Olmsted County District Court File No. T60114148
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge,
and Hudson, Judge.
The legal excuse of self-defense applies to a charge of disorderly conduct where the behavior forming the basis of the offense presents the threat of bodily harm.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge
Appellant Philip Leighton Soukup challenges his misdemeanor conviction of disorderly conduct, arguing that the trial court erred by ruling that, as a matter of law, self-defense does not apply where the defendant is charged with the offense of disorderly conduct. We hold that a defendant may raise a claim of self-defense to a charge of disorderly conduct where the behavior forming the basis of the offense presents the threat of bodily harm. But because the evidence in the record, as a matter of law, does not support a claim of self-defense, the trial court's erroneous legal ruling is harmless error. We affirm.
On December 17, 2001, John Soukup (Soukup) and his brother Philip Leighton Soukup (appellant) were working at a construction site in Rochester. Soukup and a co-worker, Anthony Richards (Richards), were cleaning in a construction site building when appellant entered the building. Soukup hollered at appellant,"What the hell are you doing in here" and told him to leave. Richards heard the two brothers exchanging words and then saw Soukup grab the back of appellant's coat. Appellant turned to face Soukup, swinging his fist, and the two men simultaneously punched each other in the face. Richards watched them fight for about a minute before leaving to find their foreman. Richards testified that appellant and Soukup were mutually fighting, and it appeared difficult for appellant to give up the fight. As Richards returned with the foreman, they saw appellant throw the last punch. Appellant emerged from the fight unscathed, but Soukup sustained a large bruise over his left eye and a small cut to his hand. The state charged both men with disorderly conduct.*fn1
Appellant waived a jury trial and filed notice of his intention to assert the defense of self-defense prior to trial. Appellant did not testify, nor did he present any witnesses on his behalf. Soukup did not testify either. Defense counsel argued the theory of self-defense in his opening statement, and again in an oral motion for judgment of acquittal. The trial court denied appellant's motion for acquittal, and ordered the parties to brief the issue of whether self-defense applied to disorderly conduct.
In an order dated May 17, 2002, the trial court found appellant guilty of disorderly conduct. Specifically, the trial court found that appellant "acted in a disorderly manner by fighting and brawling * * * " and that "[t]he legal excuse of self-defense does not apply to disorderly conduct."
May a defendant properly assert self-defense against a charge of ...