State v. Leaks, 379 N.C. 57, 2021-NCSC-123 (Oct. 29, 2021)

Even if the trial court erred by declining to instruct the jury using the defendant’s requested modified self-defense instruction, the defendant did not demonstrate that any such error was prejudicial.  Testimony at trial described alternate versions of events that ultimately culminated in the defendant fatally stabbing the victim outside the home of the victim’s girlfriend.  Generally, some witnesses described the stabbing as an unprovoked attack while others, including the defendant, testified that the victim threatened the defendant with a two-by-four board.  The trial court instructed the jury on self-defense using N.C.P.I. – Crim 206.10, which states as an element of self-defense that a homicide defendant must believe it necessary “to kill” the victim.  The trial court refused the defendant’s request to instead instruct the jury that he must believe it necessary “to use deadly force against the victim.”  Taking account of other portions of the instruction which informed the jury that the defendant’s belief regarding his use of force must have been reasonable and that he must not have used “excessive force,” the Court concluded that the defendant had not shown that there was a reasonable possibility the jury would have found he acted in self-defense had the trail court given the modified instruction.  The Court noted that the defendant suffered only minor injuries in the incident but had inflicted a “highly lethal wound” upon the victim using a knife so large that it looked like a machete.  The Court said that the “uncontradicted medical evidence strongly suggests that [the] defendant’s use of deadly force was not reasonable under the circumstances but rather it was excessive.”  In a footnote, the Court recommended that the North Carolina Pattern Jury Instruction Committee review N.C.P.I. – Crim 206.10.