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Brown v. United States

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Hermes came at Defendant with a knife. After Defendant retreated twenty-five feet from Hermes, he grabbed his pistol and shot Hermes to death. Defendant was charged with and convicted of second-degree murder.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When a person is in immediate danger of death or great bodily injury from an attacker, that person may stand his ground and use deadly force to repeal the attacker in self-defense.

    Facts.

    While Brown (Defendant) was at work supervising earth removal in Texas, Hermes came toward him with a knife. Defendant retreated twenty-five feet from Hermes and went to his coat to retrieve a pistol. As Hermes was striking at him, Defendant shot Hermes four times and killed him. Defendant and Hermes had a long history of disputes that involved threats of violence. Previously, Hermes even assaulted Defendant with a knife on two separate occasions. Due to Hermes’ death, Defendant was charged with second-degree murder. At trial, the jury was told that a party who is assaulted is always under the obligation to retreat when considering the question of self-defense. The jury was also told that this duty to retreat exists only when the person can do so without subjecting himself to danger or great bodily injury. Also, the trial court told the jury that Defendant was not allowed to stand his ground if a reasonable person in Defendant’s position would be able to retreat. After Defendant was convicted of second-degree murder, he appealed. After the court of appeals affirmed his conviction, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    Issue.

    When a person is in immediate danger of death or great bodily injury from an attacker, may that person stand his ground and use deadly force to repeal the attacker in self-defense?

    Held.

    Yes. When a person is in immediate danger of death or great bodily injury from an attacker, that person may stand his ground and use deadly force to repeal the attacker in self-defense. Because Defendant was in immediate danger when Hermes came at him with a knife, Defendant had the right to self-defense. Therefore, the trial court erred in telling the jury that Defendant was not entitled to self-defense. The judgment is reversed.

    Discussion.

    When a person believes he is in immediate danger, that person is entitled to defense himself. It is not reasonable to demand that person to reflect whether such immediate danger actually exists in a reasonable person’s mind. Although there was evidence at trial that the fourth shot at Hermes was after Hermes had already fallen, Defendant would still not necessarily lose his right to self-defense if that moment of intent followed close behind three previously-fired shots during the heat of defending himself from immediate danger.


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