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State v. Samshal

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 22, 2013

STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Travis Allan SAMSHAL, Defendant and Appellant.

Page 464

Meredith H. Larson, Assistant State's Attorney, Grand Forks, N.D., for plaintiff and appellee.

Kelsey L. Gentzkow (argued) and Blake D. Hankey (on brief), Grand Forks, N.D., for defendant and appellant.

VANDE WALLE, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1] Travis Samshal appealed from a criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of reckless endangerment. We conclude the district court erred in excluding evidence about threatening statements the victim allegedly made to Samshal. We reverse Samshal's conviction and remand for a new trial.

I

[¶ 2] Samshal lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Grand Forks with a roommate, Leonel Franco. On December 14, 2011, Samshal fired a rifle inside his apartment, shooting in Franco's direction. Samshal was charged by information with one count of reckless endangerment, alleging he created a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to Franco and other people living in the same building by shooting a rifle at Franco and manifested an extreme indifference to the value of human life. The information was amended in February 2012 to charge Samshal with the additional offense of attempted murder.

[¶ 3] A jury trial was held in October 2012. Samshal claimed he was acting in self-defense and in defense of the premises. Samshal testified at the trial and was asked about threatening statements Franco allegedly made to him prior to and

Page 465

during the December 14 incident. The State objected to Samshal's testimony, arguing the testimony was hearsay. Samshal argued the evidence was not hearsay because the testimony was offered to show his state of mind, it was not offered for the truth of the matter asserted, and it was relevant to his defense. The court sustained the State's objection, ruling the statements were offered for the truth of the matter asserted and were hearsay. The court advised Samshal he could testify about his reaction to Franco's statements or how he felt about the statements, but he could not testify about the content of the statements. Samshal raised the issue again during the trial, but the court reaffirmed its earlier ruling excluding the testimony.

[¶ 4] Samshal submitted proposed jury instructions, including instructions on self-defense, limits on use of excessive or deadly force, and use of force in defense of premises or property. The district court gave instructions on self-defense and limits on the use of excessive or deadly force in its final instructions to the jury; however, the court refused to give the entire instruction Samshal requested for limits on the use of excessive or deadly force or the defense of premises or property instruction. During jury deliberations the jury asked, " If the defendant used excessive force, can he still be found to have acted in self defense." The court instructed the jury to reread the instruction on the limits on the use of excessive or deadly force. The jury found Samshal was guilty of reckless endangerment and not guilty of attempted murder. Samshal was sentenced and a criminal judgment was entered.

II

[¶ 5] Samshal argues the district court erred in refusing to allow him to testify about threatening statements made by the victim, Franco. He claims the statements were offered to show his state of mind and were not hearsay. He contends the statements were extremely relevant to his defense because they established what effect the conversations had on his state of mind and showed he feared Franco would hurt or kill him.

[¶ 6] A district court has discretion in evidentiary matters, and its decision to admit or exclude evidence will not be reversed on appeal unless the court abused its discretion. State v. Wacht, 2013 ND 126, ¶ 23, 833 N.W.2d 455. A court abuses its discretion when it acts in an arbitrary or capricious manner or when it misinterprets or misapplies the law. Id.

[¶ 7] Samshal testified about his relationship with Franco, arguments they had before December 14, a physical altercation that occurred a couple of weeks before the incident, and the December 14 incident. Samshal wanted to testify about threatening statements he claimed Franco made to him prior to and during the December 14 incident. Samshal's offer of proof was that Franco told Samshal, " I hate you. I hate you. I hate you," " I'm going to kill you," " I will kill you. I will kill you. I hate you. I hate you," and that the statements showed Samshal's state of mind and were relevant to his claimed defense. The district court excluded Samshal's testimony about the content of the statements, ruling the statements were clearly being offered for the truth of the matter asserted and were inadmissible hearsay. The court advised Samshal that he could not testify about the content of the statements, but he could testify about his own reaction to the statements and how he felt.

[¶ 8] Hearsay is " a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in ...


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