Where a defendant in a civil action attempts to justify on a plea of necessary self-defense, he must satisfy the jury not only that he acted honestly in using force, but that his fears were reasonable under the circumstances; and also as to the reasonableness of the means made use of.
A policeman was in the discharge of his duties when a man shot him in the abdomen causing a serious and painful wound. He was confined to his bed for a period of ten days and was incapable of performing his duties for three weeks. He also spent on hospital services. The policeman filed a case for the recovery of a sum of money in the amount of $30,150 claiming the defendant acted wilfully, knowingly and maliciously, and without any reasonable cause. The defendant denied all allegations. He claimed he acted in self-defense because his home and store were broken into by men whom he chased outside. When the men began throwing things at him, the shooter discharged his gun into the air. The officer rushed toward the shooter, who shot the police officer in the abdomen. The shooter claimed that he thought the officer was one of the would-be robbers. The trial court awarded the policeman $3,143. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Colorado.
Was shooter able to claim self-defense after shooting a police officer he thought was a burglar?
The Court held that the jury instruction that the shooter was liable if he assaulted the police officer was error because it failed to take into account the shooter's self-defense theory. It further held that the shooter's evidence tended to show that the circumstances surrounding the incident could lead a reasonable man to believe his life was in danger, or that he was in danger of great bodily harm, and the shooter testified that he did so believe. Therefore, the shooter's justification did not rest entirely upon proof of assault by the officer. Further, the court held that the admission into evidence of hypothetical questions relating to the officer's wound was proper, as was testimony concerning the shooter's financial condition, because exemplary damages were possible.