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State v. Henfling

State v. Henfling, 2020 UT App 129 (Mortensen, J.)

Criminal

The defendant shot the victim in the head once during a struggle and told the police that he acted in self-defense. The State charged him with murder and felony discharge of a firearm. The jury convicted the defendant on both counts. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed, holding:

  • The evidence was sufficient to prove the required mens rea for murder. The mens rea was satisfied by the defendant’s admission to the police, “Being a hunter . . . you shoot to kill . . . So it’s what I did.” This admission shows that the defendant either intentionally shot the victim with the intent to kill or knew that shooting the victim was reasonably certain to cause death.
  • There was evidence from which the jury could conclude that the State disproved self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury could have relied on the defendant’s disparate statements about the event, his minor injuries, or comments that he had “f—-d up” to conclude that the defendant’s shooting of the victim was unnecessary and disproportionate. 
  • The felony discharge of a firearm statute operates in concert with the murder statute. The felony discharge statute’s plain language does not prevent a defendant from being charged with the offense simply because the victim ultimately died. And the plain language of the murder statute allows a felony discharge charge as a predicate and a separate offense that does not merge with a murder conviction. 
  • The jury instruction on felony discharge of a firearm was incorrect because it left off an essential element—the jury had to find that serious bodily injury occurred. But that error was harmless because the defendant did not show how the inclusion of that missing element would have changed the outcome. 
  • The defendant could not show that he was harmed by errors in the self-defense jury instruction. 
  • The prosecutor did not commit misconduct when she characterized the blood spatter evidence; the prosecutor’s comments on the blood spatter constituted a permissible deduction from the evidence. Nor did the prosecutor give her personal opinions during closing argument  or misstate the law on self-defense.

Read the full court opinion

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