State v. Aune, 011221 NDSC, 20200159

Docket Nº20200159
Opinion JudgeMcEvers, Justice.
Party NameState of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee v. Steven Donald Aune, Defendant and Appellant
AttorneyKelley M.R. Cole, State's Attorney, Grafton, ND, for plaintiff and appellee. Kiara C. Kraus-Parr, Grand Forks, ND, for defendant and appellant.
Judge PanelJon J. Jensen, C.J., Gerald W.VandeWalle, Daniel J. Crothers, Lisa Fair McEvers, Jerod E. Tufte
Case DateJanuary 12, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of North Dakota

2021 ND 7

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee

v.

Steven Donald Aune, Defendant and Appellant

No. 20200159

Supreme Court of North Dakota

January 12, 2021

Appeal from the District Court of Walsh County, Northeast Judicial District, the Honorable Barbara L. Whelan, Judge.

Kelley M.R. Cole, State's Attorney, Grafton, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Kiara C. Kraus-Parr, Grand Forks, ND, for defendant and appellant.

OPINION

McEvers, Justice.

[¶1] Steven Donald Aune appeals from a criminal judgment after he was convicted by a jury of manslaughter. On appeal, Aune argues the jury's verdict was inconsistent and the district court relied on an impermissible sentencing factor, rendering his sentence illegal. Aune argues his conviction should be reversed or, in the alternative, that his sentence should be reversed. We affirm.

I

[¶2] On May 1, 2019, Aune's adult twin daughters were both living at his home. One of the daughters had been living with Aune for some time, but the other daughter, S.A., had only been staying with Aune for about one week prior to her death. Aune and S.A. had an argument, and Aune picked up a rifle during the argument, which fired and struck S.A. Aune did not call 911 or attempt to render any aid to S.A., but he allowed the other daughter to use his pickup to take S.A. to the nearest hospital. S.A. died as a result of the gunshot wound.

[¶3] Aune was charged with murder in violation of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-16-01(1)(a) and (b), a class AA felony, defined as intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another human being, or causing the death of another human under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. A trial was held with several witnesses testifying. At trial, Aune requested the district court instruct the jury on lesser included offenses of manslaughter and negligent homicide. Aune testified he had been drinking heavily the night before, that he did not mean to shoot his daughter, and that he typically kept the rifle unloaded with the safety on. A jury found Aune guilty of manslaughter, a class B felony, on January 22, 2020. A sentencing hearing was held on June 4, 2020 where the court considered a number of factors in sentencing. Aune was sentenced to ten years of incarceration. Judgment was entered on June 8, 2020. Aune timely appealed on June 9, 2020.

II

[¶4] Aune argues the jury's guilty verdict on the charge of manslaughter and not guilty on the charge of murder under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life was inconsistent.

[¶5] "The standard of review for reconciling a jury verdict is whether the verdict is legally inconsistent." State v. Lehman, 2010 ND 134, ¶ 17, 785 N.W.2d 204. This Court has stated an inconsistent verdict is one in which the jury has not followed the district court's instructions and the verdicts cannot be rationally reconciled. State v. McClary, 2004 ND 98, ¶ 6, 679 N.W.2d 455. "Strict standards of logical consistency need not be applied to jury verdicts in criminal cases." State v. Jahner, 2003 ND 36, ¶ 19 657 N.W.2d 266. Reconciliation of a verdict includes an examination of both the law and the case in order to determine whether the verdict is logical and probable, and therefore consistent, or illogical and clearly contrary to the evidence. Id. "Even if a jury fails to convict a defendant on a charge having a similar element to a charge on which the defendant is convicted, there is no legal inconsistency if there is substantial evidence to support the charge on which he is convicted." State v. Pavlicek, 2012 ND 154, ¶ 10, 819 N.W.2d 521 (quoting Jahner, at ¶ 21).

[¶6] Aune was charged with intentional murder under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-16-01(1)(a), which required the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Aune had intentionally or knowingly caused his daughter's death. Aune does not argue that the verdict finding him guilty of manslaughter is inconsistent with the verdict finding him not guilty of intentional or knowing murder. The State also charged Aune in the alternative with murder under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-16-01(1)(b) causing death under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, which required the State to prove Aune had willfully caused his daughter's death. The definition of willfully includes the mens reas of intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly committing the offense. Aune argues that the guilty verdict for manslaughter is inconsistent with the not guilty verdict on the extreme indifference murder charge because the culpability for each charge includes recklessly causing the death.

[¶7] "Unchallenged jury instructions become the law of the case." State v. Coppage, 2008 ND 134, ¶ 23, 751 N.W.2d 254 (quoting State v. Rogers, 2007 ND 68, ¶ 10, 730 N.W.2d 859). Aune did not challenge the substance of the jury instructions in this case, and Aune specifically requested the district court...

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