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People v. Cox, 98 N.Y. Int. 0168 (Dec. 17, 1998).

CRIMINAL LAW - JUSTIFICATION DEFENSE


ISSUE & DISPOSITION

Issue

Whether a rational view of the evidence in this case permits the inference that Defendant was justified in shooting the victim, thus requiring a jury instruction on the defense of justification to terminate a burglary.

Disposition

No. The trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury on justification because the evidence does not demonstrate that defendant reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent the victim from committing an assault.

SUMMARY

On October 13, 1994, Defendant was visiting Tanisha Brewster when her boyfriend, Eric Copeland forced his way into Brewster's apartment and knocked Defendant to the floor. Defendant, armed with a nine-millimeter automatic handgun, returned later that day to Brewster's apartment with her permission. While he was there, Copeland returned and forced his way into the apartment.  Despite repeatedly being told to leave, Copeland remained in Brewster's apartment. While Brewster and Copeland argued, Defendant stayed in Brewster's bedroom where he loaded his gun. Copeland then entered the bedroom and, after a 15 minute conversation, Defendant shot a single fatal bullet at Copeland. The trial court refused to instruct the jury on the defense of justification to terminate a burglary and the Appellate Division affirmed.

A trial court must instruct the jury on the justification defense where "on any reasonable view of the evidence, the fact finder might have decided that the defendant's actions were justified." People v. Padgett, 60 NY2d 142, 145; CPL 300.10(2).  A person who is licensed to be in a dwelling is justified in using physical deadly force on another person who he believes is "committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling or building . . . when he reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of the burglary."  Penal Law § 35.20(3).

In this case, a substantial period elapsed between the time the victim forced his way into the apartment and when Defendant shot him.  During that time, Defendant had ample opportunity to terminate the alleged burglary but instead hid in the bedroom loading his weapon and then had a lengthy conversation with the victim.  Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to  Defendant, the Court of Appeals held that no rational view of the evidence supported the inference that Defendant was justified in firing his weapon.

The dissent argued that a reasonable view of the evidence would have permitted the jury to decide that Defendant's actions were justified under Penal Law § 35.20(3) because there were several factors which could support a factual finding that Defendant believed that deadly force was necessary to terminate the burglary. The factors pointed to by the dissent included the victim's overwhelming physical strength, defendant's contact with the victim earlier that day, and the victim's hostile confrontation with Brewster just prior to the shooting.


Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.