Arizona Defendant Successfully Appeals Assault and Homicide Convictions, Advocating for Self-Defense Instruction from Trial Court Judge

In a recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division One, the defendant argued that the trial court erred when it failed to instruct jury members on the possibility that she was acting in self-defense. The defendant was convicted of the following offenses: leaving the scene of a fatal accident, theft of means of transportation, aggravated assault, and negligent homicide. Following her appeal, the higher court vacated the two latter convictions and sentences, sending the case back to the trial court for a new trial on those counts.

The Incident in Question

The charges and convictions in this case stemmed from an incident involving several friends and a stolen vehicle. The defendant in this case went to a casino with a friend, and she borrowed a car from her roommate to get to and from the casino. Apparently, the defendant’s roommate had taken the car from an acquaintance, although the acquaintance had never filed a police report indicating that the car was stolen.
Before the defendant and her friend went home, they stopped by a gas station. At that point, the roommate’s acquaintance, who owned the car, approached the vehicle by quickly running up to it. He started yelling at the defendant, demanding that she return the car. The defendant became afraid, and she started to drive away. As she drove, she hit the friend that had accompanied her to the casino. The friend ultimately suffered a head injury and died from the incident.

The defendant was criminally charged, and her case went to trial. After being found guilty, the defendant promptly appealed.

The Defendant’s Appeal

In her appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court judge should have informed the jury that she could have been acting in self-defense. According to the defendant, she had never seen the man before, and she was afraid for her life when the man approached her. She therefore had a legitimate reason to try and leave the scene quickly, which lessened her guilt for her friend’s unfortunate death.
The court reviewed the defendant’s argument and ultimately agreed. While it would be up to the jury, said the court, whether the defendant was truly acting in self-defense, it was the judge’s responsibility to make sure jury members were aware of this possible defense. Because the trial court failed to introduce this possibility, the defendant suffered prejudice, and her case should be sent back down to the trial court.

Siding with the defendant, then, the court vacated the convictions for aggravated assault and negligent homicide for a new jury to consider during a new trial.

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