People v. Goetz

68 N.Y.2d 96, 506 N.Y.S.2d 18, 497 N.E.2d 41 (1986)



The jury must first determine whether the defendant had the requisite beliefs under the law, that is, whether he believed deadly force was necessary to avert the imminent use of deadly force or the commission of one of the felonies enumerated therein. If the People do not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not have such beliefs, then the jury must also consider whether these beliefs were reasonable. The jury would have to determine, in light of all the "circumstances" if a reasonable person could have had these beliefs.


A Grand Jury indicted defendant on attempted murder, assault, and criminal possession of a weapon for having shot and wounded four youths on a subway train after one or two of the youths approached him and asked for money. 

On December 31, 1984, Goetz surrendered to police in Concord, New Hampshire, identifying himself as the gunman being sought for the subway shootings in New York nine days earlier. Later that day, after receiving Miranda warnings, he made two lengthy statements, both of which were tape recorded with his permission. According to Goetz's statement, the first contact he had with the four youths came when Canty, sitting or lying on the bench across from him, asked "how are you," to which he replied "fine." Shortly thereafter, Canty, followed by one of the other youths, walked over to the defendant and stood to his left, while the other two youths remained to his right, in the corner of the subway car. Canty then said "give me five dollars." Goetz stated that he knew from the smile on Canty's face that they wanted to "play with me." Although he was certain that none of the youths had a gun, he had a fear, based on prior experiences, of being "maimed."


Does the belief that a person is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, as an element of self-defense, depend solely on the defendant's state of mind?




The reviewing court held that although N.Y. Penal Law § 35.15, and its predecessors, never required that an actor's belief as to the intention of another person to inflict serious injury be correct in order for the use of deadly force to be justified, the provisions had uniformly required that the belief comport with an objective notion of reasonableness. 

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