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One acting in imperfect self-defense actually believes he must defend himself from imminent danger of death or great bodily injury; however, his belief is unreasonable. Imperfect self-defense mitigates, rather than justifies, homicide; it does so by negating the element of malice. Under the doctrine of imperfect self-defense, when the trier of fact finds that a defendant killed another person because the defendant actually, but unreasonably, believed he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury, the defendant is deemed to have acted without malice and thus can be convicted of no crime greater than voluntary manslaughter. Imperfect self-defense obviates malice because that most culpable of mental states cannot coexist with an actual belief that the lethal act was necessary to avoid one's own death or serious injury at the victim's hand.
The homicide victim Brian Robinson lived with his parents and his cousin, Charles Lambert. The homicide victim confronted defendant Daryl Randle, who was stealing a stereo speaker from his cousin's car. Defendant pulled a .25-caliber pistol from his pocket and fired it several times. Defendant and his cousin fled, and the victim and the victim's cousin pursued them. The victim beat defendant's cousin with his fists and recovered the stolen stereo equipment but returned to continue the beating. Defendant testified that he fired his gun to make the victim stop beating his cousin. At trial, defendant asked for an instruction on imperfect defense of another but the trial court denied the request. The jury convicted defendant of second-degree murder and automobile burglary. The jury also sustained firearm use allegations on both the murder count and the automobile burglary count. Defendant was sentenced to a term of 40 years to life imprisonment. This timely appeal followed. The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment convicting defendant of second-degree murder holding that the court erred in refusing to instruct on imperfect defense of another. The Court of Appeal remanded the case for a new trial on that count, in all other respects, it affirmed the judgment. The State sought review of the judgment.
Did the appellate court err in reversing the judgment convicting defendant of second degree murder under Cal. Penal Code § 187(a)?
The court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court ruled that the trial court prejudicially erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the doctrine of imperfect defense of others. The court held that if the defendant killed in the actual but unreasonable belief that he had to defend another from imminent danger of death or great bodily injury, defendant was guilty of manslaughter, not murder, because he lacked the malice required for murder. Hence, in this case, the court ruled that defendant could invoke the doctrine, even though his criminal conduct set in motion the series of events that led to the fatal shooting. The court reasoned that the retreat of defendant and his cousin and the subsequent recovery of the stolen equipment from defendant's cousin extinguished the legal justification for the victim's attack on defendant's cousin.