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April 18, 2019


Case: State v. Antonio Benson
Facts: The Defendant shot and killed the victim after an argument and was convicted of first-degree murder. The Defendant requested a self-defense jury instruction , contending the proof showed the victim was under the influence of meth, was the first aggressor, and attacked the Defendant first. The trial court denied the request, finding that there was no evidence the victim used or attempted to use deadly force or caused or threatened to cause serious bodily injury. Although there was evidence the victim punched the Defendant in the nose, the trial court held this did not constitute serious bodily injury.
Appellate Decision: The intermediate court reversed, holding that the trial court should have charged the jury on self-defense. The failure to give this instruction “removed the requirement that the state prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.”

Review Granted: April 12, 2019.

Prediction: Ben thinks the Supreme Court will affirm the reversal and hold that the self-defense instruction should have been given. Self-defense need only be “fairly raised” by the proof. Even if the punch by the victim did not constitute “serious bodily injury,” a jury could have found that it presented a threat of such injury. Moreover, the jury actually submitted a question regarding self-defense, evidencing the jury’s belief that self-defense was at issue, and demonstrating a need to explain the law to the jury in such situations. The failure to instruct the law when self-defense is at issue may result in a jury “guessing” what the law should be, and potentially finding self-defense when it may not have if properly instructed. David agrees: the serious bodily injury issue is not an objective factor but rather the subjective perception of the threat. The threshold for charging a statutory defense should be very low.