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Law School Case Brief

State v. Norman - 324 N.C. 253, 378 S.E.2d 8 (1989)

Rule:

In North Carolina, a defendant is entitled to have the jury consider acquittal by reason of perfect self-defense when the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, tends to show that at the time of the killing it appeared to the defendant and she believed it to be necessary to kill the decedent to save herself from imminent death or great bodily harm. That belief must be reasonable, however, in that the circumstances as they appeared to the defendant would create such a belief in the mind of a person of ordinary firmness. Further, the defendant must not have been the initial aggressor provoking the fatal confrontation. A killing in the proper exercise of the right of perfect self-defense is always completely justified in law and constitutes no legal wrong.

Facts:

A wife killed her husband while he was sleeping. At trial, she testified that the killing was self defense under battered wife syndrome, as it was provoked after years of physical and psychological abuse. The jury found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter. On appeal, the Court of Appeals set aside the the trial courts conviction. The case was elevated on for review of judgment to the Supreme Court of North Carolina.

Issue:

Was self defense present in this case?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the wife was not entitled to self-defense as defendant was not in imminent fear of death when homicide occurred. North Carolina law recognizes an imperfect right of self-defense in certain circumstances. For example, when the defendant is the initial aggressor, but without intent to kill or to seriously injure the decedent, the decedent escalates the confrontation to a point where it reasonably appears to the defendant to be necessary to kill the decedent to save herself from imminent death or great bodily harm. Although the culpability of a defendant who kills in the exercise of imperfect self-defense is reduced, such a defendant is not justified in the killing so as to be entitled to acquittal, but is guilty at least of voluntary manslaughter

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