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United States v. Peterson

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    Bloomberg Law

    Citation. 12-CR-224, 2012 BL 115543 (E.D.N.Y. May 09, 2012)

    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Peterson (Defendant), fatally shot a man in an alley behind his house during the course of a quarrel pertaining to the victim’s attempt to take the windshield wipers off of the Defendant’s junked car.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The use of lethal force in self-defense is lawful where a reasonable person would have believed, the defendant actually did believe, there was an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury and that retreat was not an available option.


    Facts. The victim drove to an alley behind the Defendant’s house to obtain windshield wipers off of the Defendant’s junked car. The Defendant observed the victim doing this and came out of his house to protest. Words were exchanged, after which the victim got back in his car and the Defendant went back into his house. The Defendant then reemerged from his house carrying a pistol and threatened to shoot victim if he moved. When the victim emerged from his car carrying a wrench, the Defendant shot him in the face.

    Issue. When is self-defense available to a defendant as a justification for homicide?

    Held. An individual may lawfully kill or injure another in self-defense where there is an actual or apparent threat of death or serious bodily harm toward the individual, and where that threat is unlawful and immediate, and the individual does not have the option of retreat. Not only must the individual have believed these factors to be present at the time, but the use of lethal force must have seemed objectively reasonable given the circumstances.

    Discussion. This portion of the Court’s opinion outlines the basic elements necessary for a successful defense to a homicide prosecution based on justification. Absent an objectively reasonable belief that one was in danger of death or serious bodily injury, and that retreat was not possible, self-defense as a justification for homicide is not available to a defendant.


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