The Defendant here was charged with murder in the second degree. After he came upon a man hitting his brother in the head with a hammer, he stabbed what became the victim. The Defendant testified that he was in his own home when his ex-wife told him that someone was beating his brother up with a hammer down the block. Defendant testified that he ran onto the victim’s porch, tried to break up the fight, and, in the scurry, stabbed the victim in the chest with a knife.
Procedural History: “The jury acquitted defendant of second degree murder, but found him guilty of manslaughter in the first degree. Supreme Court subsequently sentenced defendant to 25 years in prison, to be followed by five years of postrelease supervision. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed the judgment of conviction (114 AD3d 1134 [4th Dept 2014]), and a Judge of this Court granted leave to appeal (23 NY3d 1044 ).” Pp. 6.
At issue here was the jury instruction of Justification and whether the initial aggressor exception to the justification defense misstates the applicable law where defendant intervened in an already existing fight. Indeed:
At the charge conference, Supreme Court indicated that it would, at defendant’s request, give a charge on the justification defense. Defendant then specifically requested that the court read the standard criminal jury instruction on justification, but exclude the portion that addressed the initial aggressor rule, because defendant did not “stand in the shoes of anybody initially involved in the fight.” Alternatively, defendant argued that, if an initial aggressor charge “were to be used at all[, it] should indicate the first person to use deadly force, not offensive force.” In contrast, the People asserted that there was “a fair view of the evidence to show that…defendant [was] acting in concert with” his brother and girlfriend, which “makes him accountable as an initial aggressor.”