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.
An erroneous instruction given on behalf of the party in whose favor the verdict was returned is presumed prejudicial unless it affirmatively appears that the error was harmless.View Full Point of Law
Issue. 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?
Held. 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.
Discussion. 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.