When the jury is convinced excessive force was used and the jury returns a verdict of guilty of murder, should the verdict be substituted for a verdict of guilty of manslaughter if the appellant was acting in self-defense?
In R v Palmer (1971) the appellant and two others were chased by some men after they’d stolen some drugs. During the chase the appellant fired some shots and one of the men that was chasing them was killed by a gunshot. The appellant was arrested and tried and according to the appellant he did not fire the shot. The judge however directed the jury on self-defense and the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder. The appellant appealed on the grounds that the judge having directed the jury on self-defense, the jury should have returned a verdict of manslaughter.
The appeal was dismissed. If a verdict of murder is returned, when the appellant has pleaded self-defense there is no option to substitute a murder conviction with that of manslaughter.
“If there has been an attack so that defense is reasonably necessary it will be recognized that a person defending himself cannot weigh to a nicety the exact measure of his necessary defensive action. If a jury thought that in a moment of unexpected anguish a person attacked had only done what he honestly and instinctively thought was necessary, that would be most potent evidence that only reasonable defensive action had been taken.” – Lord Morris.
There are three salient points to be observed here: –
- It is up to the prosecution to prove, beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was not acting in self-defense and if the prosecution has successfully done that than the defense of self-defense will not avail itself to the defendant/appellant.
- Secondly the court appreciates the fact that a person who is being attacked is not in a position or not in the state of mind to weigh the defensive measures he or she takes, and in most instances cannot control the amount of force that is exerted while defending himself or herself.
- If the jury decided that at the heat of the moment, at the time of the attack, that the defendant did what he or she thought was honestly and instinctively necessary than that would be strong evidence to suggest that the defendant was acting in self-defense.
Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward