The Court of Appeals in Tamika Parker v. U.S., decided on March 16, 2017, reversed a conviction for simple assault holding in short that the claim of self-defense was valid, credible, and supported by the evidence presented.
One of the concurring opinions sums up the facts of the case perfectly:
This is a strange case. A man shouts an ugly slur against his neighbor across the street as she is getting into a friend’s car. He then crosses the street with members of his family, calls her a “bitch” (and more), and spits in her face as his family surrounds the car and hurls insults. She spits back. Others arrive 28 (apparently including members of her family), and a shouting match ensues. In the meantime, a police officer has appeared in time to see her spit (but not to see her aggressor do so). The officer arrests her for simple assault, and she is charged.
The trial court had concluded that the defendant was motivated by more than self-defense in retaliating in that although self-defense was justified and reasonable under the circumstances – she was more motivated by retribution, and “street justice” thus denying her self-defense claim.
The government had argued and the trial court agreed that Ms. Parker was angry, indignant and more offended than fearing imminent bodily harm, when she spit on the complainant’s face and that does not support her claim of self-defense.
In short, the trial court concluded that the defendant was not purely acting in self-defense because it somehow discerned that Ms. Parker’s fear and reasonable belief that she was in imminent danger did not motivate her to spit on Mr. Powell.
That in fact she was motivated to spit back because the complainant had spit or her first.
The District Standard jury instruction on self-defense directs that:
Every person has the right to use a reasonable amount of force in self-defense if;
(1) s/he actually believes s/he is in imminent danger of bodily harm and if;
(2) s/he has reasonable grounds for that belief. The question is not whether looking back on the incident you believe that the use of force was necessary.
When there is a claim of self-defense; the government has the added burden to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Court of Appeals reasoned that motive is not separately and additionally considered as a basis for disproving a claim of self-defense.
In that when a defendant actually and reasonably believes to be in imminent danger of bodily harm — self-defense claim does not absolve on the ground that the defendant had somehow set aside her belief and acted purely out of a different motive such as anger or a desire for retribution.
In conclusion, the proper analysis for the defendant’s mental state is whether she “subjectively and reasonably believed that she was in imminent danger of bodily harm” and that the defendant did not engage with an excessive force.
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