Stacey L. Wigginton- COA, 11/06/15, to be published. Reversing.
Stacey L. Wigginton entered a conditional guilty plea to reckless homicide, a Class D felony, for killing her ex-husband and was sentenced to serve five years. Pursuant to her plea, she appealed the Circuit Court’s denial of her assertion of immunity from prosecution under Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 503.085. Ms. Wigginton argued that the trial court applied the improper standard for determining whether she was justified in using physical force and that the Commonwealth failed to establish probable cause that her use of force was unlawful.
The Commonwealth argued that the facts before the trial court as detailed in the discovery, medical records, and statements of Nancye Riley, Ms. Wigginton’s mother, all show that Stacey was not in imminent danger of “death, serious physical injury, kidnapping, sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat, felony involving the use of force, or under those circumstances permitted pursuant to KRS 503.055.” See KRS 503.050(2).
The Court of Appeals found, “According to Kentucky Supreme Court case law, the burden was not on Stacey to come forth with evidence to support her claim of immunity under the self-defense statute. Rather, ‘[t]he burden [was] on the Commonwealth to establish probable cause and it may do so by directing the court’s attention to the evidence of record including witness statements, investigative letters prepared by law enforcement officers, photographs and other documents of record.’ Rodgers v. Commonwealth 285 S.W.3d 740, 755 (Ky. 2009).” In addition to the evidence of record, there is a long line of cases allowing the admission of a victim’s other acts of violence, if known to the defendant, when self-defense is claimed. Moreover, a justifiable fear leading to the use of deadly force can be based on prior assaults or threats. Cases allowing such evidence have turned on threats made by the victim, or multiple instances of violence, or a substantial combination of the two.
The Court of Appeals held, “Herein, the trial court was to assess the evidence in the record to determine whether the Commonwealth had met its burden that there was a substantial basis to make a probable cause conclusion that Staceey’s use of deadly force was not legally justifiable. Absent this, Rodgers holds that the case should be dismissed. The Court of Appeal, having reviewed the record, concluded that the Commonwealth did not meet its burden in this case because the statements of Stacey and Nancye certainly did not support the Commonwealth’s burden of probable cause that the use of deadly force was not justified.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case to the Graves Circuit Court. Katie L. Benward, formally of the Appeals Branch and Roy A. Durham II of the Appeals Branch represented Ms. Wigginton on appeal. Nathan Goodrich of the Murray office represented Ms. Wigginton in the trial court.
Contributed by Kathleen Schmidt