State v. Kline

State v. Kline, 2016 MT 177 (July 19, 2016) (McKinnon, J.; Baker, J., concurring) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court erred in concluding SK was not legally accountable for Kline’s incest, and (2) whether sufficient evidence corroborated SK’s testimony.

Short Answer: (1) No, and (2) yes.

Affirmed

Facts: The state charged Kline with criminal distribution of drugs, endangering the welfare of children, and incest, all felonies, in December 2013. According to the information, Kline committed these offenses by giving methamphetamine to SK, his daughter, allowing SK to ingest meth while in his care, and having sexual intercourse or sexual contact with SK.

The district court held a jury trial in May 2014. SK testified that when she was 17, Kline repeatedly suggested she try meth. Eventually, she did, and continued using meth with Kline. Kline’s other daughter, SK’s younger sister, testified that she saw Kline give SK meth, and saw them smoke meth in the front seat of Kline’s vehicle, while she was in the back seat. SK’s blood tested positive for meth.

Before trial the state moved in limine to prevent Kline from introducing any evidence that SK was an accomplice or legally accountable for his conduct. The district court denied the motion, stating it is illegal for relatives to have sex with each other.

SK testified that sometimes, when Kline parked at a truck stop and casino, he would go inside to gamble and she would wait alone in the vehicle. After he gambled, they would have sexual intercourse in the vehicle. SK testified that she and Kline had consensual intercourse every day for around two months.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The jury returned guilty verdicts on each of the three felony offenses. The district court sentenced Kline to concurrent terms of 20 years for distribution, five years for endangering the welfare, and life imprisonment for incest. Kline appeals his incest conviction, arguing SK was legally accountable for his conduct and that the state was therefore required to provide corroborating evidence and he was entitled to a cautionary jury instruction to view SK’s testimony with distrust. The Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) As a 17-year-old, S.K. was responsible for her own commission of incest, and was not simultaneously responsible under a theory of accountability for Kline’s commission of incest. Legal accountability is inapplicable when liability could be based on S.K.’s own conduct in the first instance. The state chose not to prosecute SK, a decision that is within the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

The Court concludes that neither SK nor Kline is a victim of incest, as described by the district court. If both participants are over 16, their incestuous conduct is illegal. No victim is necessary.

(2) Although she was not legally accountable, SK was responsible for incest, and the state was required to provide corroborating evidence. It did so, through the testimony of family members, a detective, and a forensic interviewer with the Child Evaluation Center.

Justice Baker’s Concurrence (joined by Wheat, J.): Justice Baker notes that the statute as written treats both an adult man and his minor daughter as equally complicit in an incestuous relationship. She doubts this is what the legislature intended, but concludes the statute is not reasonably susceptible to another construction.