State v. Phillips, 011521 KSSC, 121, 075

Docket Nº:121, 075
Opinion Judge:WALL, J.
Party Name:State of Kansas, Appellee, v. Michael L. Phillips, Appellant.
Attorney:Kai Tate Mann, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant. Matt J. Maloney, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Marc Bennett, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with him on the brief for appellee.
Judge Panel:Clint B. Peterson, District Judge, assigned.
Case Date:January 15, 2021
Court:Supreme Court of Kansas

State of Kansas, Appellee,

v.

Michael L. Phillips, Appellant.

No. 121, 075

Supreme Court of Kansas

January 15, 2021

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1.

When ruling on a defendant's motion for justified-use-of-force immunity under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231, the district court must consider the totality of the circumstances, weigh the evidence before it without deference to the State, and decide whether the State has carried its burden to show probable cause that defendant's use of force was not statutorily justified.

2.

To decide whether the State has met its burden to show probable cause under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231, the district court must make fact-findings, which will usually require the court to resolve conflicts in evidence. The district court's legal conclusion on the probable cause determination must be supported by these fact-findings.

3.

The State meets its burden to show probable cause under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231 if the facts as found by the district court are sufficient for a person of ordinary prudence and caution to conscientiously entertain a reasonable belief of defendant's guilt despite the claim of justified use-of-force immunity.

4.

The State may defeat a defendant's motion under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231 by showing probable cause that defendant's use of force was not justified under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5222 because: (1) the defendant did not honestly believe the use of force was necessary under the circumstances, and/or (2) a reasonable person would not believe the use of force was necessary under the circumstances.

5.

The State may defeat a defendant's motion under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231 by showing probable cause that the defendant initially provoked the use of force under the circumstances enumerated in K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5226(b) and (c).

6.

When ruling on a defendant's motion for immunity under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231, the district court need not make any particularized findings, but it must be apparent from the record that the district court not only recognized but also applied the appropriate legal standard in reaching its probable cause determination. In other words, the record should reflect that the district court considered the totality of the circumstances, weighed the evidence without deference to the State, and resolved conflicting evidence, in arriving at its legal conclusion regarding the probable cause determination.

7.

Generally, it is not legally appropriate to instruct the jury on a lesser included offense when the elements are broader than the charged crime; but under the facts of this case, the proposed lesser included offense instruction on level 7 aggravated battery under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5413(b)(1)(C) did not impermissibly broaden the actus reus element of level 4 aggravated battery under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5413(b)(1)(A).

8.

A district court's failure to instruct on a lesser included offense will only result in error if the instruction would have been factually appropriate.

9.

A defendant's absence at a continuance hearing is a violation of the right to be present unless the defendant knowingly and voluntarily waived that right.

Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; Terry L. Pullman, judge.

Kai Tate Mann, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, argued the cause and was on the briefs for appellant.

Matt J. Maloney, assistant district attorney, argued the cause, and Marc Bennett, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with him on the brief for appellee.

OPINION

WALL, J.

In 2017, Michael L. Phillips shot and killed his brother, James Rotramel, outside the home they shared. Phillips also shot and seriously injured Kristofer Hooper during the same encounter. Phillips claimed he shot Rotramel and Hooper in self-defense and moved for immunity from prosecution under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231. After conducting a full evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the motion. Nevertheless, Phillips presented his self-defense theory at trial. The jury convicted him of first-degree murder and aggravated battery. The district court subsequently denied Phillips' motion for new trial alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.

On direct appeal, Phillips claims the district court erred in ruling on his immunity motion and his motion for new trial. He also argues the district court erred in denying his request for a jury instruction on a lesser included offense to the aggravated battery charge. For the reasons outlined in this opinion, we affirm Phillips' convictions.

Facts and Procedural Background

Events Leading Up to the Shooting

On a February night in 2017, James Rotramel wanted to attend a birthday party at a friend's house. Because Rotramel was under court-ordered supervision at the time, he needed a chaperone to go with him. He asked his brother, Michael Phillips, and Phillips agreed to go with Rotramel. At some point during the party, Phillips was overheard saying, "if you don't do dope and sell dope, you're not a man." As a result, the homeowners asked Phillips to leave, but Rotramel stayed.

Phillips returned to the home he shared with Rotramel and their mother. He was angry at Rotramel because he felt Rotramel did not stand up for him at the party. Between 2:00 a.m. and 3:08 a.m., Phillips exchanged a series of instant messages with Rotramel on Facebook Messenger. In the messages, Phillips expressed his anger at Rotramel and threatened to harm him when he came home.

In addition to the messages sent to Rotramel, Phillips posted on Facebook that he "love[d] to find how blood is weaker than shit" and implicitly called Rotramel out for a fight. Phillips messaged a friend, telling her Rotramel "will be lucky if i dont break his leg," and "if [the people at the party] dont beat his ass i will in the next few days." Phillips also messaged another one of his brothers, telling him "as of tonight you are the only thing I will ever call a brother." Phillips explained that "[Rotramel] left me high and dry to being called a tweaker. standing right there he lashed at me as the bad guy . . . im breaking his leg when he comes home." He added, "after what he said to me on facebook, he will be lucky to breath at all," and "i wont mind 3 hots and a cot. on everyone elses dime."

Hooper gave Rotramel a ride home from the party. Two other partygoers rode in the back seat of Hooper's car. As Hooper pulled up to Rotramel's home, he heard a gunshot. Hooper turned the car around and parked on the street. He and Rotramel got out of the car.

Phillips and Rotramel lived on a 5-acre property located in a rural area outside Valley Center. The property included a house, set back about 145 feet to the west of the road, and a detached garage located just north of the house. The perimeter of the property was enclosed by a fence with a metal access gate located near the intersection of the road and the private driveway. The private driveway traversed generally east to west from the road to the garage. The metal access gate could be closed and locked to inhibit vehicles from accessing the property. On the north side of the house, facing the garage, there was a small, raised wooden deck or porch attached to the home. The porch stairs led to a paver stone patio area between the house and the garage. On the east side of the patio there was a wooden privacy fence facing the road that extended from the north side of the house to the south side of the garage with a gate located roughly in the middle. On the west side of the patio, there was a white picket fence facing the backyard that generally ran parallel to the wooden privacy fence.

After getting out of the car, Rotramel and Hooper jumped the outer perimeter fence surrounding the property, ran toward the house, and entered the open gate of the privacy fence leading to the patio. Phillips shot Rotramel and then Hooper on the patio. A 911 call reporting the shooting came in around 3:17 a.m. Rotramel died from a single gunshot wound that transected his right femoral artery. Hooper survived a gunshot wound to his left hip.

Immunity Hearing

The State charged Phillips with first-degree premeditated murder and aggravated battery. Phillips filed a motion to dismiss, claiming he acted in self-defense and was immune from prosecution under K.S.A. 2019 Supp. 21-5231. The district court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion.

Phillips testified at the immunity hearing. He denied talking about "dope" at the party, which he understood to mean methamphetamine. According to Phillips' testimony, Rotramel was present when Phillips was asked to leave the party, and Phillips and Rotramel had heated words. Phillips testified a "big guy" then grabbed his arm and led him toward the road. That guy told Phillips, "[Y]ou need to leave. These guys are about to jump you, and if you come back, you're going to get really fucked up." Phillips testified this guy then lifted his shirt and showed the handle of a pistol.

After Phillips drove home, he locked the gate across the driveway. That gate was not normally locked, but Phillips claimed he locked it that night because he was scared. He went inside and tried to talk to Rotramel on Facebook but claimed Rotramel was being disrespectful. Phillips also admitted that the tone of his communications with Rotramel leading up to the shooting was "a little aggressive." When Rotramel sent a message to Phillips claiming he was coming home and bringing the "big fucking ginger," Phillips said he thought Rotramel was referring to the guy at the party who had the pistol.

Eventually, Phillips decided Rotramel was just blowing off steam in their communications and did not intend to take any action, so Phillips went outside to have a cigarette. While outside, Phillips claimed he...

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