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State v. Gedatus

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

December 23, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Cara Ann Gedatus, Appellant.

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Washington County District Court File No. 82CR114159.

Lori A. Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Sarah Beth Sicheneder, Lakeland City Attorney, Johnson & Turner, P.A., Forest Lake, Minnesota (for respondent).

Mark D. Nyvold, Fridley, Minnesota (for appellant).

Considered and decided by Schellhas, Presiding Judge; Stauber, Judge; and Crippen, Judge. [*]

STAUBER, Judge.

Appellant challenges her conviction of domestic assault stemming from an altercation with her 14-year-old stepdaughter. Because the district court did not err when it declined to instruct the jury on self-defense and because the postconviction court did not err when it refused to find that appellant received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, we affirm.

FACTS

In October 2011, appellant Cara Ann Gedatus was cited for domestic violence, in violation of Minn. Stat. § 609.2242, subd. 1(2) (2010), at her home in Lakeland, Minnesota, after an altercation with her minor stepdaughter F.G. Deputy Nicholas Sullivan, a responding officer, took statements from F.G., appellant, and two of appellant's minor children: J.G. and B.G. F.G. stated that there had been an altercation, during which appellant had punched her in the face. Appellant stated that she had punched F.G., but only in self-defense after F.G. punched first. Both J.G. and B.G. stated that they had seen both F.G. and appellant "punching each other."

At appellant's jury trial in January 2012, neither party disputed that there had been an altercation, but two theories of the case emerged. The state offered the testimony of F.G. and Deputy Sullivan to support the theory that appellant had struck F.G.'s face during the altercation. F.G. testified that she and appellant had fought and that appellant had struck her. Deputy Sullivan testified that J.G. and B.G. had both admitted to seeing appellant punch F.G., and that appellant had admitted to striking F.G. in self-defense.

Appellant's sole theory of the case was that she "did not in any way, shape, or manner assault [F.G.]." To support this theory, appellant testified that she had never admitted to striking F.G., that police statements taken on the day of the altercation were inaccurate, and that the testimony of Deputy Sullivan and F.G. was false. Appellant also called J.G. and B.G., who testified that their police statements were inaccurate because they had never admitted to seeing appellant punch F.G.

Appellant's counsel requested that the district court instruct the jury on the law of self-defense. Although appellant's counsel admitted that he did not notice self-defense as required by Minnesota discovery rules, he argued that it had been implicated by the police reports and Deputy Sullivan's testimony, and thus constituted a "part of the landscape of this case from the very beginning." And although appellant's counsel admitted that appellant's sole theory of the case was that she never struck F.G., he argued that the jury should have the law on self-defense in case it viewed the facts differently.

The district court declined to instruct on self-defense on two grounds: lack of required notice and lack of evidentiary support.[1] Specifically, because the district court's review of witness testimony did not reveal "any testimony that . . . properly supported a self-defense claim, " the instruction was improper because it did "not conform to the evidence that the jury heard." During deliberations, the jury asked the district court to delineate the "the difference between intent and self-defense." After the district court responded that the jury was "not to consider self-defense, " appellant was found guilty of domestic assault.

Appellant pursued postconviction relief on the theory that she had received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. In December 2012, appellant's request ...


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