Tuesday, September 18, 2012

People v. Goetz case brief

People v. Goetz
68 N.Y.2d 96, 497 N.E.2d 41 (1986)

    Goetz (D) was worried about getting mugged and so he carried a gun with him on the subway. Four youths approached him and one said, "Give me five dollars." Goetz responded by shooting and wounding all four of the youths.
    Goetz surveyed the scene, and realizing that one of the youths wasn't wounded, went back and shot him again.
    Goetz claimed he was being robbed, and then fled the scene, although he later turned himself in.
    Goetz argued that he was shooting in self-defense.

Procedural History
    The prosecutor told the Grand Jury that in order to be self-defense under New York law (Penal Law §35.15), a person must reasonably believe that the victim was about to use deadly force, or is committing a kidnapping, forcible rape, or robbery.
    The prosecutor clarified that the jury should read the term reasonably believe as "whether the defendant's conduct was that of a reasonable man in the defendant's situation." (the objective standard)
    The Grand Jury charged Goetz with attempted murder, assault and weapons possession.
    The Trial Court dismissed all the charged. The prosecutor appealed.
    The Trial Court found that the prosecutor had instructed the jury incorrectly. Under §35.15, the proper question was whether the defendant's reactions were reasonable to him, not reasonable to a reasonable person. (the subjective standard).
    • A subjective standard would allow the jury to consider factors specific to Goetz, like the fact he had been mugged before and was extra scared.
    The Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal. The prosecutor appealed.
    The New York Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the charges.
Whether the defendant's reactions were reasonable to him, not reasonable to a reasonable person. (the subjective standard)
Jurors are now told to consider a defendant's background and to consider whether a reasonable person would feel imperiled if that reasonable person was the defendant.
    The New York Supreme Court noted that under Model Penal Code §3.04(2)(b) a defendant charged with murder (or attempted murder) need only show that he believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to protect himself to prevail on a self-defense claim (subjective standard)
    However, if the defendant's belief was reckless or negligent, he could still be charge with a lesser offense, like manslaughter.
      See also Model Penal Code §3.09.

The Court held that to use an entirely subjective test to determine whether a defendant appropriately used deadly physical force would be very dangerous, in that it would permit a jury to acquit every defendant who believed that his actions were reasonable, regardless of how bizarre the rationale.

The Court explained that the justification statute requires an objective element, in that deadly physical force is only permissible if a reasonable person would believe that he is in imminent fear of serious physical injury or death. This would prevent the slippery slope of a different reasonable test necessary for every single defendant claiming justification.

With respect to the lower court's alternate theory for dismissal, the perjury issue, the Court held that there was no basis for the lower court to suspect perjury, and that there was no basis in statute or case law permitting a dismissal merely because new information comes to light which may lead a defendant's acquittal.

Therefore, the Court reversed the lower court on both grounds, and reinstated all counts of the indictment.
The Trial Court convicted Goetz of carrying an unlicensed concealed weapon, but acquitted him of all other counts. However, the youths sued Goetz and won $43M.

Transcript of Court's Decision

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