In a recent case before an Arizona court of appeals, the defendant was granted a new trial after the court found that the trial court judge gave the jury misleading instructions. Originally, the defendant was found guilty of second-degree murder and disorderly conduct with a firearm. Once the court of appeals reached its decision, however, the guilty verdict was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the altercation occurred after a failed drug transaction between two individuals – one individual, a woman, had been promised heroin in exchange for $20. The second individual, a man, had taken the twenty dollars and failed to produce the drugs. In retaliation, the woman and her fiancé went to the man’s home to try and retrieve the drugs she had asked for. Since the man wasn’t home, the woman and her fiancé took one of his Bluetooth speakers to make up for the heroin.
Later, the man and a friend of his, the defendant in this case, came to find the woman and her fiancé. The four individuals then started fighting. The fiancé hit the defendant’s car with a rock and punched one of the car’s passengers. The defendant got out of the car and took out a gun. Later, the woman verbally threatened the defendant, and the defendant again retrieved his firearm. He shot and killed the woman’s fiancé, who was later pronounced dead at the scene.
The defendant was charged with second-degree murder and disorderly conduct involving a firearm.
The defendant’s case went to trial, and he was found guilty as charged. During the trial, the defendant’s lawyer asked that the jury be instructed that he could have possibly been acting in self-defense. In response, the prosecutor asked that the jury be instructed that the woman’s fiancé could also be found to have acted in self-defense – that way, if he was acting out of his own need to protect himself from the defendant, the defendant would be even more unreasonable in his own violence. The trial court granted the prosecutor’s request.
On appeal, the higher court vacated the defendant’s convictions. The State, however, asked the court of appeals to review this decision to determine whether the convictions were rightfully overturned.
Reviewing the decision, the court of appeals determined that it was incorrect for the jury to be instructed that if the fiancé’s conduct was reasonable, then the defendant’s conduct was unjustified. According to the court, the victim’s behavior did not have any bearing on whether the defendant’s actions were reasonable or unreasonable. The jury should have looked at the defendant’s actions more in isolation, and because of this error, the case should be remanded so the defendant could get a new trial.
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