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State v. Wanrow

Citation. 88 Wn.2d 221, 559 P.2d 548, 1977 Wash. 750.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Defendant, Yvonne Wanrow (Defendant), shot and killed William Wesler (Wesler) in a startled reaction to turning around and finding Wesler, a large, visibly intoxicated man, standing behind her.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The reasonableness of a person’s actions in self-defense must be considered in the light of her own perceptions of the situation.


The victim, Wesler, had been suspected of molesting the children of Ms. Hooper, a friend of the Defendant, among others in the neighborhood. Ms. Hooper had attempted to enlist the help of the police, but they refused to arrest Wesler until Monday morning when Ms. Hooper was instructed to go to the police station to swear out a warrant. Ms. Hooper therefore asked the Defendant and some other adults to spend the weekend at her home for added protection. At around 5:00 a.m. on the date in question, one of the adults, Chuck Michel (Michel), went to Wesler’s house to bring him to Ms. Hooper’s residence to straighten things out. Wesler entered the house while Michel and another man, David Kelly, remained outside. Wesler, who was visibly intoxicated, refused to leave when asked to do so. A good deal of shouting and confusion arose. Eventually, the Defendant went to the front door to enlist the aid of Michel and when she turned to reenter the living room, Wesler was standing directly
behind her. Being gravely startled by this situation, the Defendant shot Wesler in what amounted to a reflex action.


Should consideration be given to a person’s own perceptions of the situation when evaluating whether the person reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary in the interest of self-defense?


Yes. The justification of self-defense is to be evaluated in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the defendant, including those known substantially before the killing. Further, a defendant’s own perceptions of the situation are integral to making a determination of whether she properly acted in self-defense in accordance with those perceptions. Since the Defendant was a diminutive woman with a cast on her leg and the victim was a large, intoxicated man, due consideration must be given to the difficulty she would have had in repelling him without the use of weapons in her defense.


Self-defense instructions must take into account that women are generally smaller and not as physically strong as men are. Hence, their perceptions of the situation will generally be different than a man’s perceptions.

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