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State v. Hunt

Court of Appeals of Utah

November 29, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
Marvin Jay Hunt, Appellant.

          Fifth District Court, Cedar City Department The Honorable Keith C. Barnes No. 131500547

          Willard R. Bishop and Todd Macfarlane, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Jeffrey S. Gray, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Ryan M. Harris authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and Kate A. Toomey concurred.

          HARRIS, JUDGE.

         ¶1 After a free-range stallion known as Confetti Magic aggressively charged him, rancher Marvin Jay Hunt corralled the horse and castrated him, along with several other stallions. One of Hunt's neighbors (Neighbor) claimed to own two of the stallions Hunt castrated that day, including Confetti Magic, and complained to local law enforcement. Hunt was charged with wanton destruction of livestock, and a jury found him guilty. Hunt now appeals his conviction, arguing that the statutory definition of "wanton destruction of livestock" is unconstitutionally vague, that the trial court erred by refusing to give a self-defense instruction, and that the jury's determination of Confetti Magic's value was unsupported. We affirm.


         ¶2 Hunt is a rancher based in western Iron County, Utah, who raises cattle and horses, largely on property he leases. Several years ago, he drilled a well on the leased property and created a "water point" for animals to use. Most of the property Hunt uses is unfenced, including the area containing the water point, [1] and animals are able to freely roam across the landscape. Indeed, many of the farmers and ranchers in the area-including Hunt-often turn their animals loose to graze freely on the land; in addition, the area is home to various herds of wild, abandoned, and runaway horses. As a result, many animals have access to Hunt's water point, including animals owned by other ranchers, and wild unowned horses.

         ¶3 Neighbor is one of the other residents of the area. When Neighbor first relocated to the area, he tended only small animals, such as dogs and chickens. At first, Hunt got along well with Neighbor and considered him to be a "good neighbor"; indeed, Hunt allowed Neighbor to use Hunt's water point for his small animals. The relationship began to sour, however, after Neighbor decided to keep horses. Hunt testified at trial that, for a while, Neighbor hauled hay in for his horses, which at that time were exclusively mares, and kept them in a small fenced enclosure. But at some point, Neighbor "opened the gate" and began allowing his horses to graze freely. Neighbor also informed Hunt that he had purchased a pinto Fox Trotter stallion-Confetti Magic-for $2, 500, and that he intended to begin free-grazing that horse as well.

         ¶4 This news bothered Hunt, who had several mares of his own free-grazing in the area. Hunt told Neighbor he did not want any colts by those mares, and therefore he "really [didn't] want any studs turned loose" in the area. Neighbor began free-grazing Confetti Magic anyway, but subsequently agreed to find buyers for any colts produced by the union of Confetti Magic and any of Hunt's mares. For a period of time, Confetti Magic and Neighbor's other free-grazing horses would occasionally drink at Hunt's water point, while Hunt's free-grazing cattle would occasionally drink at a water tank on Neighbor's property. But Hunt perceived that Neighbor's water tank was less cared for or useful to the livestock than Hunt's water point, and Hunt began to be "irritated" because he had never given Neighbor permission to water his horses at Hunt's water point.

         ¶5 Confetti Magic's temperament further worsened the relationship between Neighbor and Hunt. While initially Hunt found Confetti Magic to be a "pretty decent young stud to be around" during the days when he was "pony size," as the stallion grew he began to get "real aggressive" and would "challenge" humans by "[coming] around with his ears back and his teeth bared and ready to get after you." Confetti Magic and the other horses also sometimes drove Hunt's cattle away from his water point and ate the feed Hunt put out for his cattle. Hunt eventually became so upset with these developments that he began catching and corralling Neighbor's horses whenever he needed to work with his cattle, and gave Neighbor a letter informing him that none of Neighbor's animals were welcome on Hunt's property or at Hunt's water point. But Hunt did not fence his land or close off his water point, and both Hunt and Neighbor continued free-grazing their animals. Neighbor's horses also continued to visit Hunt's water point.

         ¶6 Inevitably, Confetti Magic began siring colts with Hunt's and Neighbor's mares, and this upset Hunt still further. Among the colts produced by Confetti Magic was a "yellow Pinto stud that was also very "wild," in Hunt's estimation. Despite Neighbor's promise to find buyers for the unwanted colts, Hunt perceived that Neighbor was not making good faith efforts to do so, which resulted in "young studs" sired by Confetti Magic swelling the ranks of the horses free-grazing in the area.[2] At this point, Hunt began filing complaints with the sheriff's office, but believed those complaints were being ignored.

         ¶7 Subsequently, Hunt attempted to introduce a stallion of his own into the group of horses, telling Neighbor "if I got to have colts and you're not going to buy them from me, I'm going to take my own stud out there and raise colts that I want." Hunt testified that, in response, Neighbor raised his voice and warned Hunt that if he brought a stud out there, Neighbor would "make dog meat out of" it. Undeterred, Hunt introduced a stud of his own to the group of free-grazing horses, and observed his new stallion "closely [for] two or three weeks." Hunt noticed that his new stallion "drove . . . Confetti Magic off and took control of the horses." After a few weeks, however, Hunt's new stallion disappeared, only to be discovered at an animal shelter, badly beaten as if "with a chain . . . around the head and the ears and on the legs." After the stallion recovered, Hunt reintroduced him into the group of horses, but about two weeks later the stallion disappeared again, and this time was never found. After the stallion's second disappearance, Confetti Magic once again resumed his dominance of the horse herd.

         ¶8 Soon thereafter, Hunt brought some new bulls to the area and attempted to drive them to his water point. Hunt was riding a "green broke stud" horse and was attempting to ensure that his bulls, which were "new to the country," would learn to drink at the water point before they "started wandering off." When he was still a quarter-mile from the water, however, Hunt noticed Confetti Magic running towards him with a "band of horses following him." Hunt observed that Confetti Magic's ears were laid back and that he was charging fast, and Hunt worried that the stallion intended to initiate a "stud fight" with his own horse. Because of this, Hunt raced his horse back to a horse trailer and penned it in, then stood by while Confetti Magic circled the trailer, apparently still agitated. Hunt testified that, at this point, he said to himself "that's it. I've had it." Hunt then corralled several horses, including Confetti Magic and the now-two-year-old pinto stud, and decided to castrate them. Hunt needed assistance, however, so he got in his truck to go pick up a friend to help him. After completing the three-mile round-trip journey, Hunt, his friend, and Hunt's son proceeded to castrate five stallions that Hunt described as "three of them mine, two of them [Neighbor's]."

         ¶9 Neighbor subsequently complained to the sheriff's office, and Hunt was eventually charged with wanton destruction of livestock. The State filed the case as a second-degree felony, based on its estimate of the value of Neighbor's castrated horses. Hunt attempted to defend the case on three general grounds. First, Hunt argued that the State could not demonstrate Neighbor's "ownership" of the horses without presenting evidence that there had been an official brand inspection. Second, Hunt argued that he had acted in self-defense. Finally, Hunt asserted that the State could not prove that any livestock had been damaged, because he believed that the horses were worth more as geldings than as stallions.

         ¶10 Prior to trial, Hunt attempted to develop his first defense by filing a motion to suppress any testimony regarding livestock ownership that did not come from an official state brand inspector, arguing that, under the Utah Livestock Brand and Anti-Theft Act, only a state brand inspector could establish ownership of livestock. The court denied this motion, ruling that the State could endeavor to prove ownership of the horses through conventional means, and that it was not required to do so by proving that there had been an official brand inspection. Hunt then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that, if ownership of livestock could be proven without an official brand inspection, then the wanton destruction of livestock ...

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