Brief Fact Summary.
Raymond shot his gun in the air to ward off rowdy men outside his building. Courvoisier, a police officer, pushed through the crowd to Raymond, shouting that he was an officer and to stop shooting. Raymond shot Courvoisier.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Where a defendant attempts to justify with necessary self-defense in a civil action, the defendant must prove to the jury that the defendant acted honestly in using force and that the defendant’s fears were reasonable under the circumstances.
Raymond shot his gun in the air to ward off rowdy men who entered his building after midnight without permission. The men did not desist and instead began throwing stones and brickbats at Raymond. Raymond shot again in the air, attracting the attention of Courvoisier and two other deputy sheriffs. Courvoisier left the two other deputy sheriffs to arrest the rowdy men as he pushed forward to Raymond, shouting that he was an officer and to stop shooting. Though dark, the street was well-lit. Raymond nonetheless aimed, fired, and shot Courvoisier.
Courvoisier argued that Raymond recklessly fired a shot knowing that Courvoisier was a police officer. Raymond argued self defense.
Was the trial judge’s instruction on assault clearly erroneous?
Yes, the trial judge’s instruction on assault was clearly erroneous.
The trial judge’s instruction did not allow the jury to fully consider Raymond’s justification of self-defense. Raymond alleged that his house was broken into shortly after midnight by two men, who were then joined by three or four other men who harassed him outside of his house despite Raymond firing multiple warning shots. Raymond alleged that he wore glasses due to his poor eyesight, did not hear Courvoisier identify himself as a police officer, and was not previously acquainted with Courvoisier to recognize him as a police officer. Finally, Raymond said that he genuinely believed his house was being robbed, as his neighbor’s house had been robbed just some weeks before.
While the first question was rightfully whether or not Courvoisier was assaulted by Raymond, the second question ought to have been whether Raymond had justification for his action. Because the verdict may have been different if the jury had considered the second question, the judgment must be reversed.