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State v. Woodford

Court of Appeals of Oregon

August 22, 2018

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
MATTHEW HENRY WOODFORD, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted March 23, 2018

          Union County Circuit Court F21134; Russell B. West, Judge.

          Anne Fujita Munsey, Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. Also on the briefs was Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, Offce of Public Defense Services.

          Patrick M. Ebbett, Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent. Also on the brief were Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, and Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General.

          Before Armstrong, Presiding Judge, and Tookey, Judge, and Shorr, Judge.

         Case Summary: Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction for two counts each of assault in the second degree, menacing, unlawful use of a weapon, and pointing a firearm at another. Defendant was charged following an altercation during which he shot the victim. At trial, defendant argued that he shot the victim in self-defense. The trial court ruled that an expert in the use of force could testify that, based on a video recording of the altercation between defendant and the victim, the expert "saw no elements of a crime being committed" by the victim. Defendant challenges that ruling on appeal, arguing that the expert provided an impermissible legal conclusion. Held: The trial court erred by allowing the expert to testify that he "saw no elements of a crime being committed" because that testimony offered an impermissible legal conclusion. Further, the error was not harmless because the wrongly admitted testimony undermined defendant's theory of self-defense. Self-defense is a valid defense only when a person responds to certain types of unlawful behavior, and, here, the expert's testimony supported the inference that the victim had acted lawfully.

          [293 Or.App. 485] SHORR, J.

         Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction for two counts each of assault in the second degree, ORS 163.175; menacing, ORS 163.190; unlawful use of a weapon, ORS 166.220; and pointing a firearm at another, ORS 166.190. Defendant was charged following an incident during which defendant, a construction foreman, shot and wounded Hains, one of his employees, with a .22-caliber rifle during an altercation at a construction site. Another employee recorded the altercation with a video camera. At trial, defendant argued that he had acted in self-defense. Over defendant's objection, the trial court allowed the police chief who investigated the incident to provide expert testimony that, based on the video recording, the chief "saw no elements of a crime being committed [by Hains]," effectively refuting defendant's self-defense theory. We conclude that the challenged testimony provided an impermissible legal conclusion with respect to Hains's conduct during the altercation. Further, the erroneous admission of that evidence was not harmless. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

         We provide the following facts as context for our analysis of the trial court's evidentiary ruling. Defendant worked as a foreman on construction projects remodeling houses. Defendant had worked with Hains on and off for several years. Four to six months prior to the charged incident in this case, defendant had fired Hains for being disrespectful toward defendant and making derogatory comments to women on the job. Defendant rehired Hains about one month before the charged incident to assist with a remodel of a home owned by defendant's parents. Another of defendant's workers, Kaleikini, helped with that project as well.

         As the project progressed, defendant became upset with Hains's behavior-including what defendant viewed as excessive drinking and reckless conduct at work-and decided to fire him again. Defendant asked Kaleikini to come with him and record the firing with a video camera because defendant feared Hains's reaction. Defendant was worried because he knew Hains had a violent temper. Defendant was also concerned because he knew Hains had recently begun [293 Or.App. 486] drinking after a period of sobriety. Defendant armed himself with a loaded .22-caliber rifle and masked his face with a bandana and then approached Hains, who was working in the garage at the construction site. Defendant immediately fired a "warning shot" in the air upon entering the garage and then told Hains that he was fired and ordered him to leave. After some argument, Hains began to leave the scene but suddenly turned and moved quickly toward defendant. Defendant backed up into the kitchen adjoining the garage and fired more "warning shots." Hains dared defendant to shoot him and then lunged toward defendant, at which point defendant shot Hains in the leg. Hains moved back into the garage, where he turned and bent over to grab something off the ground. Defendant then shot Hains a second time in the buttock. The two shots were several seconds apart. Defendant testified at trial that he shot Hains a second time because Hains had picked up a two-by-four board studded with exposed nails.

         A neighbor called the police, who arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. Defendant gave his account of the events and explained that he approached Hains with the gun because he was afraid of Hains and wanted to avoid a physical altercation. Defendant then handed over the gun and video camera with the recording of the altercation.

         At trial, defendant asserted that he acted in self-defense when he shot Hains. Although Hains did not suffer life-threatening injuries, on appeal the parties do not dispute that defendant used deadly physical force when he shot Hains.[1] Under ORS 161.219, which describes limitations on the use of deadly physical force in self-defense,

"a person is not justified in using deadly physical force upon another person unless the person reasonably believes that the other person is:
"(1) Committing or attempting to commit a felony involving the use or threatened imminent use of physical ...

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