DANTE O. TAYLOR a/k/a DANTE O'BRYAN TAYLOR a/k/a DANTE O'BRIEN TAYLOR a/k/a DANTE TAYLOR
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
OF JUDGMENT: 12/20/2016
HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. CHRISTOPHER LOUIS SCHMIDT
COURT ATTORNEYS: LISA D. COLLUMS ANGELA BROUN BLACKWELL
WILLIAM CROSBY PARKER MITCHELL LANCE OWEN GLENN F. RISHEL,
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER
GEORGE T. HOLMES HUNTER NOLAN AIKENS.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL ABBIE
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOEL SMITH.
A jury found Dante Taylor guilty of first-degree murder for
the death of his uncle Willie Lee Taylor. Dante appealed, and
the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and sentence.
Taylor v. State, No. 2017-KA-01596-COA, 2018 WL
6326520 (Miss. Ct. App. Dec. 4, 2018), reh'g
denied, (Miss. Ct. App. Apr. 2, 2019). Dante timely
filed a petition for writ of certiorari challenging the Court
of Appeals' decision to affirm the trial court's
grant of a pre-arming jury instruction. This Court granted
certiorari. We hold that the trial court's decision to
grant this instruction constituted reversible error.
Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals,
and we remand the case to the Circuit Court of Harrison
County for a new trial. We further hold that pre-arming
instructions will no longer be permitted in criminal trials
in this state, as will be discussed in Part II of this
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In September 2014, Dante received a phone call from his
sister Tiffany, who told him that their uncle Willie had
jumped on her and choked her after an argument about her
child's bicycle. Dante told her to call the police and to
press charges. Dante's mother, Madeline Adams, testified
at trial that she called Dante that night and told him to
leave Willie alone. She also testified that Dante told her
that Willie had put his hands on a female in the family for
the last time and that Dante was "going to do
[Willie]" or "punish" Willie.
At trial, Dante testified that he told Willie he would not
let Willie do anything to him and that when he spoke with his
mother, his mother told him that Willie was looking for him
and wanted to kill him. Dante said he believed Willie was a
real threat, so he obtained a pistol for his protection.
On the day of the shooting, Dante explained that he went to
see his sister because Willie had come to the house and had
told her that since she involved the police she would have to
move out or else he would come back and "beat the
'F' out of her." When Dante arrived at the
house, he explained that he tried to get his sister to leave
but that she wanted to wait for the person who was going to
get her car for her because she believed Willie would damage
her car. Dante explained that he left to get cigarettes
because he did not want to wait around at a house at which he
knew Willie often was.
When Dante returned, his sister was still not ready to leave.
Dante sat on the trunk of his vehicle to wait. He testified
that he "had a feeling" that he needed to turn
around. When he did, he saw Willie charging toward him
saying, "I've got you're a-s-s now."
Dante's testimony was that "that's when I just
pulled out my gun and I shot him. I tried to hit him in his
leg, but the fact that he is charging me, running up on me, I
guess it kind of went up and hit him in the stomach."
Dante further explained that he felt like his life was
threatened because Willie was bigger than he.
The jury received instructions on first-degree murder,
second-degree murder, imperfect self-defense manslaughter,
and self-defense. Additionally, a pre-arming instruction was
granted to the State, instruction S-13. The Court of Appeals
affirmed, concluding that Dante's self-defense claim was
not preempted by the granting of a pre-arming instruction.
"Jury instructions are generally within the discretion
of the trial court and the settled standard of review is
abuse of discretion." Moody v. State, 202 So.3d
1235, 1236-37 (Miss. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted)
(quoting Bailey v. State, 78 So.3d 308, 315 (Miss.
2012)). Jury instructions must fairly announce the law of the
case and not create an injustice against the defendant.
Davis v. State, 18 So.3d 842, 847 (Miss. 2009)
(citing Milano v. State, 790 So.2d 179, 184 (Miss.
This Court has said that "[t]he purpose of a pre-arming
instruction is 'to inform the fact-finder that one cannot
arm himself in advance when he is not in any physical danger,
go forth and provoke a confrontation or difficulty with
another, shoot the other, and then attempt to hide behind a
smoke screen of self-defense.'" Taylor,
2018 WL 6326520, at *4 (quoting Hart v. State, 637
So.2d 1329, 1332 (Miss. 1994)). Pre-arming instructions
"have been strongly criticized in a long line of
Mississippi cases, allowing the instruction only in those
extremely rare incidents where the instruction was supported
by the evidence." Dew v. State, 748 So.2d 751,
754 (Miss. 1999).
In Boston v. State, this Court noted three cases in
which such an instruction had been affirmed on appeal.
Boston v. State, 234 So.3d 1231, 1235 (Miss. 2017)
(citing Hart v. State, 637 So.2d 1329 (Miss. 1994);
Hall v. State, 420 So.2d 1381 (Miss. 1982); Reid
v. State, 301 So.2d 561 (Miss. 1974)). And
Boston noted that, "[i]n each case, the record
was uncontradicted that the defendants armed
themselves with the intent to initiate a confrontation."
Id. (emphasis added) (citing Hart, 637
So.2d at 1334; Hall, 420 So.2d at 1385;
Reid, 301 So.2d at 563).
In Dew, the Court held that, "[w]hen there is a
total lack of evidence, it is not proper for a court to give
a pre-arming instruction." Dew, 748 So.2d at
754 (citing Hart, 637 So.2d at 1337). The State
argues that Dante ignored this part of Dew and
instead focused on the following statement: "When this
ambiguity is present, [regarding who is the initial
aggressor], a pre-arming instruction is not
appropriate." Id. (citing Barnes v.
State, 457 So.2d 1347, 1349-50 (Miss. 1984)). The State
argues that ambiguity was not the Court's concern in
Barnes but rather a lack of evidence, and the
Dew Court incorrectly held that ambiguity precludes
the giving of a pre-arming instruction. We find that
Dew and Barnes specifically speak to the
denial of a pre-arming instruction when evidence is
conflicting or lacking altogether.
"The Dew Court based its conclusion on the
principle that '[e]ven if the great weight of evidence
against [the defendant] supports a contrary view, [the
defendant] is still entitled to present his defense to the
jury unimpaired by instructions . . . [that] preclude his
right to self-defense.'" Boston, 234 So.3d
at 1234-35 (alterations in original) (quoting Dew,
748 So.2d at 754). While evidence suggested that Dante armed
himself after hearing from his mother that Willie wanted to
kill him and after he had exchanged words with Willie, just
as much evidence shows that Willie armed himself to protect
not only himself but also his sister.
Here, though, conflicting evidence was adduced regarding
whether Dante or Willie was the initial aggressor-even the
trial judge deemed the evidence conflicting.
The Court of Appeals relied on Hall v. State. In
Hall, Willie Hall was convicted of aggravated
assault after he took a shotgun to the home of the victims
when the victims had allegedly been rude to Hall's wife
about late rent payments. Hall, 420 So.2d at
The Court of Appeals also relied on Jobe v. State,
97 So.3d 1267 (Miss. Ct. App. 2012), in which the defendant
was convicted of aggravating assault for stabbing another
person. The defendant became angry when he learned that all
of the food grilled by the defendant had been eaten before he
had a chance to partake. Id. at 1269. The defendant
grabbed a knife from the kitchen drawer and stated to others
that "he would 'handle this.'" Id.
at 1270. The Court of Appeals approved the use of a
pre-arming instruction because Jobe was in no physical danger
when he grabbed a knife and confronted the persons he thought
were responsible for eating the food. Id.
Here, Dante armed himself with a pistol, went to a place
where Willie frequented and lived, and, according to Dante,
waited in the driveway for his sister. As the Court of
Appeals dissent pointed out, "evidence [was] presented
at trial [that] created a conflict as to whether Dante armed
himself with the intention of initiating a confrontation with
Willie and as to whether Dante was the initial
aggressor." Taylor, 2018 WL 6326520, at *35
(Carlton, J., dissenting). The evidence the State adduced
suggesting that Dante had armed himself with the intent of
confronting Willie does not make clear whether he had done so
for his own protection or whether he was trying to initiate a
confrontation. Dante testified that he was at the house to
pick up his sister because he believed that Willie was
heading in the opposite direction at the time. Dante
testified that he heard the night before that Willie wanted
to kill him, so he was trying to avoid him.
When Dante heard from Tiffany the next day that Willie had
threatened her, he headed over to her house, believing that
Willie was not there but that he was out looking for him.
When Dante arrived at Tiffany's house and she was not
ready to leave, he left to get cigarettes, choosing not to
hang around the house. When he returned, he testified that he
was not there for very long before he got a feeling, turned
around, and saw Willie charging him. At that point, Dante got
off the trunk of his car and started walking toward Willie.
Then, Dante pulled his gun and shot Willie.
As the State acknowledged at trial, there was a conflict in
the evidence as to whether Willie was walking toward Dante or
charging toward him. The State also acknowledged to the trial
court that it was "convoluted" as to who was the
"provoker or aggressor." According to a witness for
the State, Willie had his fists up and was walking toward
Dante. This was the State's claim throughout the case.
Dante, however, testified that Willie was the initial
aggressor and that when Dante first saw Willie, Willie was
charging toward him.
We reiterate that "[i]t must be quite an overwhelming
case on the facts to keep this instruction from being
reversible error." Pulpus v. State, 82 Miss.
548, 34 So. 2, 3 (1903); see also Tate v. State, 95
Miss. 138, 48 So. 13, 13 (1909) ("We have over and over
again warned circuit judges against giving this sort of
charge, and wherever it is given the case will always be
reversed, except where this court can say, looking over the
completed record, with confidence, that the defendant's
guilt is so overwhelmingly manifest that no other verdict
than that of guilt could probably be rendered.");
Lofton v. State, 79 Miss. 723, 31 So. 420, 421
(1902) (This instruction "can never be proper, save in
the few, very, very rare cases where the case is such, on its
facts, that a charge can be given embracing all the
elements-not part of them, nor nearly all of them-essential
to the estoppel.").
As we see the record, three questions were involved in this
case for the jury to determine: whether Dante was guilty of
murder, whether he was guilty of manslaughter, or whether the
homicide was justifiable. While we find that supportive
evidence was presented for each question to go to the jury,
we do not find that the evidence overwhelmingly supports one
over the other.
Nor do we find that this is one of those "very, very
rare cases" in which the facts embrace all of the
so-called elements necessary for a self-defense estoppel
instruction. Lofton, 31 So. at 421.
This Court repeatedly has reversed cases in which a
pre-arming instruction failed to include "any
consideration of the doctrine of locus
penitentiae[.]" Pulpus, 34 So. at 3. In
Patrick v. State, this Court reiterated the
"It is not every act of aggression or provocation which
produces a difficulty, and in the course of which a necessity
to kill another arises, that will preclude the slayer from
availing himself of the right of self-defense; but it defends
upon the character and quality of the act, and in some
jurisdictions also ...