Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nelson v. State case brief

Nelson v. State case brief summary
597 P.2d 977

SYNOPSIS: Defendant sought review of a decision of the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Fourth Judicial District that affirmed his conviction, by a trial court, for reckless destruction of personal property in violation of Alaska Stat. § 11.20.515(b), and joyriding in violation of Alaska Stat. § 28.35.010. The trial court declined to give the requested instruction on the defense of necessity.

-Defendant's truck became bogged down in a marshy area off a highway.
-After unsuccessfully attempting to free the truck and after waiting hours for assistance, defendant and his companions took a front-end loader and a dump truck from a highway department yard where heavy equipment was parked.
-While being used by defendant, both the dump truck and the front-end loader sustained considerable damage.

The sole question on appeal, was whether the jury was properly instructed on the defense of necessity.

Defendant argued that the instruction given was erroneous because it allowed the jury to apply an "objective, after-the-fact" test of need and emergency, rather than a "subjective, reasonable man" test.

The court found, however, that any error in the wording of the instruction was harmless because defendant failed to make out a case for the necessity defense, which could be raised only if defendant's actions although violative of the law, were necessary to prevent an even greater harm.

Here, the "greater harm," was potential damage to defendant's truck and the court found no justification for the appropriation of sophisticated and expensive equipment.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed defendant's convictions for reckless destruction of personal property and for joyriding.

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