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United States v. Peterson

Citation. 22 Ill.131 S. Ct. 617, 178 L. Ed. 2d 437 (2010) [2010 BL 269745]
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Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant fatally shot man in alley behind defendant’s house during the course of a quarrel pertaining to the victim’s attempt to take the windshield wipers off of defendant’s junked car.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

One who is the aggressor in a conflict that results in death does not have available to him the justification of self-defense.


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


Is justification of self-defense available to defendant who re-initiated the conflict after the other party had taken steps toward leaving the scene?


No. Affirmed. The evidence is undisputed that when defendant reemerged from his house with a pistol, the victim was on the verge of driving off. The original confrontation had ended, and defendant was now clearly the aggressor in the subsequent confrontation resulting in death. As the aggressor, and the court’s instructions left it to the jury to decide who was the aggressor, defendant does not have available to him the justification of self-defense. This case is similar to Laney, 294 Fed. 412 (1923), where defendant was denied justification of self-defense in returning and firing into a mob of people which had been chasing him, but which he had successfully evaded minutes before by ducking into an alley between two houses.


This case clearly illustrates the doctrine that the justification of self-defense is not applicable to cases where defendant was himself the aggressor in the fatal conflict; defendant cannot be in an offensive and defensive posture at the same time.

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