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State v. Stay

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 13, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
David Michael Stay, Appellant.

          Court of Appeals Office of Appellate Courts

          Ian S. Birrell, Marc E. Betinsky, Gaskins Bennett & Birrell, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellant.

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Edwin W. Stockmeyer, Assistant Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Joseph Jerome Walsh, Mille Lacs County Attorney, Milaca, Minnesota, for respondent.

         SYLLABUS

         The first-degree manslaughter statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2) (2018), does not require the State to prove that death or great bodily harm was a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant's conduct when the underlying crime is fifth-degree assault.

          OPINION

          GILDEA, Chief Justice.

         This appeal requires us to determine whether a defendant charged with first-degree manslaughter under Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2) (2018), must have reasonably foreseen that death or great bodily harm could result from the commission of a fifth-degree assault. Appellant David Stay was charged with first-degree manslaughter, and he asked the district court to instruct the jury that a conviction for first-degree manslaughter required proof that he committed fifth-degree assault with such force or violence that death or great bodily harm was reasonably foreseeable. The district court declined to give that instruction and Stay was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. On appeal, the court of appeals held that the district court did not err in declining to give the instruction and affirmed. Because we conclude that section 609.20(2) does not require the State to prove that death or great bodily harm was a reasonably foreseeable result when the underlying crime is fifth-degree assault, we affirm.

         FACTS

         This case arises from a May 13, 2016 altercation between Stay and the victim, David Taute, at a bar in Isle. Stay had been drinking beer at the bar and, at approximately 1 a.m., he went outside. Around the same time, Taute, who had also been drinking at the bar, came outside. Taute's blood alcohol concentration at the time was estimated to be 0.26 and Stay admitted to feeling buzzed. Stay and Taute started to fight, and Stay punched Taute once in the jaw. Taute fell straight backwards, hit his head on cement, never moved or regained consciousness, and died within a few hours.

         The medical examiner determined that Stay's blow to Taute's jaw and Taute's head injury as a result of his fall to the cement caused Taute's death. The examiner explained that Taute's blood alcohol concentration also played a role in his death because it prevented Taute from breathing normally and maintaining a normal heart-rate rhythm.

         Following Taute's death, the State charged Stay with first-degree manslaughter, Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2), and first-degree assault, Minn. Stat. § 609.221 (2018). At trial, the jury heard from witnesses who were at the bar on the night of the event, medical personnel and experts, and police officers.

         At Stay's request, the district court instructed the jury on the lesser-included charge of fifth-degree assault, Minn. Stat. § 609.224 (2018). Stay also requested that the court instruct the jury that, in order to find him guilty of first-degree manslaughter, the jury must find that he committed a fifth-degree assault "with such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable." Minn. Stat. § 609.20(2). The State opposed the instruction, and the court declined to give the requested jury instruction.

         The jury found Stay guilty of fifth-degree assault and first-degree manslaughter but found him not guilty of first-degree assault. The district court convicted Stay of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced him to 51 months in prison.

         Stay appealed his conviction, claiming, in part, that the district court abused its discretion by denying his requested jury instruction. State v. Stay, 923 N.W.2d 355, 360 (Minn.App. 2019). The court of appeals affirmed. Id. at 366. The court held that Minn. Stat. ยง 609.20(2) is unambiguous and does not require the State to prove that death or great bodily harm is reasonably ...


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