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Justifiable Homicide in Self-Defense

Murder Defense – Justifiable Homicide in Self-Defense or Defense of Another

This is an interesting concept because certainly if someone's charged with murder and they were trying to defend themselves during whatever incident led to the killing, they can claim self-defense.

What they're saying here with this jury instruction, which is what a jury would get in a murder case where someone's claiming self-defense, is that the murder was justified because the person was acting in self-defense.

This is CALCRIM 505 Jury Instructions having to do with the killing of another in self-defense is justifiable and not unlawful when the person who does the killing actually and reasonably believes the two elements that they have to show the defense in order to use this defense in a murder case.

Imminent Danger Of Great Bodily Injury

Number one is, that there is imminent danger that the other person will either kill him or her or cause him or her great bodily injury.  So, that means somebody has to be doing something to you that could basically kill you or cause you some serious bodily injury — like coming at you with a knife, pulling a gun out about to shoot you.  Then you could use deadly force in defending yourself.

That's why we're seeing all these cases where the police are coming on scenes and they're dealing with people who have gone crazy and have weapons in their hands.  That is a recipe for disaster.  So, when the police tell somebody put the knife down and they don't do and they come towards them, then the police shoot them and it's captured on video and people are saying why are the police shooting people with knives.

The question becomes, what are the police supposed to do?  Let the person come and stab them?  They've got a deadly weapon in their hand.  They've got a gun.

Right now, the law will protect that type of behavior, but if you're a citizen and you're shooting somebody that has a gun or a knife or a bat, sometimes you can do it and sometimes you can't.  So, that's this element here.  There has to be some imminent danger here.

Then you start to get into the issue of what if you caused the problem with the other person and the other person reacted to something that you did that was unlawful?  Then they got out a weapon and then you end up shooting them.  You might have a problem there.

Necessary Act Under the Circumstances

The second element as far as the killing being justifiable is that it is necessary under the circumstances for him or her to use in self-defense, force or means that might cause the death of the other person for the purpose of avoiding death or great bodily injury to himself or herself.

Justifiable Homicide of Self-Defense in California Law

That means that you also have to show that you're trying to prevent yourself from being killed or injured in some extremely serious manner.  So, when the jury evaluates this and when the prosecutors and defense attorneys argue these type of cases, what they're going to be evaluating is what was going on at the time.

If somebody pushes you or punches you and you whip out a gun and shoot them, obviously, that's an extreme example of going way too far.  It has to be reasonable under the circumstances.

But if somebody — and I've seen these cases and have defended these cases — if somebody is getting the better of another person in a fight and they're getting to the point where that other person could be seriously injured or killed because the other person is just so much more dominant in the fight.

Then the one person pulls out a knife and stabs the other person, that is a possibility to having a self-defense in that case, again depending on the circumstances — who started the fight and what the whole scenario is that is going on.  So, that's the second element.

Also, the jury instruction puts on there in order to help the prosecutors when the argue the case, a bear fear of death or great bodily injury is not sufficient to justify a homicide.  Meaning, just because you fear it, if it's not reasonable under the circumstances and an objective person wouldn't fear death or great bodily injury, you're not going to be able to use that defense.

Used No More Force Than Reasonable

It goes on to say, to justify taking the life of another in self-defense, the circumstances must be such as would excite the fears of a reasonable person placed in a similar situation and the party killing must act under the influence of those fears alone.

So, see, they're looking at what would a reasonable person think?  Would they be scared?  And you can't all of a sudden snap an hour later and go and kill the person.  It has to be at the time that it's actually occurring.

It also indicated in the jury instruction, the danger must be apparent, present, immediate and instantly dealt with or must so appear at the time to the slayer as a reasonable person and the killing must be done under a well-founded belief that it is necessary to save oneself from death or great bodily injury.

So, you have to actually do the killing or violent act to protect yourself at the time that everything's going on.  You can't get angry later and go and kill the person and then try to justify the killing, saying that they did a bunch of dangerous stuff to me so I was just responding to that.  You actually have to respond at the time.

You can see when you start to look at these defenses to murder cases that it's based in reasonableness and it's going to be based on what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances, not what some person would do under the circumstances.

Not what someone who's under the influence of methamphetamine would do under the circumstances.  It's what the reasonable person would do.  That's why it's so crucial to have a good attorney in these murder cases is because you're arguing concepts like this and whoever can argue them the best and use the facts in the most effective way is going to win in a close case when it comes to murder defense in Los Angeles.

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