People v. Humphrey Case Brief

Summary of People v. Humphrey
S. Ct. California, 1996

Self Defense

Relevant Facts: Df and boyfriend lived together. The day before the incident they went for a drive, and the victim had been drinking. He continued hitting her throughout the day stating he would kill her. That night he aimed a gun toward her and shot missing her but striking the window and tree outside. The next day he got drunk, began swearing at her, claimed he wouldn’t miss her the next time he shot at her, and started hitting her again. Believing that he was going for the gun, she picked it up first and aimed it at her. When he reached for something she shot him. He later died Neighbors claimed to have heard his abusive language, and the previous days shot fired. His blood contained no alcohol or drugs, she had .17 BAC.

Legal Issue(s): Whether a jury should consider a reasonable person, or a reasonable battered woman, would believe in the need to kill to prevent imminent harm.

[Evidence of battered woman’s syndrome should be considered to support a claim of self defense to a manslaughter charge?]

Court’s Holding: Reasonable person. & Evidence BWS to support reasonableness of her belief.

Procedure: Jury found df guilty of voluntary manslaughter w/ use of firearm. Ct. App. reversed. S. Ct. reinstated voluntary manslaughter.

Law or Rule(s): For a killing to be in self defense the df must actually and reasonably believe in the need to defend. If df acted without malice df cannot be convicted of murder, but manslaughter [subjective belief but objectively unreasonable.]

Court Rationale: The circumstances must be sufficient to excite fears of a reasonable person, the fear must be of imminent harm, not future harm. A jury must consider what would appear to be necessary to a reasonable person in a similar situation and with similar knowledge. Reasonableness is judged from the point of view of a reasonable person in the position of the df. The trial ct allowed the jury to consider the BWS evidence in deciding whether the df actually believed she needed to kill in self defense. The standard is that of a reasonable person, not a reasonable battered woman, would believe in the need to kill to prevent imminent harm.

Plaintiff’s Argument: df shot and killed the victim without being in imminent fear of harm, only fear of some future harm.

Defendant’s Argument: df shot the victim in self defense based on past experiences and occurrences with a reasonable fear of harm.

Comm law = v. Manslaughter = while in heat of passion, with reasonable provocation, with no cooling off period, causes the death of another.

MPC = manslaughter= A) reckless (conscious disregard for a known and substantial risk of death; B) Homicide committed under extreme emotional or mental distress for which there is a reasonable explanation.

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