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Imperfect self defense averts a murder conviction and gets a manslaughter conviction: Maryland

Aug 03, 2007 Imperfect self defense averts a murder conviction and gets a manslaughter conviction: Maryland

Image from Holiston, MA, Police website.

In July 2007, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court confirmed the definition of imperfect self defense. When the defendant convinces the jury of such a defense, s/he averts a murder conviction and instead gets a voluntary manslaughter conviction. The case is In re: Julianna B., ___ Md. App. ___ (July 3, 2007). As confirmed by In re: Julianna B., the 1984 Faulkner ruling on the subject from Maryland’s highest court still holds:

"Logically, a defendant who commits a homicide while honestly, though unreasonably, believing that he is threatened with death or serious bodily harm, does not act with malice…. Therefore, as we see it, when evidence is presented showing the defendant’s subjective belief that the use of force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm, the defendant is entitled to a proper instruction on imperfect self defense. A proper instruction when such evidence is present would enable the jury to reach one of several verdicts: (1) if the jury concluded the defendant did not have a subjective belief that the use of deadly force was necessary, its verdict would be murder; (2) if the jury concluded that the defendant had a reasonable subjective belief, its verdict would be not guilty; and (3) if the jury concluded that the defendant honestly believed that the use of force was necessary, but that this subjective belief was unreasonable under the circumstances, then its verdict would be guilty of voluntary manslaughter." State v. Faulkner, 301 Md. 482, 500-01 (1984).

So many times, homicides result from matters going into a totally avoidable tailspin. Often alcohol is the culprit. Sometimes the scenario starts with an impromptu summertime gathering of a few friends or neighbors after a liquor store run, followed by ugly tongues loosened by alcohol, followed by fistfights escalated by adding converted or conventional weapons to the mix. Such situations sadden me, and often make me sick to my stomach, initially. Then, I dig right in, and do all I can to win for my client, whether or not I think my client has any legal or personal culpability. In doing so, I look for all possible defenses, and welcome the availability of imperfect self defense among the many other defenses against criminal accusations. Jon Katz.

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