Lose your right to self-defense defense? ITS INCONCEIVABLE

A new twist has arisen on the Stand-Your-Ground immunity hearings debate. ISSUE: If a Defendant is actually granted an immunity hearing and then loses, has he forfeited his right to raise self-defense at trial. The answer is a resounding NO.
First, there are differing standards of proof and burdens of proof at the pre-trial immunity hearing and in the guilt phase at trial. As discussed on the blog posts about Alabama’s Stand-Your-Ground statute, at the immunity hearing, the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence and the burden of proof is on the Defendant.
“We hold that a defendant may raise the question of statutory immunity pretrial and, when such a claim is raised, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the immunity attaches.  Peterson v. State, 983 So. 2d 27, 29 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008)
Whereas at trial, the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not act in self defense:
“Once the issue of self-defense [merely] is raised, the State ‘must prove that the accused did not act in self-defense in the sense that the State must prove a prima facie case of unjustified homicide.’ Booker v. State, 645 So. 2d 355, 358 (Ala. Crim. App. 1994)
Second, each other appellate court within states adopting a Florida-copycat Stand-Your-Ground statute (like Alabama’s), have declared that there is no preclusive effect of an immunity hearing.  The trial court in Peterson granted him a pretrial hearing and then denied his Motion for insufficient evidence. Nevertheless, the Peterson appellate court, while sustaining the denial of immunity, specifically held “Petitioner is not precluded from submitting the matter to the jury as an affirmative defense in his criminal trial.” Peterson v. State, 983 So. 2d 27, 29 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2008)
The Colorado court in  People v. Guenther, 740 P.2d 971, 981 (Colo. 1987) is more direct:

If, on the other hand, the court determines that the defendant has not met his burden of proof and denies the motion to dismiss the charges, there is nothing in [the Stand-Your-Ground statute to suggest that the defendant should somehow be precluded from raising the same statutory conditions for immunity as an affirmative defense to the charges at trial. Since the legislature clearly intended [the Stand-Your-Ground” to operate as a complete immunity to criminal charges when an occupant of a dwelling used physical force against an intruder under the conditions set forth in the statute, it cannot plausibly be argued that the legislature thereby intended to deprive an accused of the lesser benefit of an affirmative defense at trial when those same statutory conditions are established under appropriate standards of proof applicable to the trial of a criminal case. Thus, if the pretrial motion to dismiss on grounds of statutory immunity is denied, the defendant may nonetheless raise at trial, as an affirmative defense to criminal charges arising out of the defendant’s use of physical force against an intruder into his home. . .

Third, such a preclusion would deny him his constitutional rights to due process and a jury trial:

“Evidence most favorable to the defendant should be considered and if there is the slightest evidence tending to prove a hostile demonstration which can be reasonably interpreted as placing the accused, at the time of the killing, in apparent imminent danger to life or other grievous bodily harm then the matter of self-defense becomes a question for the jury.Byrd v. State, 257 Ala. 100, 104, 57 So.2d 388, 391 (1952)

When the accused have exercised their constitutional right to a trial by jury, their right to present a full and complete defense includes the right to have a jury consider and weigh all relevant and probative evidence in support of his defense. See United states v. Scheffer, 523 U.S.  303, 315 (1998); Crane v Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683, 690 (1986)  The Supreme Court of the United States has expressly recognized that, under the Due Process Clause of Fourteenth Amendment, and the Compulsory Process and Confrontation Clauses of the Sixth Amendment, a criminal defendant must be given “a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense” -i.e., a right to make a full defense , and tell his or her story, by presenting relevant and probative evidence that supports his case. See, e.g. California v. Trombetta, 467 U.S. 479, 485 (1984).

Look at Crane v Kentucky, 476 U.S. 683 (1986). SCOTUS found unconstitutional a Kentucky rule which barred defendant from placing evidence of the facts and circumstances surrounding his confession before the jury, after the confession had been found by a judge at pre-trial to have been voluntary.  SCOTUS declared this violated his right to the fair opportunity to present a defense.

Similarly, just because a Defendant cannot prove self-defense pretrial by a preponderance of the evidence at the immunity hearing should not preclude his ability to require the state to prove lack of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt

In the words of the Colorado Supreme Court: “it’s implausible”

Or better yet: in the words of the The Princess Bride, “ITS INCONCEIVABLE.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *