What Defense Strategies Can Be Used In Murder Or Manslaughter Cases?
There are several strategies that could be used in murder or manslaughter cases. We always have the self-defense argument, but it has to be a reasonable self-defense. A typical murder charge would be that you shot the victim without legal justification, and with the intent to kill or cause great bodily harm, or knowing when you fired that weapon there was a great probability of death or bodily harm. An example of self-defense would be if were standing in an alley, and one of your enemies is coming at you. You have had a long-standing feud with this person, and he is screaming, “I know you slept with my wife! I’m going to kill you, you are not going to breathe another day!” That person is running down this alley towards you with a two headed axe raised above his head. If you shoot that person before he touches you, I would say in that circumstance you were justified, because you can use the same or greater amount of force to defend yourself as is being inflicted upon you.
If you have someone that is putting you in reasonable apprehension of receiving death or great bodily harm, then you are by law permitted to use deadly force to defend yourself. If you see someone with a grenade in his hand, and you know it’s live because he just pulled the pin, and is getting ready to throw it at you, you don’t have to wait for him to throw it. You don’t have to wait for the guy with the axe to hit you in the head, you can go ahead and kill the person defending yourself. On the other hand, you can’t have some enemy where you are both fighting over the same girl, and this guy is standing 30 feet away and he’s got a hammer in his hand, and he starts ranting about how he is going to mess you up because you’ve been fucking with his wife, but he is still 30 feet away and he doesn’t do anything more than just talk. If you pull out your gun and kill the guy, you’d have a hard time saying that it was a reasonable defense of yourself, because who would reasonably think at that point that you are in imminent fear of receiving death or great bodily harm.
The other person can’t just be talking about it. This is literally the hammer’s up in the air and starting to come down towards you. Then you can fire off a shot. If the guy is 50 yards away, and he’s got a hammer in his hand and he is talking about what he is going to do, that’s just an aggravated assault. That’s where he is placing you in reasonable fear where you might receive a battery, but it doesn’t raise the level of legitimate defense where you can just pull out your gun and shoot the person. You are always allowed to use deadly force to defend yourself, but you better make damn sure that you had a reasonable cause for doing that. Let’s say you thought you saw some guy with a hand grenade in his hand, and it turns out he had a red water balloon. If you say that you didn’t get a good look at it, the jury isn’t going to find you are in reasonable apprehension of immediate and imminent grave bodily harm.
Any type of even a battery case will have a self-defense argument. It will say that so and so did this without legal justification, and the legal justification is defense of yourself or defense of others, which also carries. Let’s say I’m standing next to you and we are in that same alley, and some girl starts screaming at the top of her lungs that she knows you’ve been sleeping with her husband. She is coming after you, and you feel like this is your last day on earth. She pulls out her gun and cocks it, she aims it and she’s got the beat on you. She’s 5 feet away and starting to pull the trigger. Let’s say I’m standing next to you, and I have a concealed carry. I decide that it’s enough, and we are not going to wait for her to kill you, and I go ahead and shoot her and kill her.
Am I justified in doing that? The defense of others transfers to the people you are with, that if you would have been justified in shooting her then I am going to be justified in shooting her. This could wind up being a jury question, or it’s going to be something the State’s attorney is going to pursue. They are going to decide whether they charge you or not. It doesn’t mean that you just say I had reasonable belief to do this, I was justified, and the state is not going to charge you. They can still charge you. But it can be tough. If it turns out that the person had a water pistol and it was orange, and my belief is that is still murder. Even though in my mind, I have reasonable belief so I’m defending you, you can’t go too far with it, just like if someone is about to hit you on the side of the head and you are about to get into a fist fight, and the fist is bound to come down to your head, so you hit the other person first.
I’ve had this a couple of times where the other person stepped in on behalf of somebody else. When people are really drunk in Oktoberfest, and they were really berating that guy who is a Mexican cook, and my friend was standing right next to him. We knew the other guys were just drunk bullies, and they are just about to pummel the cook. My guy steps in, and hits one guy one time. Drops him like a sack of potatoes, shattered his eye socket with one punch, and he got charged with aggravated battery. That’s a very difficult scenario because the state was offering probation. When anyone lost their job, they had laboratories where you had years of pension and everything coming. When we went to trial we won, but it was still a close case when he stepped in for the defense of somebody else. It’s always that legal justification applies to you, or it applies to the person you are with, if they could defend the person just as easily as they could have defended themselves.
But let’s say in a scenario where you are cheating around with somebody’s husband, in that case I would have to be reasonable in my defense of you. Just because she is going to punch you in the head, it doesn’t give me free reign to punch her in the head 30 times. It has to be something reasonable and commensurate when the attack is being inflicted upon you. If a person is going to throw a snowball at you, you can’t pull out a bazooka. It has to be on somewhat equal footing.
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