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Thread: CA law regarding use of deadly force in self defense

  1. #1
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    I was reading over this summary called California Firearm Laws 2007, distributed by the Attorney General. I noticed a few instances of misrepresentations of the law, but wanted to open a discussion on one in particular: regarding use of deadly force in self defense.

    Take a moment to read Section 3 of the pamphlet starting on page 26 (31/55 of the PDF file). Note that there is emphasis on threat of death or great bodily harm throughout the section.

    After reading through this section, next take a look at CA PC 197
    197. Homicide is also justifiable when committed by any person in any of the following cases:
    1. When resisting any attempt to murder any person, or to commit a felony, or to do some great bodily injury upon any person;...
    Note the bold text (my emphasis). Nowhere in the pamphlet does it mention that you may use deadly force to resist a felony. Also of note: there are fewer citations in this section than in any other. There is no reference to case law to indicat this subsection of the penal code has been held invalid.

    In case you're wondering... I was unable to find a definition for misdemeanor or felony on the CA website or in the penal code itself. However, according to this CA Bar Association pamphlet:
    Felony: a serious criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year.

    Misdemeanor: a criminal offense, less serious than a felony, punishable by a jail sentence of one year or less
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    I've read and reread (several times) everything from CA PC 195-199. Nowhere do I see an exception to this clause.

    I'm wondering if there is some case law out there to nullify the "resist any felony" clause. Or is this just another case of a public official distributing misleading information?

    This clause has serious implications, as many lessor felonies (grand larceny, burglary, etc) often have no deadly or physically harmful intent.
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    I'm terrible for not having cites on this but basically the "in fear of life or great bodily injury" requirementis a standard that has come down from SCOTUS rulings. Yes in days past (way past) use of deadly force was justified to catch or stop all felons or those suspected of felony action. But not any more. Those sections of CA PC are from the 19th Century.

    It is still justified to use deadly force to stop a fleeing felon but only if one can articulate that the immediate failure of "stopping" a fleeing felon is likely to result in "death or great bodily injury" in the future; rapist, murders etc...fall into this category generally.

    Great question though!


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    OK, I think I found the most often cited decision:

    People v. Young (214 Cal.App.2d 641) mentions excessive force, and references People v. Hubbard (64Cal.App.27) - which I could not find on FindLaw.com - and Fricke on California Criminal Law.

    So, it appears case law has answered this question.

    Would be nice if the attorney general saw fit to include citations in this section of the pamphlet...

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    CA_Libertarian wrote:
    Would be nice if the attorney general saw fit to include citations in this section of the pamphlet...
    What? Do an above average job and justify theirstatements to the people? DOJ wouldfirst have to believeaverage people can read and understand the penal code andformulatelegitimate questions.

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    cato wrote:
    DOJ wouldfirst have to believeaverage people can read and understand the penal code andformulatelegitimate questions.
    Sadly, this is not the case for most people. Partially because the law is written so cryptically, but mostly because sheeple just don't care to understand or ask questions.
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    CA_Libertarian wrote:
    OK, I think I found the most often cited decision:

    People v. Young (214 Cal.App.2d 641) mentions excessive force, and references People v. Hubbard (64Cal.App.27) - which I could not find on FindLaw.com - and Fricke on California Criminal Law.

    So, it appears case law has answered this question.

    Would be nice if the attorney general saw fit to include citations in this section of the pamphlet...
    Can you link me to People v. Young and the other mentioned article? I would love to read these documents.
    thank

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    rosemonter wrote:
    Can you link me to People v. Young and the other mentioned article? I would love to read these documents.
    thank
    Link to People v Young on FindLaw (may require a free membership login):

    http://login.findlaw.com/scripts/cal...d/214/641.html

    As previously stated, I could not find articles for the two citations mentioned by the judge in this case.
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    ...a little late

    Cal.App. 1963
    PEOPLE V. YOUNG
    214 Cal.App.2d 641, 29 Cal.Rptr. 595

    I just glanced this case, but it appears that he was originally convicted based on the trier of fact not believing the defendant's story. Many states say that you have the right to use deadly force that is commensurate with the danger posed to the victim (here, defendant) by the aggressor, but if the aggressor retreats the danger that he poses drops. Restatement 2nd of Torts ss 65 (torts and criminal do not differ significantly in regards to self-defense). Prosser, Torts 2010 at 103.). Because the blood trail leads away from the scene of the robbery it would suggest that the aggressor was in the process of retreating, and it likely seemed that the real issue to the trier of fact in this case was if defendant had the right to use deadly force to recover his property not to protect himself from a knife wielding maniac whose goal is to kill him. It is generally unlawful to use deadly force to recover your property, although you can still use force that is short of deadly. Prosser at 106. The instances where deadly force is appropriate in felonies is probably only upheld in cases involving violence or reasonable belief of imminent violence against the defendant, and not for something, for instance, like because the defendant (private citizen) knew for a fact that the decedent was guilty of felony possession of cocaine (and only guilty of that).

    "...The prosecution witnesses say, in substance, that the fight was resumed [after the defendant was robbed at knife point inside the cafe] immediately outside the cafe, with defendant [Young] slashing almost continuously at Harris; that the latter backed away around the corner and out of sight; that the two men came into view again and started across the street in a diagonal direction from the cafe; that Harris, who was bleeding freely and leaving a trail of blood from cuts already received, one of them across his face, was running with defendant behind or alongside of him slashing at him with the long knife; that Harris fell at the curb and while he was lying in the gutter defendant stood over him and plunged the knife into his chest with a blow that went through three ribs, the rib cage and out the back, the blow that caused death. Defendant's version, on the other hand, was that he and Harris were holding each other during most of the fight; that Harris fell only to his knee when he reached the curb across the street; that he rose and threw himself upon the knife and thus inflicted the mortal wound upon himself. Defendant was unable to give a reasonable account of the other eight wounds that the coroner's autopsy surgeon found upon the body, one of which went entirely through the flesh of the arm.

    It is difficult to envisage the jury finding that defendant did not use excessive and savage force to do away with Harris, but the factual conflict over who inflicted the fatal wound and how it was done necessitates a holding that the question of excessive force was one of fact for the jury [not for the judge to decide him/her self], and failure to submit it (upon the judge's own motion, if necessary), when coupled with the refusal of requested instructions upon justifiable murder, resulted in a miscarriage** of justice, a denial of an essentially fair trial.

    In the circumstances the judgment must be and it hereby is reversed [from a conviction]"

    In sum, this case was reversed because of an improper procedure by the Judge at the original trial, not because Mr. Young was found to have a valid defense of self-defense based on the evidence. These things are always very fact dependent and boil down to a judgment call of the believability of witnesses, strength of the facts, and the believability of the defendants testimony (if he gave one); point is Judge should have given the question of the reasonableness of defendants actions to the jury and in light of his failing to do that he should have at least given different instructions guiding the jury's deliberations. Young's case was reversed on a procedural technicality.

    I don't have time to check the other case, but hope that excerpt from the appeal helped in your inquiry.

    ****I am in no way qualified to give legal advice and this is merely my opinion; text in quotations is from the case file.****
    Last edited by Roggae11; 10-01-2010 at 02:12 AM.

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