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People v. Gleghorn

    Brief Fact Summary.

    After breaking into a garage and threatening Fairall, Gleghorn (Defendant) appealed his conviction for battery by claiming self-defense in fending off Fairall’s response.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    If a victim of an assault reasonably believes his life to be in danger, he is justified to use deadly force to defend himself, even if the initial assault is later determined to be only a simple assault.

    Facts.

    Defendant entered a garage where Michael Fairall resided at 3 a.m., yelling for Fairall to come down from the rafters so that Defendant could kill him. When Fairall refused, Defendant threatened to burn him out and lit a small fire. Fairall then used a bow and arrow to shoot Defendant in the back. Leaving his bow behind, Fairall climbed down from the rafters in order to put out the fire. Defendant then set upon Fairall again, and beat him severely. Defendant was convicted of simple assault for his actions upon entering the garage, and of battery with the infliction of serious bodily injury for his actions after being shot by the arrow. Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the two verdicts were inconsistent. Defendant argued that because he was found guilty of only simple assault on his initial foray into the garage, Fairall was not justified in using deadly force in response. Once Fairall did employ deadly force, via the arrow, Defendant argued that he was justified in using deadly force in self-defense and could therefore not be found guilty of battery with the infliction of serious bodily injury.

    Issue.

    Is a victim of an assault reasonably believes his life to be in danger, is he justified to use deadly force even if the initial assault is later determined to be only a simple assault?

    Held.

    (Stone, J.) Yes. If a victim of an assault reasonably believes his life to be in danger, he is justified to use deadly force to defend himself, even if the initial assault is later determined to be only a simple assault. Not every assault will justify the use of deadly force in self-defense. A person is not authorized to use deadly force in response to a simple assault. However, this right to defend oneself with deadly force depends on the apparent threat at the time, not on the attacker’s undisclosed intent. If a reasonable person would be in fear for his safety and acted out of that fear, he is justified in using deadly force. Here, the jury could have reasonably inferred from the evidence presented that Fairall reasonably believed his life was in danger when he shot Defendant with the arrow. Even if the jury found that Fairall acted unreasonably, and Defendant was authorized to defend himself after being shot, Defendant continued to beat Fairall long past the point where Fairall presented a threat. The jury could reasonably have based the battery conviction in Defendant’s unjustified further attacks on Fairall. Affirmed.

    Discussion.

    This case illustrates the principle that when one individual makes a felonious assault upon another, or creates the appearance of imminent danger, the victim is justified in using deadly force in self-defense. The original assailant cannot then justifiably employ deadly force against the original victim unless he has first, in good faith, withdrawn from further combat and notified the original victim of this withdrawal. When the original assault is only a simple assault, the victim is not justified in responding with deadly force. If the original victim does respond in this fashion in a manner that is immediate, the original assailant does not need to withdraw and can use whatever force is reasonably necessary to defend himself.


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