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Law School Case Brief

People v. Aiken - 4 N.Y.3d 324, 795 N.Y.S.2d 158, 828 N.E.2d 74 (2005)


Whether a particular area is part of a dwelling under N.Y. Penal Law § 35.15 depends on the extent to which a defendant exercises exclusive possession and control over the area in question.


Defendant Richard Aiken and the victim were next-door neighbors in the same apartment building in the Bronx for nearly 40 years, virtually their entire lives. For years, they had arguments and altercations. In the past, these altercations had gotten physical resulting in the victim stabbing the defendant. On one occassion in 1999, Aiken and the victim argued through the shared bedroom wall between their apartments. Using a metal pipe, Aiken knocked an indentation into his side of the wall. Aiken, while remaining in his doorway, engaged in an angry argument with the victim in the hallway outside their apartments. The victim reached into his pocket, came up to Aiken's face "nose to nose," and said "he was going to kill" him. Believing he was about to be stabbed again, Aiken struck the victim on his head with the metal pipe, killing him. At the trial in New York state court for the death of the victim, Aiken asked the trial court to charge the jury that, if a defendant was in his home and in close proximity of a threshold of his home, there was no duty to retreat. The trial court denied the request. Aiken was convicted of manslaughter in the first degree. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, New York, affirmed. Aiken appealed.


Was the conviction proper?




The state's highest court recognized that the evidence supported Aiken's request for a justification charge because Aiken presented evidence of his prior history with the victim, the victim's threats and violent conduct, as well as Aiken's subjective belief that the victim was about to stab him again. However, Aiken was not entitled to a jury instruction that he had no duty to retreat. Under no reasonable view of the evidence was Aiken actually inside his apartment when confronted by the victim. Nor did Aiken's claim that he was standing in the doorway, or threshold, of his apartment entitle him to that instruction. While a person was not bound to abandon one's home, requiring a person standing in the doorway to step inside the apartment to avoid a violent encounter was not the equivalent of mandating retreat from one's home.

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