A person who believes that the force he uses is necessary to prevent imminent unlawful harm is justified in using such force if his belief is a correct belief; that is to say, if his belief corresponds with what actually is the case. If, on the other hand, a person reasonably but incorrectly believes that the force he uses is necessary to protect himself against imminent harm, his use of force is excused.
Defendant was convicted of manslaughter as a result of the stabbing and killing of her husband after a night of drinking and arguing. On appeal, the court reversed, holding that the trial court's instruction on the issue of self-defense was a misstatement of the law concerning a vital issue in her defense and amounted to reversible error requiring a new trial. The case was remanded for new trial.
Did the trial court err in failing to consider whether the circumstances were sufficient to induce in the defendant an honest and reasonable belief that she must use force to defend herself against imminent harm?
The court held that defendant's conduct was not to be judged by what a reasonably cautious person would or would not do or consider necessary to do under the like circumstances, but what defendant in good faith honestly believed and had reasonable ground to believe was necessary for her to do in order to protect herself from apprehended death or great bodily injury. The trial court should have directed the jury to assume the physical and psychological properties peculiar to defendant and then decide whether or not the particular circumstances surrounding her at the time she used force were sufficient to create in her mind a sincere and reasonable belief that the use of force was necessary to protect herself from imminent and unlawful harm.