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State v. Edwards

Supreme Court of Nebraska

August 2, 2013

State of Nebraska, Appellee and Cross-Appellant,
v.
John Blake Edwards, Appellant and Cross-Appellee.

1. Jury Instructions: Judgments: Appeal and Error. Whether jury instructions given by a trial court are correct is a question of law. When dispositive issues on appeal present questions of law, an appellate court has an obligation to reach an independent conclusion irrespective of the decision of the court below.

2. Prosecuting Attorneys: Appeal and Error. A motion for the appointment of a special prosecutor is addressed to the discretion of the trial court, and absent an abuse of discretion, a ruling on such a motion will not be disturbed on appeal.

3. Appeal and Error. Plain error may be found on appeal when an error unasserted or uncomplained of at trial, but plainly evident from the record, prejudicially affects a litigant's substantial right and, if uncorrected, would result in damage to the integrity, reputation, and fairness of the judicial process.

4. Jury Instructions. Jury instructions are not prejudicial if they, when taken as a whole, correctly state the law, are not misleading, and adequately cover the issues supported by the pleadings and the evidence.

5. Criminal Law: Proof. The State carries the burden to prove all elements of the crime charged.

6. Jury Instructions. An instruction which withdraws from the jury an essential element in the case is prejudicial.

7. Double Jeopardy: Evidence: New Trial: Appeal and Error. The Double Jeopardy Clause does not forbid a retrial so long as the sum of all the evidence admitted by a trial court would have been sufficient to sustain a guilty verdict.

8. Appeal and Error. An appellate court may, at its discretion, discuss issues unnecessary to the disposition of an appeal where those issues are likely to recur during further proceedings.

9. Criminal Law: Entrapment: Estoppel. The elements of the defense of entrapment by estoppel are (1) that the defendant must have acted in good faith before [286 Neb. 405] taking any action; (2) that an authorized government official, acting with actual or apparent authority and who had been made aware of all relevant historical facts, affirmatively told the defendant that his conduct was legal; (3) that the defendant actually relied on the statements of the government official; and (4) that such reliance was reasonable.

10. Trial: Evidence: Proof. The nature of an affirmative defense is such that the defendant has the initial burden of going forward with evidence of the defense. When the defendant has produced sufficient evidence to raise the defense, the issue is then one which the State must disprove.

Appeal from the District Court for Keith County: James E. Doyle IV, Judge.

Clarence E. Mock, Denise E. Frost, and Matt M. Munderloh, of Johnson & Mock, for appellant.

Jon Bruning, Attorney General, and James D. Smith for appellee.

Heavican, C.J., Wright, Connolly, Stephan, McCormack, Miller-Lerman, and Cassel, JJ.

Stephan, J.

As the Keith County Attorney, John Blake Edwards established a pretrial diversion program. After an audit by Nebraska's state auditor and an investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol, Edwards was charged with three counts of theft by unlawful taking for checks written from diversion program funds. Edwards was acquitted by a jury of two of the theft counts and convicted of the third, which was based on a check he wrote on a diversion program account to a local trapshooting team (trap team). He was sentenced to probation. Edwards appeals. We find plain error in the jury instructions, and therefore, we reverse, and remand for a new trial.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Edwards took office as the Keith County Attorney in January 2007. He established a pretrial diversion program, which allowed for dismissal of criminal charges after the offender completed program requirements, such as community service or alcohol education. Participants paid an enrollment fee and [286 Neb. 406] court costs and entered into a contract with the county attorney's office. The diversion program was initially approved by the ...


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