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Alexander v. State

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant, a prison inmate, intervened to aid another prison inmate from assault by two correctional officers. Defendant claimed self-defense.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A person’s right to intervene to aid an apparent victim of an assault is not strictly coterminous with the victim’s right of self-defense.

    Facts.

    In Maryland, two inmates, Ralph Alexander (Defendant) and Bruce Shreeves, were charged with assault on a correctional officer, Dale Tscheulin. According to the State’s witnesses who testified at trial, Shreeves first attacked Tscheulin and Defendant later joined to assist in the assault. However, according to Defendant’s witnesses, another correctional officer, Samuel Stokes, Jr., grabbed Shreeves from behind without any provocation, and then Tscheulin came and started hitting Shreeves. As a result, Defendant told Tscheulin that he did not have to hit Shreeves, and Tscheulin subsequently turned around to hit Defendant. Defendant claims that he simply grabbed the bars and pinned Tscheulin between himself and the bars, but did not hit Tscheulin. Tscheulin and Stokes claim that as they were subduing Shreeves, Defendant came to the scene, jumped on Tscheulin, and struck Tscheulin in the chest and head. At trial, the judge instructed the jury on Shreeves’ right of self-defense and Defendant’s right of self-defense. The judge added: “[I]f Shreeves had the right to defend himself, then [Defendant] had the right to go help him defend himself; if Shreeves did not have the right to defend himself, then [Defendant] didn’t have the right to go help Shreeves defend himself. He stands in the same shoes as Shreeves when he elects to come to his assistance.” After, the judge told the jury that if they find that Shreeves is not guilty because he had a right of self-defense, then they must also find that Defendant is not guilty because Defendant would have that same right of self-defense regarding Shreeves; and if the jury finds Shreeves did not have the right of self-defense, then Defendant cannot claim the right of self-defense on the basis that he was trying to protect Shreeves. Defendant was convicted in the Criminal Court of Baltimore; he subsequently appealed to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

    Issue.

    In Maryland, when a person intervenes to aid an apparent victim from assault, is the person’s right to defend the victim the same as the victim’s right to defend himself?

    Held.

    No. In Maryland, when a person intervenes to aid an apparent victim from assault, that person’s right to defend the victim is not the same as the victim’s right to defend himself. Therefore, the trial court erred when it instructed the jury on Defendant’s right of self-defense. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for retrial.

    Discussion.

    Under Maryland’s statute, the witnessing of the assault is that which affords protection for Defendant. There is no reference in Maryland’s statute that Defendant’s legal absolution relies on the victim being faultless in the situation. Defendant must be judged on his own conduct, based upon his own observation of the circumstances as they reasonably appeared to him. A person’s right to intervene is not strictly coterminous with a victim’s right of self-defense. Under the judge’s instruction, Shreeves’ admissions sealed Defendant’s fate regardless of Defendant’s perception of the circumstances. The reasonable of Defendant’s perception is a question of fact that to be decided by the factfinder.


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