In a recent murder case coming out of an Arizona court, the defendant successfully appealed his guilty conviction and moved for a new trial. According to the defendant, the trial court made a mistake when it failed to instruct the jury that he was eligible for a certain kind of defense applying to those who act violently in the hopes of preventing a crime from occurring. In the absence of this instruction, said the defendant, his trial was incomplete and unfair. The court of appeals agreed that the defendant was eligible for the crime prevention instruction and reversed the conviction.
Facts of the Case
The defendant shot a man in June 2017 after having heard from others in the community that the man wanted to kill him. A few days before the shooting, the defendant confronted the man about these statements, and the man punched the defendant in the nose with a sharp object.
On the night in question, the man found the defendant in a residential neighborhood. The two individuals began arguing, and the man threatened the defendant by saying, “next time you pull a gun on me, you better shoot me.” The men angrily left the altercation, but the man approached the defendant again a few hours later. The man swelled out his chest, again verbally threatening the defendant. The defendant immediately shot the man once with a shotgun he had in his truck. The man later died from the wound.
The defendant was charged with murder, and he argued at trial that the jury should know that he was entitled to a crime prevention defense. According to the defendant, there was sufficient evidence to show that the man he shot was going to commit an aggravated assault against him, and part of his motivation to shoot was to prevent the aggravated assault from happening. Once the trial court denied this request and ultimately found the defendant guilty, he appealed.
The higher court considered the circumstances around the shooting and determined that the defendant was, in fact, eligible for this crime prevention defense. The man had threatened the defendant on multiple occasions and had previously punched him that same evening. The man’s posture also led the defendant to believe that he was preparing himself to physically harm the defendant. Given these facts, it was fair for the court to at least consider whether or not the defendant was entitled to this crime prevention defense.
Because the trial court had not instructed the jury on this defense, the higher court ruled that the trial was unfair to the defendant. The court thus reversed the guilty conviction and remanded the case for a new trial.
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