Warnken, LLC Attorneys at Law, Attorneys & Lawyers, Pikesville, MD

Wilson v. State – Imperfect Self-Defense

Wilson v. State, 422 Md. 533 (2011).

            Jury Instructions – Imperfect Self-Defense & Rule of Provocation

The jury convicted Petitioner of first degree murder and related offenses, including use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence.  Petitioner concedes that the State’s evidence was sufficient to establish those offenses, but argues that he is entitled to a new trial on the ground that the trial court erroneously refused to instruct the jury on the (partial) defenses of “imperfect self defense” and the “rule of provocation.”

Petitioner had a confrontation with three young men in the woods.  The Petitioner shot one of the men four times then turned and ran home dropping the gun as he ran.  Petitioner states that during the confrontation he had never been so scared in his life and that when one of the men pulled a gun out on him he thought, “Kill or be killed. You know what I’m saying?”  During Petitioner’s trial, he requested that the Circuit Court instruct the jury on the partial defenses of imperfect self defense and hot blooded response to lawfully adequate provocation.  Circuit Court denied both requests.

The Court of Appeals relied on Faulkner v. State, 301 Md. 482 (1984) in which the Court held that “the honest but unreasonable belief standard of imperfect self defense,” although not a complete defense, “mitigates murder to voluntary manslaughter.”  Furthermore, the Court concluded in State v. Evans, 278 Md. at 215-17, “[t]he source of the evidence is immaterial; it may emanate solely from the defendant.  It is of no matter that the self-defense claim is overwhelmed by evidence to the contrary.  If there is any evidence relied on by the defendant which, if believed, would support his claim that he acted in self-defense, the defendant has met his burden.  Then the baton is passed to the State.  It must shoulder the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of the jury that the defendant did not kill in self-defense.”

The COA was persuaded by Petitioner’s trial testimony and what Petitioner told the investigating officers, to conclude that the Petitioner was entitled to a proper instruction in imperfect self defense.  Therefore, the Circuit Court’s conclusion to the contrary invaded the province of the jury as it was the jury’s duty to determine the reasons why Petitioner (1) changed his clothes, (2) armed himself with the knife, (3) left the safety of his grandmother’s house, (4) decided to approach the victim and the victim’s friends, and (5) after gaining control of the victim’s gun, fired the shots that caused the victim’s death.  The COA concluded that because the trial court erred in declining to deliver a proper instruction on “imperfect self defense,” the Petitioner is entitled to a new trial.