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Old January 24, 2010, 09:51 PM   #56
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Join Date: May 12, 2002
Location: MO
Posts: 5,206
Originally Posted by fiddletown
Here's how self defense works at trial.

Ordinarily, in a criminal prosecution the state must prove the elements of the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. So if the crime charged, and for which the defendant is on trial, is manslaughter, the state must in general prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the defendant was there; (2) the defendant shot the decedent; and (3) the defendant intended to shoot the decedent. In defending the charge, the defendant merely needs to create a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors as to any one of these elements. The defendant can try to cast doubt on the state's claim that he was there (alibi defense); that he pulled the trigger (some other dude done it) or that he intended to shoot the decedent (the gun went off by accident). But all of that is completely inapplicable when the defendant pleads self defense.

If you claim self defense, the prosecution doesn't have to prove, at all, that you were there, that you shot the decedent or that you intended to shoot the decedent, because you will have admitted each of those element of the crime of manslaughter. If you are claiming self defense you necessarily must admit that you (1) you were there; (2) you shot the decedent; and (3) you intended to shoot the decedent. You have made a prima facie case against yourself for the prosecutor, and he doesn't have to prove any of the things he ordinarily would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. You have admitted it all.

Your defense is that your act of violence on another human being was legally justified. The allocation of the burden of proof burden of persuasion between the prosecution and defense in a self defense case varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But you will at least have to put forward evidence establishing a prima facie case of justification according to the standard applicable to the use of lethal force in self defense in your jurisdiction.

The prosecution will seek to discredit, consistent with the applicable standard of proof in your jurisdiction, your claim of justification. Facts, like your having alerted your gun in certain ways, facts that might incline your neutral, but unsophisticated about gun matters, jury to think you might be a reckless, trigger happy gun nut obsessed with making your gun the most efficient instrument of violence possible will help the prosecutor in those efforts. And Suzi Soccermom, as she and her other jurors decide whether to believe your story, wonders why the gun as it came from the factory wasn't lethal enough to satisfy your pervert blood lust.
...and here's how self-defense works in the real world. Self-defense shootings are not are not rocket science. They are far easier to sort out than your typical homicide, especially if you tell the truth. Motives are absent, the shooter/shootee usually don't know each other, they normally occur on neutral ground or the defender's turf...basic stuff.

Self-defense doesn't result in a charge, or a 'trial'. Murder and manslaughter do- but they will only be charged if your actions meet the elements of those charges, in the jurisdiction where the shooting occurred, and the prosecutor believes he or she can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.

I can think of a half-dozen shootings or murder cases where we pretty well know who did it, pretty well know why, and yet they won't be filed because the REASONABLE DOUBT standard can't be met. Now if the state can't file those, why in the hell would they waste time filing self-defense cases where the shooter's actions are authorized under defense justification, castle doctrine, etc.?

Answer? They won't.
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