Self Defense Results in Dismissal of Murder Case
In two recent cases, the potential use of self-defense resulted in dismissal of murder charges against our clients. Self-defense is alive and well, at least when you have prosecutors who approach their cases mindful of how a jury will likely view the evidence. Of course, it also helps to have the facts to support the defense!
In State v. R.C. our client was charged with second degree murder in Canyon County. We substituted in as counsel after a lengthy discovery process by his first lawyer had resulted in an offer by the State to accept our client’s plea to manslaughter with a resulting 25-year sentence. That offer came after Court ordered mediation in which client had been told that his self-defense claim would not likely succeed at trial.
Client’s family came to us looking for a “second opinion,” and hoping that there was some way to avoid their son spending so much of his life in prison. The facts looked good for self-defense. Client was a young guy who had been out with friends and his girlfriend the night of the incident. He was driven home by the girlfriend, and he was intoxicated. They had argued and he did not want to go in the house, opting instead to stay in his car. She tried to get him out and in the process her mother, who had been babysitting, came out to the car. Girlfriend’s mother claimed that R.C. had hit both her and her daughter when they tried to get him out of the car. Her mother called her boyfriend to come over and settle the matter. When her boyfriend got to the house, he went directly to the car in which R.C. was sitting and started threatening to beat him. He pounded on the car hood, and kicked the car door, then pulled on the door until it opened, threatening our client with a knife. When the car door opened, our client believed his life was in grave, immediate danger. Fearing for his life, he reached for a handgun and shot the boyfriend, who died at the scene. He did not wait for police to arrive, and eluded authorities for two days before he turned himself in.
The key to the case was our client’s stepbrother, who had been on the phone with R.C. while he was sitting in the car. Stepbrother heard the threats by the deceased and confirmed the facts we relied on in getting the charge dismissed by the prosecutors. He told our investigator that he heard the deceased arguing and threatening R.C., and heard the gunshot, followed by silence. He thought that R.C. had been shot and drove to the scene.
By the time the case was settled, R.C. had spent nearly a year in jail waiting for trial. The State’s prosecutors realized that the evidence supported self-defense and agreed to dismiss the murder charge in exchange for R.C.’s plea to misdemeanor battery on his girlfriend’s mother (she claimed to have been struck by our client when she tried to get him out of the car), and to misdemeanor resisting and obstructing an officer (by leaving the scene). He was placed on probation and released from jail.
Perfect outcome? Not hardly, but better than 25 years in prison. Hats off to Tony McKnight, the investigator who followed up on the stepbrother and gave us the evidence we needed to end the nightmare. Our client is back at work and rebuilding his life. The real treat as his lawyer was knowing that he was out of jail and back with his family.
Next time – the recent second case in which a murder charge was dismissed based on self-defense.