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State’s Supreme Court Permits Defendant to Claim Misidentification and Self-Defense

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Arizona issued an opinion in an Arizona assault case requiring the court to review its longstanding decision not to allow a defendant to claim both self-defense and misidentification under the theory that the two are mutually exclusive. Ultimately, the court determined that a defendant should be able to claim self-defense, even if he is also claiming that he was not the one involved in the alleged criminal activity.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested on murder and aggravated assault charges after a fight at a house party resulted in two men being shot to death and another being seriously injured. It was undisputed that there were many other people at the party. While police were unable to locate the gun used in the shootings, they did located two bloodied knives on the victims. The knives were not tested for fingerprints or DNA.

The defendant did not testify at trial. His primary defense was that he was not the shooter. However, he also requested the judge to instruct the jury that, if he was determined to be the shooter, he was acting in self-defense. The court refused to give the self-defense instruction, explaining that since he claimed he was not the shooter, the defendant cannot also claim he acted in self-defense. The case was submitted to the jury, which returned a guilty verdict. The defendant appealed.

The Court’s Analysis

The court began its analysis by discussing the 2006 amendments to the statute defining self-defense. Prior to 2006, self-defense was considered an affirmative defense that the defendant must prove. However, the 2006 amendments clarified that self-defense is not a justification defense, and once a defendant presents any evidence of self-defense, it is up to the prosecution to disprove the defendant’s claim.

In this context, the court held that preventing a defendant from claiming self-defense at the same time as misidentification would contravene the legislature’s intent, as long as the defendant presents some evidence in support of the self-defense claim. This is regardless of any other defenses that the defendant may be claiming.

Here, the court held, there was some evidence suggesting that the defendant shot all three victims in self-defense, and if the case is retried to a jury, the trial judge must instruct the jury on self-defense.

Have You Been Charged with a Serious Crime?

If you have recently been charged with a serious crime like aggravated assault in Arizona, you should immediately consult with a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney. Attorney James E. Novak is a former prosecutor who has decided to put his knowledge and skill to work on behalf of those who have been charged with serious crimes in Arizona. Having extensive experience working on the other side, Attorney Novak knows how prosecutors think and what can be done to illuminate the holes in their cases. Call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Novak today.

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