‘Imperfect Defense of Others’ Negates Intent to Kill, S.C. Says
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A person who kills due to a sincere but unreasonable belief that he or she is protecting another from imminent death or great bodily harm is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
Justice Janice Rogers Brown, writing for a unanimous court, said Daryl Randle—serving a 40-year-to-life sentence for second degree murder and automobile burglary, with a gun use enhancement—is entitled to a new trial because Alameda Superior Court Judge Larry J. Goodman erroneously denied a defense request for a jury instruction on “imperfect defense of others.”
The ruling comes three years after the high court suggested in People v. Michaels (2002) 28 Cal.4th 486 that it would recognize the concept, just as California has long recognized imperfect self-defense as negating the intent required for a murder conviction.
The defendant’s trial counsel in Michaels never asked for the instruction, and the high court held that the judge was not obligated to give one on the court’s own motion.
The justices also cast doubt on whether the instruction was supported by the evidence, because the defendant—who claimed he killed his girlfriend’s mother to protect the daughter from severe physical abuse—killed the victim at home while she was asleep and the daughter was at a youth detention facility.
But Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing then for a unanimous court, commented that the doctrine of imperfect defense of others “follows logically from the interplay between statutory and decisional law.”
In Randall’s case, his attorney argued the instruction was warranted based on evidence that the victim, just before Randall shot him, was administering a severe beating to Randall’s cousin. The beating was undisputed, though its precise severity was contested and other testimony suggested that at the time the fatal shot was fired the victim was already running away.
The melee apparently broke out after the victim saw Randall holding a stereo speaker the defendant and his cousin had just stolen from the car of a relative of the victim.
Brown, writing for the high court, agreed with the defense, rejecting the attorney general’s contentions that the proposed instruction was contrary to statute, case law, and public policy.
The justice cited Penal Code Sec. 197, which provides in part that “homicide is...justifiable when committed by any person...when resisting any attempt to murder any person...or to do some great bodily injury upon any person.”
The reference to “any person,” Brown wrote, suggests that imperfect defense of others is to be treated no differently than imperfect self-defense, contrary to the attorney general’s argument that defense of others must be reasonable in order to negate the intent required for murder.
Brown also rejected the state’s reliance on a 1926 Court of Appeal ruling suggesting that a killing in defense of another cannot be justified unless the person being defended would have been justified in killing the victim.
That ruling, Brown noted, was ostensibly based on an 1880 Supreme Court decision. But the latter ruling permitted an instruction that allowed the jury to focus on the defendant’s state of mind when he shot a man who had hit the defendant’s brother, so the Court of Appeal decision was wrong, Brown said.
The justice also rejected the attorney general’s argument that the defense position was “an open invitation to assaults, not just upon undercover officers effectuating arrests, but upon innocent bystanders in many situations not the least of them being mob violence and gang warfare.”
The Legislature, Brown responded, resolved the public policy issue “when it decided the unlawful killing of a human being without malice is manslaughter, not murder.”
In a separate concurrence, however, Brown said the outcome “seems to me unjust” because it was the defendant’s criminal conduct that put the events leading to the victim’s death in motion.
But this would not be a consideration in evaluating a claim of imperfect self-defense, so it cannot be a consideration in evaluating asserted defense of another, the justice reasoned. The matter should be addressed by the Legislature, she said.
The case is People v. Randle, 05 S.O.S. 2500.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company