Michigan Court Discusses Force Used in the Defense of Others

Under Michigan law, there are some acts that, while they form the basis of criminal charges, are justified in certain situations. For example, if a person uses force against another person, they may be charged with an assault crime, but if they took such action to protect themselves or someone else, the charges against them might be dismissed. In a recent ruling, a Michigan court discussed what evidence a criminal defendant must produce to establish the use of force was appropriate. If you are charged with assault or any other crime, it is in your best interest to confer with a skilled Michigan criminal defense attorney.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the defendants, husband, and wife, were charged with first and third-degree home invasion. The charges arose out of an incident in which they, along with the husband’s mother, went to the home of another man to pick up the mother’s partner. When they arrived, the man reportedly opened the door briefly and then grabbed the partner and dragged her into another room.

Reportedly, the husband and wife heard the partner screaming for help and entered the home without the man’s permission. A physical altercation ensued. A jury convicted the defendants as charged. They appealed, arguing that their attorneys were ineffective because they failed to request a jury instruction on the defense of others. The intermediate appellate court affirmed their convictions, and they appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Force Used in the Defense of Others

On appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court found that the defendants were prejudiced and received ineffective assistance from their attorneys and therefore remanded the case for a new trial. The court explained that under Michigan’s defense of others doctrine, a person could use force to defend another individual if they reasonably believe that the individual is in immediate danger of harm and the force is necessary to prevent that harm. If the attack reasonably appears to be deadly, deadly force is permissible.

Whether the defense of others doctrine applies depends on the facts of the case, not the charges brought against the defendant. In the subject case, the court found that the doctrine was applicable regardless of the fact the defendants were not charged with assault crimes. The court further explained that pursuant to the Constitution, criminal defendants have the right to present a defense, and errors with regard to jury instructions can interfere with this right.

Affirmative defense instructions are not automatically given to jurors following a defendant’s request, however. Instead, the defendant bears the burden of offering evidence from which the jury could find the essential elements of the defense are present. If a criminal defendant offers such evidence, the instruction should be given. In the subject case, the defendants offered evidence that they believed their use of force was necessary to prevent harm of another, but their attorneys failed to request jury instructions on the doctrine of defense of others, which the court deemed unreasonable. Thus, it reversed their conviction.

Talk to a Seasoned Michigan Criminal Defense Attorney

Actions taken in self-defense are often justified under the law, and many criminal defendants who acted in the protection of themselves and others can escape convictions. If you are accused of an assault offense, you should talk to an attorney about your potential defenses. Sam Bernstein of ArborYpsi Law is a seasoned Michigan criminal defense attorney who can assess the facts of your case and gather the evidence needed to provide you with a strong chance of a favorable result. You can contact Mr. Bernstein through the form online or by calling (734) 883-9584 to set up a meeting.

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