Wednesday, May 8, 2019
Court of Appeal:
Such Threats, Third Districtís Opinion Says, Cannot Support Claim of Self Defense Where Defendant Did Not Know of Them at the Time of Fatal Shooting
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Third District Court of Appeal held yesterday that a judge did not err in declining to instruct a jury in a homicide case that the victimís harming or threatening of others in the past could be taken into account in determining the reasonableness of the defendantís claimed perception of need for self defense, holding that the instruction requires knowledge on the defendantís part of those past acts.
Justice Peter A. Krause wrote the opinion which affirms the conviction of David Richard Bates for manslaughter, but ordered that a five-year enhancement based on a prior serious felony because it was not alleged in the information. That brings down to 13 years the sentence imposed by retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Candace J. Beason, sitting on assignment to the Lassen Superior Court.
ďEvidence that a victim had previously threatened or harmed others is relevant to a defendantís claim of self-defense only if the defendant knew of the victimís prior threatening conduct,Ē Krause declared.
Bates on May 25, 2016, shot the victim, identified in news reports as Michael Hubbard, in the head. Toxicology reports showed that Hubbardís system was filled with high levels of methamphetamine and other drugs.
The prosecution initially charged first degree murder, but lowered the charge to second degree murder.
Deputy Public Defender Autumn Paine told jurors that the shooting occurred when her client and Hubbard grappled for a gun, stressing that when a witness, Dwight Bennett, phoned 911, he exclaimed:
ďThe man who got shot pulled the gun.Ē
There was testimony that Hubbard had, earlier on the day of the shooting, threatened Bennett, who owned the land on which Bates lived in a trailer. Bennett wanted Bates to move off his land.
Bennettís niece testified as to earlier threats by Hubbard.
Krause, referring to Hubbard as ďM.H.,Ē wrote:
†ďBecause no evidence showed that M.H. had threatened defendant, or that defendant knew that M.H. had previously threatened others, the trial court rightly refused the give the more focused instruction that defendant requested. Given that defendant was unaware of the victimís prior threatening conduct, such conduct was not relevant to show defendantís state of mind for purposes of self-defenseÖ.Indeed, as the People note, the reasonableness of a defendantís beliefs is necessarily determined by what he is aware of, not from circumstances entirely unknown to him.Ē
The standard instruction that Beason declined to give reads:
†ďIf you ﬁnd that <insert name of decedent/victim> threatened or harmed the defendant [or others] in the past, you may consider that information in deciding whether the defendantís conduct and beliefs were reasonable.Ē
ďTo the extent the optional bracketed language at issue fails to include an express knowledge component, we conclude that a knowledge requirement is nonetheless implicit in the language.Ē
ďThe fact that a victimís prior instances of violent conduct may be admissible under certain circumstances does not lead to the conclusion that the court erred in omitting the requested bracketed language. The admissibility of evidence to show a victimís conformity with a violent character is an entirely different issue from whether a defendantís conduct or belief was reasonable when the defendant had no knowledge of the victimís violent character. While the former focuses on the victimís conduct, the latter focuses on the defendantís state of mind.Ē
The case is People v. Bates, 2019 S.O.S. 2155.
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