October 2023


Appellant and his stepbrother were socializing in their garage when the victim drove by. Appellant’s stepbrother made a gesture at the victim. Later that evening, the victim entered the garage and was sweating, angry, and breathing heavily. At one point, the victim thought the other two were talking about him and threatened to take Appellant’s gun and shoot him. The victim then choked the stepbrother, tackled him, and began either smothering him or choking him again while on top of him. Appellant’s stepbrother was pleading for his life and for Appellant to shoot the victim. Appellant fired one round at the victim, who died from the gunshot. Appellant was charged with second-degree intentional and unintentional murder. During his jury trial, the district court instructed the jury that Appellant had a duty to retreat or avoid the danger if reasonably possible. Appellant was found guilty of unintentional murder. The Court of Appeals holds the district court’s duty to retreat instruction was erroneous and was not harmless, entitling Appellant to a new trial. The authorized use of force statute, Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1, includes the right to use reasonable force “in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person.” Id. at subd. 1(3). The statute does not explicitly include a duty to retreat before using reasonable force, but case law is clear that such a duty exists in self-defense situations but not in when one is defending their dwelling. The Minnesota Supreme Court has not yet determined whether the duty to retreat applies to the right to defend others. The court notes that requiring a duty to retreat in a defense-of-others situation would negate Appellant’s statutory right to defend another being threatened with bodily harm. The court cites reasoning from other states, including that the position of the third person with respect the ability to retreat should be the focus, as opposed to the person acting in defense of the third person, and that requiring retreat would prevent the defender from using the reasonable force statutorily permitted. The court holds that there is no duty to retreat when acting in defense of another. Here, the State argued to the jury that Appellant did not retreat, so it cannot be determined whether the jury found Appellant guilty because he used unreasonable force or because he failed to retreat. Thus, the district court’s erroneous instruction was not harmless. Reversed and remanded for a new trial. State v. Valdez, A22-1424, 2033 WL 6799150 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 16, 2023).


Appellant was arrested for violating a no-alcohol probationary condition. During a search of his person, police found a magazine with seven bullets in Appellant’s pant pocket. The magazine was rusty, and the bullets were tarnished. Appellant argued he did not think he was prohibited from possessing the ammunition because he did not believe it to be operable. The district court prohibited the defense from arguing the State was required to prove Appellant knew the ammunition was operable. A jury found Appellant guilty of being an ineligible person in possession of ammunition. On appeal, Appellant argues the district court violated his constitutional right to present a complete defense by erroneously interpreting the mens res requirement. Minn. Stat. § 609.165, subd. 1b(a), makes it felony for a person convicted of a crime of violence to, among other things, possess ammunition. The definition of ammunition includes “ammunition components that are not operable as ammunition.” Minn. Stat. § 609.02, subd. 17. The ineligible possession statute is silent as to mens rea, but the Supreme Court has previously held that the statute requires the state to prove that a defendant knowingly possessed firearm and that a defendant may be convicted of possessing a firearm where the firearm is inoperable. The court find this same mens rea requirement applies to possession of ammunition. The court rejects Appellant’s argument that the mens rea required under section 609.165, subdivision 1b(a), includes both that the state has to prove Appellant knowing we possessed ammunition, and that he knew the ammunition was operable. Appellant did not face a strict liability offense, because the state was required to prove he knew he possessed ammunition. The district court did not err declining to add a second mens rea requirement, and the court declines to add a second requirement, as implying mens rea the statute does not otherwise result in strict liability generally frowned upon by the courts. Appellant admitted at trial he knowingly possessed ammunition. This was sufficient to satisfy the mens rea element of MS 609.165, subdivision 1b(a). Appellant’s conviction is affirmed. State v. Lyons, A22-1744, 2023 WL 6965041 (Minn. Ct. App. Oct. 23, 2023).