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United States v. Peterson

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was found guilty of manslaughter for killing a trespasser whom he got into an altercation with. Appellant argued that he appropriately used self defense and was not guilty of manslaughter.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Deadly force is only allowed when the necessity for such appears to allow no other alternative.

    Facts. Victim and others entered the alley behind Appellant’s home to remove windshield wipers from Appellant’s wrecked car. Appellant came out of the house and, after a verbal exchange with the victim, went back inside and got a gun. Victim brandished a wrench and started to move toward Appellant. Appellant shot Victim and killed him instantaneously. Appellant alleged that he only meant to scare Victim and aimed the gun at a point to the right of Victim. The jury found Appellant guilty of manslaughter and Appellant timely appealed.

    Issue. Whether Appellant acted appropriately in self defense and thus was not guilty of manslaughter.

    Held. Affirmed.
    The right of self defense arises only when the necessity begins and ends with the necessity. The force allowed must be equal to the necessity.

    Deadly force is only allowed when the necessity for such appears to allow no other alternative.

    There must have been a threat, actual or apparent of the use of deadly fore against the defender. The threat must have been unlawful and immediate. The defender must have believed that he was in imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm and that his response was necessary to save himself.

    A defendant’s belief must not only have been honestly entertained but also objectively reasonable in light of the surrounding circumstances.


    Discussion. The Court set out the appropriate considerations for the doctrine of self defense. Critical to this case was that Appellant was not blameless. At one point in the altercation, Appellant went inside his home and retrieved his gun. Victim at this point was preparing to leave Appellant’s property. The retrieval of the gun made the altercation turn deadly. The Court also ruled that Appellant could not put forth the castle doctrine (one can stand their ground on their own property), because he was not without fault in the altercation.


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