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United States v. Garcia

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 19, 2013

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Rudy Martin Garcia, Defendant-Appellant.

Argued and Submitted November 9, 2012—Seattle, Washington

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington Edward F. Shea, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:10-cr-00001-EFS-1

COUNSEL

Peter S. Schweda (argued), Waldo, Schweda, Montgomery, P.S., Spokane, Washington, for Defendant-Appellant.

Matthew F. Duggan (argued), Assistant United States Attorney, Spokane, Washington, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Before: William A. Fletcher and Raymond C. Fisher, Circuit Judges, and Gordon J. Quist, Senior District Judge. [*]

SUMMARY[**]

Criminal Law

Reversing a conviction for involuntary manslaughter, the panel held that the version of the Ninth Circuit model jury instruction given by the district court was improper because it did not require the jury to find that the defendant acted with gross negligence – that is, "with wanton or reckless disregard for human life."

The panel held that the instructional error was not harmless. The panel also held that the district court should have admitted the defendant's testimony about the victim's prior violent acts and should have admitted, as evidence impeaching the testimony of witnesses who had testified that they had never seen the victim with a firearm, photographs that had been posted on the victim's MySpace page.

OPINION

W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge

Rudy Martin Garcia was tried for first-degree murder after he shot David McCraigie. The jury was instructed on the elements of first- and second-degree murder and of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The jury convicted Garcia of involuntary manslaughter and otherwise acquitted him. Garcia appeals his conviction. He contends that the version of the Ninth Circuit model jury instruction for involuntary manslaughter given by the district court was defective in that it failed to tell the jury that "gross negligence, " defined as "wanton or reckless disregard for human life, " was required for a conviction. We agree that the jury instruction allowed the jury to convict Garcia without finding an essential element of involuntary manslaughter. We therefore reverse Garcia's conviction.

I. Background

Garcia shot McCraigie on the Colville Indian Reservation in eastern Washington during the evening of November 4, 2009. Garcia and McCraigie had been friends since childhood. Garcia and another friend had been drinking at Garcia's apartment, planning to go hunting the next day, when they ran out of beer. They drove Garcia's Jeep two blocks to the McCraigie house where a drinking party was in progress. An altercation between Garcia and McCraigie began inside the house and spilled out onto the sidewalk. A point-blank shot from Garcia's hunting rifle seriously wounded McCraigie. McCraigie died a few days later.

A. Evidence Admitted at Trial

The prosecution and defense presented starkly different versions of the events leading up to the shooting and of the shooting itself. The prosecution version was that after the fight spilled out onto the sidewalk, McCraigie chased Garcia from the property. Garcia then went to his apartment, retrieved his hunting rifle, returned to the house, and intentionally shot McCraigie. One prosecution witness testified that he heard Garcia say he was going to get his gun. Four prosecution witnesses reported hearing from someone else that Garcia had gone to get a gun. Two prosecution witnesses reported seeing McCraigie grab the barrel of Garcia's rifle. Two other prosecution witnesses did not see the shot that hit McCraigie. None of the prosecution witnesses reported seeing a gun in McCraigie's hand that night. Three of the prosecution witnesses testified that they had never seen McCraigie with a firearm.

The defense version was that Garcia had acted in self-defense and that the shooting itself was an accident. Garcia testified that McCraigie and two others at the party started a fight with him. He testified that he had seen McCraigie with a pistol earlier that night. He testified further that McCraigie tried to hit him on the head with the pistol. He reported being chased and pushed from the house.

Garcia testified that he ran to his car and got in, but his girlfriend had taken his keys. He then grabbed his hunting rifle from the back seat and got out of the car. McCraigie kept coming toward him. Garcia testified that he backed up and fired a warning shot in the air. When they were about six feet apart, McCraigie ran at him. Garcia testified that he "flinch[ed] up, " expecting a punch, but McCraigie grabbed the barrel of the rifle. There was a struggle, and the gun went off, inflicting the wound that eventually killed McCraigie.

Jordan Lynn, Garcia's girlfriend, testified that McCraigie and two others were beating up Garcia, and that she saw McCraigie with something in his hand that she thought was a gun. She testified that she saw McCraigie grab the rifle barrel and that the rifle then discharged. She also testified seeing one of the prosecution witnesses pick something up from beside McCraigie after he was shot.

The defense introduced text messages sent by one of the prosecution witnesses immediately after the shooting. Unbeknownst to the witness, he had mistakenly sent his texts to a stranger, a fourteen-year old girl. The girl responded several times before ...


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