Thursday, August 28, 2003
High Court to Consider Killer’s Claim of Imperfect Defense of Another
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The state Supreme Court yesterday agreed to decide whether a claim of imperfect self-defense to a murder charge can be asserted based on the unreasonable but sincere belief the victim posed a lethal threat to another person.
The justices unanimously voted at yesterday’s conference to review the First District Court of Appeal’s May decision in People v. Randle, 03 S.O.S. 2759. The court’s Div. One held in that case that Alameda Superior Court Judge Larry J. Goodman erred in rejecting Darryl Eugene Randall’s request for a jury instruction on imperfect defense of another.
Randall was convicted of second degree murder. Writing for the appellate panel, Justice Sandra L. Margulies said the Supreme Court had given a “strong suggestion” in People v. Michaels (2002) 28 Cal.4th 486 that the defense, which if established would have mitigated the charge against Randall to manslaughter, is available even where the individual believed to be threatened is not the defendant. She noted that while in Micheals the high court justices said judges have no duty to instruct sua sponte on the theory, they commented that the doctrine “follows logically from the interplay between statutory and decisional law.”
Randall’s 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 Michaels court leaves little doubt that, although the doctrine was not yet so well known as to mandate sua sponte instruction, counsel may legitimately request such an instruction. Having been provided with no compelling reason to disregard the clear direction of the Supreme Court on this issue, we conclude the trial court erred in rejecting defendant’s request for this instruction.”
First District Appellate Project attorney James O’Connell, who represented Randall, said he suspects the high court may also be interested in another issue in the case. Goodman instructed the jury it could find the Randall guilty of felony murder based on the underlying felony of discharging a firearm in a grossly negligent manner.
Margulies said that instruction was proper, but O’Connell said a split of authority in the appellate rulings on that issue has since developed and he plans to ask the justices to consider it.
Justice Kathryn Werdegar was absent and did not participate in the conference vote on Randle.
The court also unanimously voted to review the Fifth District’s May ruling in Delgado v. Trax Bar & Grill, 03 S.O.S. 2696. The court in that case held that an assault on bar patron by a gang in a parking lot was unforeseeable as a matter of law where the defendant’s establishment, though it had experienced ordinary “bar fights” inside and outside the premises, had no history of gang fights or of gang attacks on individual patrons.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company