State v. Carnes

State v. Carnes, 2015 MT 101 (April 14, 2015) (Rice, J.; McKinnon, J., dissenting) (5-2, rev’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred by failing to instruct the jury that the state was required to prove mental state for every element of the offense.

Short Answer: Yes.

Reversed & remanded

Facts: After Carnes and his girlfriend had an argument, Carnes packed and left the house. While he was outside, two deputies arrived in response to a domestic disturbance call from the residence. They did not use emergency lights, and pursuant to standard procedure, parked on the street and approached with flashlights. They were dressed in uniform. Without identifying themselves, they asked Carnes to step back from a truck that was running. He did not comply and got inside the truck. When he did not turn off the engine after being asked, one deputy pepper sprayed him. Carnes asked what he had done wrong but refused to turn off the truck. One deputy reached in to remove the keys. Carnes yelled at him, then accelerated with the deputy’s hand still inside. Carnes collided with an ornamental tree. The deputy freed himself before Carnes reversed and backed up toward the pavement, sweeping the front of the truck toward the deputies. The truck stalled, and the deputies approached from opposite sides of the truck. One reached inside and removed the keys.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Carnes was arrested and charged with two counts of assaulting a peace officer. Carnes represented himself, and was appointed stand-by counsel. After a two-day trial he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison for each count, to run concurrently. Carnes appeals, and the Supreme Court reverses.

Reasoning: Assault on a peace officer occurs when a person purposely or knowingly causes reasonable apprehension of bodily injury to a peace officer with a weapon. § 45-5-210(1)b), MCA. Carnes argued he was not guilty because he did not know the deputies were peace officers. He objected to the state’s proposed instruction, which stated the elements of the offense were that (1) the defendant purposely or knowingly caused reasonable apprehension of bodily injury, and (2) the deputy was a peace officer. The jury sent out a note during deliberations asking whether it had to find that Carnes knew the deputies were peace officers at the time of the offense. The court declined to answer.

The Supreme Court applies plain error review and holds the jury instruction was a misstatement of law because it did not require the jury to find that Carnes knew the deputies were peace officers, and that the error clearly prejudiced Carnes.

Justice McKinnon’s Dissent (joined by McGrath, C.J.): Justice McKinnon would not review Carnes’ claimed error because he did not raise it until his reply brief. Secondly, there is no constitutional violation when the contested instruction mirrors the language of the statute. Finally, the evidence leaves little doubt that Carnes knew the victims were peace officers.