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State v. Pollard

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

July 10, 2017

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Natalie Jonelle Pollard, Appellant.

         Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CR-15-4919

          Lori Swanson, Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney, Thomas R. Ragatz, Assistant County Attorney, St. Paul, Minnesota (for respondent)

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Andrea Barts, Assistant Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

          Considered and decided by Jesson, Presiding Judge; Bratvold, Judge; and Smith, John, Judge.

         SYLLABUS

         It is error for a district court to use an unmodified CRIMJIG 7.06, the justifiable-taking-of-life jury instruction, when the defendant asserts self-defense and claims the resulting death was accidental.

          OPINION

          Smith, John, Judge. [*]

         Appellant was found guilty of second-degree felony murder for acts that resulted in her boyfriend's death. On appeal, she argues that the trial resulting in her conviction was unfair and that she should be given a new trial. Specifically, she argues that the district court erred in its instruction on self-defense. Appellant also argues that she is entitled to a new trial based on misconduct by the prosecution and evidentiary errors. We reverse appellant's conviction and remand to the district court for a new trial. In addition, we deny the state's motion to strike arguments from appellant's reply brief.[1]

         FACTS

         Police arrested appellant Natalie Pollard after responding to an emergency call she made on July 2, 2015. In her call to police, appellant reported that her boyfriend, O.N., had broken into her house and was in her basement. Appellant reported that O.N. needed medical attention because he had been cut in a fight. Upon arrival, police found O.N. unconscious in the basement with a puncture wound in his chest.

         Appellant initially told the police that O.N. had produced a knife during a fight in the basement of her townhome. Appellant told an investigator that she had discovered O.N. attempting to enter her townhome. Appellant let O.N. into the townhome, and the two went to the basement for O.N. to retrieve his things. She told the investigator that O.N. attempted to strike her and the two began to fight. She told the investigator that O.N. had a knife in his hand and that she attempted to turn O.N.'s wrist away from her and toward O.N. during the fight. Appellant told the investigator that she fell and that O.N. got on top of her. She said that O.N. placed his knee on her chest and tried to strangle her. She said that she was able to move O.N. from on top of her, he fell, and she ran upstairs and called the police. Appellant told the investigator that O.N. pulled on her hair extensions during the fight, and that they came out as she was running away.

         Appellant later admitted that although the knife belonged to O.N., she had brought it with her to the basement. Appellant said that she thought she needed the knife for protection because O.N. frequently came to her house angry. She told the investigator that she held the blade open and behind her back when they went to retrieve O.N.'s items from the basement. Appellant admitted that she was holding the knife when O.N. attempted to hit her, and that she swung the knife at him while they were fighting. She told the investigator that she was trying to protect herself from being hurt, because it was not the first time that O.N. had hit her. She told the investigator that she fell during the fight and O.N. got on top of her, at which point the knife flew from her hand. She was able to get up, grab the knife, and run up the stairs. She admitted to throwing the knife in the kitchen garbage. She told the investigator that she did not know if she cut or stabbed O.N., but, if she did, it was accidental because he would not stop attacking her.

         Appellant was charged with intentional second-degree murder and second-degree felony murder. Appellant asserted self-defense and defense of dwelling. At trial, the state introduced evidence of the couple's strained relationship, including witnesses who testified about an incident from several weeks prior to O.N.'s death, in which appellant allegedly struck O.N. with her car and yelled that she was going to kill him. Appellant did not testify, but a recording of appellant's interview at the police station was played to the jury. Appellant introduced evidence demonstrating that O.N. had previously struck her in the face, and that she had sought medical treatment after being assaulted.

         Appellant requested the general self-defense instruction provided in CRIMJIG 7.05. See 10 Minnesota Practice, CRIMJIG 7.05 (2015) (providing jury instruction for "self-defense-generally"). The state requested the self-defense instruction concerning the taking of a life, as provided in CRIMJIG 7.06. See 10 Minnesota Practice, CRIMJIG 7.06 (2015) (providing jury instruction for "self-defense-justifiable taking of life"). In arguing for CRIMJIG 7.06, the state cited comments to CRIMJIG 7.06 which indicate that it is the appropriate instruction for self-defense cases in which the defendant has not admitted to intentionally killing the decedent. Relying on State v. Hare, 575 N.W.2d 828, 828 (Minn. 1998), the district court agreed with the state and ruled that ...


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