I, 2017 Ark. 10, at 1-3.
reversed for a new trial, holding that Schnarr had been
deprived of his constitutional right to a public trial. Upon
remand, on November 29-30, 2017, Schnarr was tried for a
third time. At that trial, Schnarr was charged with
manslaughter pursuant to Arkansas Code Annotated §
5-10-104 (Repl. 2013). That section provides that a person
commits manslaughter if he "recklessly causes the death
of another person[.]" Schnarr was convicted and
sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Schnarr has again
appealed and presents three issues on appeal: (1) that he
should have been permitted to argue that he believed he was
acting in self-defense and to have a jury instruction on that
point; (2) that he should have been permitted to adduce
testimony about the deceased's character for acts of
violence; and (3) that the court should also reverse its
previous finding that Schnarr was not entitled to a
first point on appeal, Schnarr contends that the circuit
court should have given his proffered jury instruction:
"Justification - Use of Deadly Physical Force in Defense
of A Person." Schnarr sought to present a justification
defense based on Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-2-601 et seq.,
which the circuit court denied. Additionally, Schnarr filed a
written motion, the circuit court denied the motion, and
Schnarr proffered the requested instruction, which the
circuit court denied. The circuit court found that our
opinions interpreting Arkansas Code Annotated § 5-2-614
precluded the use of a justification defense when the offense
charged required only a reckless mental state.
regard to our standard of review, we have stated that a party
is entitled to a jury instruction when it is a correct
statement of the law and when there is some basis in the
evidence to support giving the instruction. Vidos v.
State, 367 Ark. 296, 300, 239 S.W.3d 467, 476 (2006). We
will not reverse a circuit court's decision to give or
reject an instruction unless the court abused its discretion.
Clark v. State, 374 Ark. 292, 305, 287 S.W.3d 567,
we are tasked with interpreting Arkansas Code Annotated
section 5-2-614 (Repl. 2013). "We review issues of
statutory interpretation de novo because it is for this court
to decide what a statute means. While we are not bound by the
circuit court's ruling, we will accept that court's
interpretation of a statute unless it is shown that the court
erred." Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharms., Inc. v.
State, 2014 Ark. 124, at 10, 432 S.W.3d 563, 571
(internal citations omitted). "We construe criminal
statutes strictly, resolving any doubts in favor of the
defendant. We also adhere to the basic rule of statutory
construction, which is to give effect to the intent of the
legislature. We construe the statute just as it reads, giving
the words their ordinary and usually accepted meaning in
common language." Hinton v. State, 2015 Ark.
479, at 7-8, 477 S.W.3d 517, 521 (internal citations
omitted). Further, we construe the statute so that no word is
left void, superfluous or insignificant, and we give meaning
and effect to every word in the statute, if possible.
Brown v. Kelton, 2011 Ark. 93, at 3, 380 S.W.3d 361,
364 (internal citations omitted). Finally, "it is a
fundamental canon of construction that when interpreting or
construing a statute the court may consider the text as a
whole to derive its meaning or purpose. Dolan v. U.S.
Postal Serv., 546 U.S. 481, 486 (2006); Antonin Scalia
& Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of
Legal Texts 167 (2012)." Wilson v.
Walther, 2017 Ark. 270, at 16, 527 S.W.3d 709, 718.
these standards in mind, we turn to Schnarr's first point
on appeal. Schnarr contends that the circuit court erred when
it did not allow him to argue that he believed he was acting
in self-defense and did not instruct the jury on
justification. Schnarr urges us to revisit our interpretation
of section 5-2-614. The State responds that the
law-of-the-case doctrine bars review of this claim. The State
further responds that "a plain language reading of this
statute, as a whole, states that when a defendant is charged
with manslaughter, an offense involving a reckless mens rea,
he is precluded from arguing the defense of
law-of-the-case doctrine "prohibits a court from
reconsidering issues of law or fact that have already been
decided on appeal. The doctrine provides that a decision of
an appellate court establishes the law of the case for trial
upon remand and for the appellate court itself upon
subsequent review. The doctrine serves to effectuate
efficiency and finality in the judicial process, and its
purpose is to maintain consistency and to avoid
reconsideration of matters once decided during the course of
a single, continuing lawsuit." United Food &
Commercial Workers Int'l Union v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 2016 Ark. 397, 504 S.W.3d 573.
Schnarr I, Schnarr was charged with first-degree
murder. The jury was instructed on lesser-included offenses
of second-degree murder and manslaughter, as well as on
justification. Schnarr also argued that he was entitled to an
instruction on "imperfect self-defense," based on
Arkansas Code Annotated § 5-2-614. We held that such an
instruction was not appropriate under the facts of the case.
Therefore, we never determined that a justification defense
could never be given when a defendant is charged with
State contends that, even if Schnarr's justification
claim is not barred, a justification defense is unavailable
for a manslaughter charge based on Arkansas Code Annotated
§ 5-2-614, which provides:
(a) When a person believes that the use of physical force is
necessary for any purpose justifying that use of physical
force under this subchapter but the person is reckless or
negligent either in forming that belief or in employing an
excessive degree of physical force, the justification
afforded by this subchapter is unavailable in a prosecution
for an offense for which recklessness or negligence suffices
to establish a culpable mental state.
(b) When a person is justified under this subchapter in using
physical force but he or she recklessly or negligently
injures or creates a substantial risk of injury to a third
party, the justification afforded by this subchapter is
unavailable in a prosecution for the recklessness or
negligence toward the third party.
our rules of statutory construction, we must first review the
plain language of the statute at issue. We note that section
5-2-614 was originally codified at Arkansas Statutes
Annotated section 41-514 (Repl. 1977), and the language is
identical to that in section 5-2-614. The commentary to Ark.
Stats. Ann. § 41-514 provides that the justification
defense is based on Model Penal Code section 3.09(2) and
explains the justification defense:
Section 41-514 applies to situations in which the force is
recklessly or negligently employed. Under such circumstances
the defense of justification cannot be successfully
interposed in a prosecution for an offense established by
proof of reckless or negligent conduct.
In so providing the Code is aligned with the stance of the
Model Penal Code Reporter "[W]e do not believe a person
ought to be convicted for a crime of intention where he has
labored under a mistake such that, had the facts been as he
supposed, he would have been free from guilt. The
unreasonableness of an alleged belief may be evidenced [sic]
that it was not in fact held, but if the tribunal was
satisfied that the belief was held, the defendant in a
prosecution for a crime founded on wrongful purpose should be
entitled to be judged on the assumption that his belief was
true. To convict for a belief arrived at on unreasonable
grounds is, as we have urged, to convict for negligence.
Where the crime otherwise requires greater culpability for a
conviction, it is ...