STATE v. RANDLE, 2018 S.D. 61: Defendant was attending a party where he was handling an AK-47. While sitting down, the AK-47 was discharged while in Defendant’s possession. The bullet struck another party-goer. Defendant claimed that he was handed the gun and it caused his chair to slide backwards and the gun to slide off his lap. Defendant then grabbed the gun to prevent it from falling causing it to discharge. The victim ultimately died from a gunshot wound to the femoral region. Defendant was charged with first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, and two drug related charges. Defendant was convicted on all counts and, thereafter, appealed several issues.
The first issue appealed from was whether the circuit court erred by denying Defendant’s motion for mistrial after a state witness violated the court’s sequestration order. The circuit court’s denial was affirmed. The South Dakota Supreme Court found that Defendant could not show that the state witness’s testimony was tainted by what she heard in the courtroom.
The second issue was whether the court erred in denying Defendant’s motion for mistrial after the prosecutor asked a police officer whether Defendant had invoked his right to counsel during an interview with the officer. The South Dakota Supreme Court found that the state’s inquiry about whether Defendant invoked his right to an attorney was not relevant nor proper. However, the question was never answered and there was no comment or evidence presented concerning whether Defendant asked for an attorney or refused to answer questions. The question alone did not implicate Defendant’s right to remain silent nor was there any showing of prejudice from a single unanswered question.
The third issue related to the circuit court’s rejection of a proposed jury instruction by Defendant on excusable homicide. The South Dakota Supreme Court found that Defendant was entitled to this instruction and, without the instruction, Defendant was prejudiced. The evidence presented a theory for the jury’s consideration of whether the homicide was accidental or excusable under SDCL 22-16-30 and, thus, the circuit court erred in its instructions on first-degree manslaughter. The manslaughter conviction was therefore reversed and remanded for a new trial.