People v Petty, 2006 NY Slip Op 05232 [available here]
In an opinion that escaped my attention when it was handed down about a month ago, the Court of Appeals held that a trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury that a victim's prior threats could be considered by the jury not only in determining the reasonableness of defendant's conduct but also to determine whether the victim was the initial aggressor for justification purposes. Yes, I just started a post with a 66-word sentence.
The defendant in People v Petty shot his victim in the back of the neck. At trial, the defendant argued that his use of force was justified based on the victim's prior threats against defendant's life. Defense counsel asked that the jury be charged that these prior threats could be considered in determining whether the victim was the initial aggressor. The trial court refused to give the requested charge, and instructed the jury instead that the prior threats were relevant only in determining the reasonableness of defendant's use of force. From the Court's opinion:
Here, having instructed the jury on the use of Torrence's prior threats against defendant for the purpose of determining defendant's reasonableness, the trial court, based on this Court's long-standing precedent, should have also instructed the jury that, for its initial aggressor determination, it was permitted to use the prior threats that it heard throughout the trial.
(People v Petty, 2006 NY Slip Op 05232.)
Despite finding error, the Court declined to reverse defendant's conviction; the Court concluded that the People disproved the justification defense beyond a reasonable doubt and the charging error was therefore harmless. (Id. at __.)