State v. Stewart

State v. Stewart, 2016 MT 1 (Jan. 5, 2016) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether the district court erred when it denied Stewart’s request to instruct the jury on misdemeanor assault as a lesser-included offense of attempted deliberate homicide.

Short Answer: No.


Facts: After a traffic stop for speeding, Stewart took off and was pursued by officers from the Highway Patrol, the Cascade County Sheriff’s Department, and the Judith Basin County Sheriff’s Department. He threw several pipe bombs out the window toward the pursuers. Eventually, his tires shredded from a spike strip, he got out of the car with a handgun and ran until he was apprehended. No one fired any shots. Stewart told the officers he did not mean to hurt anyone.

The state charged Stewart with seven counts of attempted deliberate homicide. 

Procedural Posture & Holding: At trial, the jury heard testimony from officers and watched several explosions videotaped on the dashboard cameras. During the settling of jury instructions, Stewart asked the court to instruct on various lesser-included offenses, including misdemeanor assault. The court concluded that the evidence at trial did not support a misdemeanor assault instruction, instructing instead on the lesser-included offense of attempted aggravated assault. The jury found Stewart guilty of all seven counts of attempted deliberate homicide, and the court sentenced Stewart to life in prison on each count. Stewart appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms. 

Reasoning: A district court’s refusal to instruct on a lesser-included offense is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Misdemeanor assault is a lesser-included offense of deliberate homicide. The trial court does not need to instruct the jury on misdemeanor assault if the evidence shows that the only type of injury that would be feared is serious bodily injury. Stewart argues that the issue of whether he intended or attempted to cause serious bodily injury or lesser bodily injury was for the jury, not the court. However, the evidence supports the district court’s exercise of discretion. Stewart lit the fuses on seven pipe bombs filled with nuts and bolts and threw them into the path of oncoming law enforcement vehicles.