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State v. Carson

Supreme Court of Arizona

February 27, 2018

State of Arizona, Appellee,
v.
Antajuan Stewart Carson Jr., Appellant.

         Appeal from the Superior Court in Pima County The Honorable Teresa A. Godoy, Judge Pro Tempore No. CR20134987-001.

         Opinion of the Court of Appeals, Division Two 242 Ariz. 6 (App. 2017)

          Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, Dominic E. Draye, Solicitor General, Joseph T. Maziarz, Chief Counsel, Adele G. Ponce (argued), Assistant Attorney General, Phoenix, Attorneys for State of Arizona.

          Joel Feinman, Pima County Public Defender, Erin K. Sutherland (argued), Assistant Public Defender, Tucson, Attorneys for Antajuan Stewart Carson, Jr.

          JUSTICE TIMMER authored the opinion of the Court, in which CHIEF JUSTICE BALES, VICE CHIEF JUSTICE PELANDER and JUSTICES BRUTINEL, BOLICK, GOULD, and LOPEZ joined.

          OPINION

          TIMMER, JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Our courts have consistently prohibited a defendant from simultaneously claiming self-defense and asserting a misidentification defense. We now disavow that approach. We hold that if some evidence supports a finding of self-defense, the prosecution must prove its absence, and the trial court must give a requested self-defense jury instruction, even when the defendant asserts a misidentification defense.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 We view the evidence in the light most favorable to a defendant's request for a self-defense instruction. See State v. King, 225 Ariz. 87, 90 ¶ 13 (2010).

         ¶3 One October night in 2013, Antajuan Carson and victims S.B., J.M., and B.C. attended a house party in Tucson. There was "bad blood" between Carson and J.M., and they unfortunately crossed paths. The two men engaged in a prolonged "fight" inside the house that involved "a whole bunch of people, " including S.B., who "had a little conflict going [with Carson], " and lasted five or ten minutes before being broken up. Carson displayed a gun at some point during this confrontation.

         ¶4 The fight soon resumed outside in what witnesses described as chaotic conditions ("A whole bunch of people were running and arguing, yelling"; "[E]very body just ran outside, and everybody was pushing") until several people, including J.M. and S.B., "jumped" Carson, hitting and kicking him as he was on the ground. According to one witness, Carson pulled out a gun and "started like swinging it to [J.M. and S.B.], " who responded by physically fighting Carson. Someone yelled, "He has a gun, " and people began to run away. Shots were fired, and J.M. and S.B. were shot and killed. B.C. was shot but survived. The gun was never found. But police discovered a bloodied knife on the ground near S.B.'s body at the end of a trail of blood drops, and a second bloodied knife was found tucked inside S.B.'s belt. Neither was tested for fingerprints or DNA. Carson fled and was later arrested in Michigan.

         ¶5 The State charged Carson with two counts of second degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. During the subsequent jury trial, Carson did not testify. His principal defense was that he was not the shooter. But Carson also requested a self-defense instruction. The trial court denied the request, reasoning "the court legally cannot give a self-defense instruction" because Carson denied he had shot the victims. The jury found Carson guilty on all counts, and the court imposed sentences.

         ¶6 The court of appeals reversed the murder convictions and sentences and remanded for a new trial because the trial court had erroneously refused to give a self-defense instruction as to those two victims. State v. Carson, 242 Ariz. 6, 12 ¶ 23 (App. 2017). It affirmed the aggravated assault convictions, however, concluding that insufficient evidence supported giving a self-defense instruction regarding Carson's shooting of B.C. Id. ¶ 21.

         ¶7 We granted review of Carson's petition and the State's cross- petition to decide whether a defendant is entitled to a self-defense instruction while also asserting a misidentification defense, a recurring issue of statewide importance. We have jurisdiction pursuant to ...


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