State v. King

State v. King, 2013 MT 139 (May 28, 2013) (5-0) (Wheat, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly excluded evidence of justifiable use of force as a defense to the charge of deliberate homicide, and (2) whether the district court’s exclusion of evidence of the victim’s mental health history violated King’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) no.


Facts: Nathan King, Sara Thompson and Christopher Terrey lived together. After several hours of King and Terrey drinking, and while Thompson was at a friend’s house, Terrey was stabbed in the carotid artery and died. When Thompson arrived home and saw Terrey, King choked her, slammed her into a wall, and knocked two teeth out of her mouth. She ran away and a neighbor called 911.

The state charged King with deliberate homicide and aggravated assault. King filed notice of intent to use the defense of justifiable use of force, both in self-defense and in defense of Terrey, whom King asserted was trying to commit suicide. The state moved to prevent King from asserting both theories, arguing they conflicted with each other, and to prevent King from admitting Terrey’s mental health records.

After a hearing, the district court prohibited King from arguing justifiable use of force to prevent Terrey from killing himself, as deadly force cannot be used to prevent someone from killing himself, but did not preclude him from arguing self-defense if he could put sufficient facts in the record to support that theory. The court also held Terrey’s mental health records would be admissible if sufficient facts in the record showed that King put in sufficient facts to support a self-defense theory and showed that King had specific knowledge of Terrey’s previous suicide attempts and history of cutting himself.

Procedural Posture & Holding: King did not pursue a self-defense claim at trial, instead arguing Terrey’s death was an accident. The jury found King guilty of deliberate homicide and aggravated assault. The district court sentenced King to 100 years in prison for the homicide, and 20 years for the assault, with the sentences to run consecutively. King appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) King argues that a defendant should not have to concede that he acted purposely or knowingly before he is entitled to an instruction on self-defense. The Court has previously held that a defendant who relies on justifiable use of force concedes that he acted purposely or knowingly. The district court did not err in holding King could not argue both that Terrey’s death was an accident and that he was justified in stabbing him.
The district court reasoned that § 45-3-102 requires three people: the defendant, the aggressor, and a third party who requires the defendant’s protection from the aggressor. The Court affirms this interpretation of the statute.

(2) King argues that Terrey’s mental health history should have been admitted as “reverse 404(b)” evidence, but did not raise that argument below. He argues that the argument is nonetheless preserved under MRE 103. The Court disagrees, as King submitted records to the district court for in camera review, but did not identify specific records as an offer of proof. King argues the basis for plain error review in his reply brief, but the Court will not apply the plain error doctrine when it is raised for the first time in a reply brief.