MN Appeals Court Reverses Conviction for Self-Defense

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: TOPIC.

In the Matter of the Welfare of: D.D.S.. MN criminal law, self defense

D.D.S. was a student at Chaska, Minnesota, High School. On September 6, 2012, another student, J.M., kept taunting D.D.S. in the lunch room. D.D.S. decided to leave the lunch room and walk to class. But J.M. decided to follow and continue his taunts. At one point, J.M. gestured with his hands and then folded his arms across his chest, while D.D.S. kept his arms near his sides. J.M. then jumped in front in an apparent attempt to block D.D.S.'s path. J.M. then shoved D.D.S. into the wall. J.M. initially started to walk away but then swung around and punched D.D.S. in the face, breaking a tooth. He landed several more punches while D.D.S. backed down the hallway. Finally, D.D.S. decided to fight back by punching and wrestling. The brawl continued until physically broken up by other students. D.D.S. suffered a broken tooth, and J.M.'s finger was broken.

Both students were charged with fifth degree assault. J.M. pleaded guilty, but D.D.S. claimed self defense and demanded a trial. At trial, the state added the charge of disorderly conduct. The district court, Anoka County, held D.D.S. to be delinquent, and sentenced him to six months probation.

D.D.S., represented by Susan J. Andrews of the State Public Defender's Office, appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. His sole claim was that the state had not proven his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Court of Appeals carefully reviewed the evidence, which included at least two video tapes, and agreed that the state had not disproven the claim of self defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The court first noted that one may use reasonable force to resist an offense against the person. And in this case, the evidence showed that J.M. was the aggressor and that D.D.S. had tried to avoid the fight. D.D.S. responded with force oly after he had been punched several times and had his tooth broken. The evidence clearly established that D.D.S. had reasonable grounds to believe that he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm. Furthermore, the evidence showed that he had no reasonable possibility of retreat.

Both the use of force and the level of force were reasonable. Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded that the state had not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt, and the court reversed the conviction.

The court's unpublished decision was authored by Judge Klaphake, and Judges Connolly and Chutich concurred.

No. A13-1160 (Minn. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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