Justification – A “Perfect” Defense To Manslaughter By Michael Joseph on November 11, 2015

Too often, jury instructions handed down by a Judge in a criminal matter can be easily confused or misinterpreted, especially in a case concerning manslaughter; the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or otherwise in circumstances not amounting to murder. While the State of New York recognizes few defenses to homicide, our New York City and White Plains violent crime defense lawyers know those defenses usually mitigate an individual’s potential crime, not absolve them of any wrongdoing. However, justification or justifiable homicide absolves a potential defendant from liability if the actor reasonably believes that he/she or a third-party is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, the individual reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger, and the individual used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger. Additionally, under New York Penal Law 35.05, conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when such conduct is…about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor. An individual who would not be entitled to use this defense is known as the “initial aggressor,” or the person that initiates the altercation. An “initial aggressor,” as defined by New York Penal Law 35.15(1)(b), is the first person who threatened to use physical force, or even the first person who appeared to threaten the imminent use of physical force under circumstances. Therefore, the justification defense to homicide may be invoked when an individual or third-party is not the “initial aggressor” to the immediate action.

In the case of People v. Walker, the Defendant fatally stabbed a man who was beating his brother in the head with a hammer. As his defense, Walker claimed that he was justified in his actions because he reasonably and rightfully believed that his brother’s life was in immediate danger due to a fight that started before he intervened and he was not the initial aggressor to the fight. The Trial Judge instructed the jury on the justification defense but did not include the full definition of “initial aggressor” where a Defendant argues that he is coming to the defense of another. As such, the jury found the Defendant guilty of manslaughter.

At the Appellate level, the defense attorney argued, “the confusion over the initial aggressor rule in the minds of the jurors, under the instructions given by the Trial Judge, could have just as easily led them to regard the Defendant as the aggressor rather than an intervenor aiming to protect his brother.” The Court of Appeals agreed with this argument and found that the Judge’s directions did not clearly outline the term “initial aggressor” and the potential use of the justification defense because the jury should have received additional instructions that justification may be invoked where the defendant had nothing to do with the original conflict, entered as a third party, and was unaware who initiated the conflict. The Appeals Court in People v. Walker further held that the jury instructions at the trial level were misconstrued and allowed for an improper inference of the Defendant during the altercation to which he was a third-party nonaggressor, therefore allowing him to invoke the justification defense.

Our Westchester criminal lawyers at The Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC, are committed to ensuring the nuances of the Court and the rule of law are executed properly and fairly for every client we defend. Our lawyers vigorously work to vindicate our clients from potential wrongful prosecution and arrest.

Related to This

The Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC

Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC

The Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC, has been helping injured victims recover compensation for their injuries for over a decade. Our attorneys are members of several prestigious organizations, including: 

  • New York State Trial Lawyers Association
  • American Association for Justice
  • New York County Bar Association
  • Westchester County Bar Association

To request your free initial consultation with our team, call our New York City office at (212) 858-0503 or our White Plains office at (914) 574-8330. You can also request a case review online.

Contact Us Today

Rate, Review & Explore

Social Accounts Sprite
About Us
Our Locations
Personal Injury
Construction Accidents
Auto Accidents

About Us

Our Locations

Personal Injury

Construction Accidents

Auto Accidents

Google map image of our location in 18 W 33rd St Ste 400 New York, NY

New York Office

18 W 33rd St
Ste 400
New York, NY 10001

Open Today 8:30am - 6:00pm

Google map image of our location in 203 E Post Rd  White Plains, NY

White Plains Office

203 E Post Rd
White Plains, NY 10601

Open Today 8:30am - 6:00pm

Tell us a bit about yourself...

(212) 858-0503 Send a message