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State v. Landrus

Supreme Court of North Dakota

June 27, 2019

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Duane Eldene Landrus Jr., Defendant and Appellant

          Appeal from the District Court of Burleigh County, South Central Judicial District, the Honorable John W. Grinsteiner, Judge.

          Julie A. Lawyer, Burleigh County State's Attorney, Bismarck, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

          James R. Loraas, Bismarck, ND, for defendant and appellant.

          OPINION

          Crothers, Justice.

         [¶1] Duane Landrus appeals from an amended criminal judgment and order for restitution after a jury found him guilty of aggravated and simple assault. We affirm.

         I

         [¶2] Landrus was involved in a violent altercation involving David Roberts, Summer Tippett, and Jason Conn, among others. Roberts testified he and Tippett fell asleep by the firepit after hosting a cook-out. They awoke sometime after 2:00 a.m. and began cleaning up when they discovered Landrus in a storage shed on the property. A fight between Landrus and Roberts ensued, and Roberts suffered a stab wound from a knife later found at Landrus's residence. Landrus punched Tippett when she tried to intervene. The neighbor, Conn, also tried to intervene and suffered minor cuts. Two other witnesses corroborated the stories of the injured parties.

         [¶3] Landrus testified he acted in self-defense after he found himself in a stranger's yard while attempting to walk home after a night of drinking. Landrus claimed after being discovered in the shed Tippett told him to wait for police while Roberts told him to leave the property. Landrus testified he only used the knife in a defensive motion to ward off the attack, and acted in self-defense after Roberts struck him in the head with a portable radio.

         [¶4] The State charged Landrus with attempted murder, simple assault, and criminal trespass. Landrus requested a self-defense jury instruction at trial. The State requested a jury instruction of defense of property based on Roberts discovering Landrus in the shed on his property. The district court gave both instructions. Over Landrus's objection the district court also gave the jury a lesser included aggravated assault instruction concerning the attempted murder charge.

         [¶5] Landrus argues the district court erred in allowing the defense of property instruction because it was based on the victims' actions as property owners and not raised by a criminal defendant as a defense. Landrus further argues the court erred by allowing the lesser included aggravated assault instruction over his objection, and the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.

         II

         [¶6] Landrus argues the district court misapplied the law by giving the defense of property jury instruction because it impermissibly shifted the burden of proof and undermined Landrus's self-defense claim.

         [¶7] Jury instructions are fully reviewable on appeal. State v. Wilson, 2004 ND 51, ¶ 11, 676 N.W.2d 98. This Court reviews jury instructions as a whole and determines whether they correctly and adequately inform the jury of the applicable law, even though part of the instructions standing alone may be insufficient or erroneous. Id. Reversal is appropriate only if the instructions, as a whole, are erroneous, relate to a central subject in the case, and affect a substantial right of the accused. State v. Huber, 555 N.W.2d 791, 793 (N.D. 1996).

         [¶8] At trial, Landrus claimed that he acted in self-defense and that Roberts was the initial aggressor. The district court instructed the jury on self-defense. At the State's request, the court also instructed ...


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