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State v. Sanchez

Supreme Court of Montana

August 8, 2017

STATE OF MONTANA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
v.
ADAM SANCHEZ, JR., Defendant and Appellant.

          Submitted on Briefs: June 21, 2017

         Appeal From District Court of the Eighth Judicial District, In and For the County of Cascade, Cause No. DDC-14-365 Honorable Dirk M. Sandefur, Presiding Judge

          For Appellant: Chad Wright, Chief Appellate Defender, Koan Mercer, Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana.

          For Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Katie F. Schulz, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Carey Ann Haight, Cascade County Attorney, Joshua A. Racki, Deputy County Attorney, Great Falls, Montana.

          OPINION

          MIKE MCGRATH CHIEF JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Adam Sanchez, Jr. appeals from his October 2015 conviction and sentence for deliberate homicide and several other offenses. We affirm.

         ¶2 The issue on appeal is whether the District Court abused its discretion by giving jury instruction No. 12: "When circumstantial evidence is susceptible to two interpretations, one that supports guilt and one that supports innocence, the jury determines which is most reasonable."

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         ¶3 This case arises from an August 2014 incident in Cascade County, Montana. A Montana Highway Patrol Trooper observed Sanchez's vehicle driving over the speed limit and attempted to make a traffic stop. Sanchez did not stop but continued driving through the Great Falls area, often at high speed, while being pursued by officers. Pursuing officers and citizens in the area observed Sanchez slowing when he needed to avoid a collision with other vehicles, and they observed him waiting for oncoming traffic to clear before passing other vehicles. Officers observed Sanchez maneuver around barriers at high speed, including driving into the roadside ditch, all the while maintaining control of his vehicle.

         ¶4 Cascade County Deputy Sheriff Joe Dunn placed his patrol car off the side of the road with emergency lights flashing and attempted to lay spike strips on the highway ahead of Sanchez's vehicle. Motorists on the same roadway saw Deputy Dunn on or near the roadway, and slowed or stopped in response. Witnesses observed that Sanchez did not stop, but passed another vehicle then swerved his vehicle to Deputy Dunn's side of the roadway and struck him. Witnesses reported that Dunn was in plain view and that Sanchez could have avoided him but instead swerved toward Dunn striking him with his vehicle. Witnesses and patrol car video showed that Sanchez had a clear field of vision and that there was no oncoming traffic when he swerved to hit Deputy Dunn. There was no evidence that Sanchez slowed or attempted to brake as he hit Deputy Dunn, who died from the impact.

         ¶5 Sanchez did not stop. After hitting Deputy Dunn, he continued to elude pursuit at high speeds. Other drivers narrowly avoided being hit by Sanchez's vehicle, and Sanchez swerved toward another officer who was on the road setting up tire spikes. In that incident, Sanchez left his lane of travel, crossed a double center line and swerved in front of oncoming traffic toward the officer. Fortunately, that officer was not injured. Sanchez eventually stopped in Black Eagle after officers disabled the tires of his vehicle. Sanchez continued to try to move his vehicle, resisted arrest, and fought with officers. He was eventually subdued.

         ¶6 The State charged Sanchez with felony offenses of deliberate homicide (§ 45-5-102, MCA); assault with a weapon (§ 45-5-213, MCA); assault on a police officer (§ 45-5-210, MCA); and two counts of criminal endangerment (§ 45-5-207, MCA). The jury convicted Sanchez of all the charged offenses but one. On that charge the jury convicted him of a lesser included offense, negligent endangerment, § 45-5-208, MCA. The District Court sentenced Sanchez to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         ¶7 A district court has broad discretion when instructing a jury, which this Court reviews for abuse of discretion. State v. Zlahn, 2014 MT 224, ¶ 14, 376 Mont. 245, 332 P.3d 247. We review the instructions as a whole to determine whether they fully and fairly instruct the jury on the applicable law. State v. Kaarma, 2017 MT 24, ¶ 7, 386 Mont. 243, 390 P.3d 609. Reversible ...


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