Cooper v. United States

512 A.2d 1002 (D.C. 1986)



Evidence that a defendant was attacked in his home by a co-occupant does not entitle him to an instruction that he had no duty whatsoever to retreat.


Defendant and his brother lived with their mother. The brother unexpectedly left home for ten days and subsequently returned without stating where he had been. On the day of the brother's return, defendant returned from work carrying a pistol. Defendant and the brother began to quarrel, the quarrel escalated, and the brother hit defendant in the head with a small radio. After the mother ran upstairs to call for help, she heard a sound. When the mother went back downstairs, she saw the brother lying on the floor, and defendant stated that he had shot the brother. The District Court entered judgment upon a jury verdict convicting defendant of voluntary manslaughter while armed, D.C. Code Ann. §§ 22-2405, 22-3202, and carrying a pistol without a license, D.C. Code Ann. § 22-3204. Defendant appealed arguing that the trial judge erred when he refused to instruct the jury that defendant had an unqualified right to stand his ground in the face of an attack in his home and instead gave the standard instruction on the use of deadly force in self-defense. The appellate court rejected this contention and affirmed defendant's convictions.


Under the law of this jurisdiction, does a person generally have the duty to retreat in the face of an assault by another, when retreat is a feasible alternative?




Jurisdictions following the common law rule have almost universally adopted the "castle doctrine" that one who through no fault of his own is attacked in one's own home is under no duty to retreat. Courts following the common law rule have split, however, regarding whether a defendant is entitled to a castle doctrine instruction when the defendant is assaulted by a co-occupant. This court was convinced that the reasoning of those jurisdictions holding that a castle doctrine instruction should not be given in instances of co-occupant attacks is the more compelling. Thus, because defendant here was attacked in his home by a co-occupant, he was not entitled to an instruction that he had no duty whatsoever to retreat.

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