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United States v. Peterson

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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United States v. Peterson
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    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Bennie L. Peterson (Defendant), was convicted by jury of manslaughter for the killing of Charles Keitt (Keitt). The Defendant claims the killing was in self-defense.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Self-defense is not an available defense to (1) one who provokes conflict or is the aggressor in it or (2) one who does not retreat if he can safely do so.

    Facts. The victim, Keitt, and two friends drove in Keitt’s car to the alley in the rear of the defendant’s house to remove the windshield wipers from the Defendant’s wrecked car. The Defendant came out of his house while Keitt was doing so and the two had a verbal exchange. The Defendant then when back into his house, retrieved a pistol and returned to his yard to find Keitt seated in his car and about to leave. The Defendant walked to a point in his yard and threatened to kill Keitt if he came into his yard. Keitt alighted from his vehicle and exclaimed, “What the hell do you think you are going to do with that?” Keitt then returned to his car, retrieved a lug wrench, and advanced toward the defendant with the wrench in a raised position. The Defendant warned Keitt to stop, but he continued onward. The Defendant shot Keitt in the face from a distance of about ten feet.

    Issue.
    Is the right to use deadly force in self-defense available to one who provokes conflict or is the aggressor in it?

    Is the right to use deadly force in self-defense available to one who does not retreat when he safely can retreat?

    Held.
    No. A person cannot claim self-defense by a self-generated necessity to kill. The right to homicidal self-defense is only granted to those free from fault in the difficulty. Until the Defendant himself procured the pistol, there had been no threat or display of weapons. The Defendant cannot claim self-defense in a deadly situation he created.

    No. While the Defendant is not obligated to retreat in every set of circumstances, he must when he safely can retreat. At no time did the Defendant attempt to retreat from Keitt’s advance with the lug wrench.


    Discussion. The right to use deadly force in self-defense is only available as a last resort to those who cannot safely escape and did not initiate the deadly circumstances.


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