This is an interesting concept because sometimes what happens is, a person kills another person and they really didn't harbor any malice of forethought or any evil intent toward that other person, but instead what was going on is they had an unreasonable belief that the other person was going to hurt them or kill them.
That can be based on the circumstances or based on some sort of a delusion. This is an interesting potential defense in a murder case because somebody could be using methamphetamine for example and be having a delusion and end up killing another person because they unreasonably believed that other person was going to hurt or kill them.
Concept of Imperfect Self-Defense
Obviously, a manslaughter conviction in a murder charge is much better than a murder charge itself. So, this whole concept of imperfect self-defense and what they call an actual but unreasonable belief and successfully defend mitigating a case down to manslaughter.
The jury instruction and the law basically says, a person who kills another person and the actual but unreasonable belief in a necessity to defend against imminent peril to life or great bodily injury, ills unlawfully, but does not harbor malice of forethought and is not guilty of murder.
So, you can see even though the person might have killed somebody and it was a wrong killing, if that person really truly does not believe that they're doing anything wrong and think they're just defending themselves for examples, then they might be able to use this defense.
A perfect example of this would be, a woman who's involved in being battered by a man and the woman suffers from domestic violence syndrome and the man comes at her again after having beat her multiple times and seriously injuring her, and when the man comes at her she believes that he may seriously hurt her or even kill her and she picks up a knife or a gun and kills the man.
She believes in her mind that the man was going to kill her when actually the man was unarmed and wasn't going to kill her, that could be a situation where she could assert imperfect self-defense and make the argument that she is not guilty of murder, and instead guilty of some sort of a manslaughter-related offense.
Murder Charge Reduced to Voluntary Manslaughter
The jury instruction goes on to say, this would be so even though a reasonable person in the same situation, seeing and knowing the same facts, would not have had the same belief such as an actual but unreasonable belief is not a defense to the crime of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
So, they're basically saying there that even if somebody who we would consider a reasonable person wouldn't have felt that the person was going to kill them, but the person who acts did show they were going to kill them and obviously had some reason.
You can't just come up with some made-up story, then you could defend a murder case, making the argument that I didn't have malice of forethought; I was acting because I really thought that this person was going to kill me, so I killed them first. This is the whole concept of imperfect self-defense.
When they're talking about imminent peril, it can't just be some made-up thing — oh, the person yelled at me so I had to kill him. All of this stuff is going to be based in reasonableness.
But, the instruction says, as used in this instruction imminent peril or dangerous means one that is apparent, present, immediate and must be instantly dealt with or must so appear at the time to the slayer. So, it has to happen right away.
Somebody comes at you. You think they're going to kill you; you kill them. It can't be they come at you, you run away and you come back later and kill them. That's not going to work. You actually have to have the peril right away.
It also indicates however, this principle is not available and malice of forethought is not negated if the defendant by his or her unlawful or wrongful conduct created the circumstances which legally justified his or her adversary's use of force, attack or pursuit.
So, what they're saying there is, if you cause some crazy scenario and somebody responds trying to defend themselves against you, and then you end up killing the person in an unlawful manner, you're not going to be able to hide behind this concept of imperfect self-defense.
Not All Killings are Murder
You really should keep this under your hat, and I certainly do, having defended many murder cases over the last twenty-five years, and that is, not all killings are murders. Sometimes you have a complete defense — it's a justifiable homicide and you could be found not guilty; other times you may be guilty.
You may have done something wrong but it doesn't amount to a murder. So, it's a voluntary manslaughter or an involuntary manslaughter, which obviously, is much better than murder because for murder, you're usually looking at twenty-five to life, fifteen to life or more depending on if you use a weapon in the case.
So, this is a huge defense to have in your back pocket as a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles to be able to say this is an imperfect self-defense. This person should not be convicted of murder.
They should be convicted of manslaughter. That way you're telling the jury they did something wrong. We know they did something wrong, but don't get them for murder. Get them for something less and the jury can't really consider to punishments.
They're not really going to know for sure what the difference is between a murder conviction and a voluntary manslaughter conviction for example, and the difference could be huge. It could mean serving the rest of your life in prison and getting out within a reasonable amount of time.
So, if you or a loved on has a case where they're charged with murder and you think you may have an imperfect self-defense — some sort of a delusion going on or some sort of over-reaction to a situation or some sort of history with the person that is the alleged victim in the case — pick up the phone.
Make the call. Let's talk about it and we will come up with a defense to your murder case in Los Angeles.