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Washington Court Finds Jury Instruction in Excusable Homicide is Unnecessary

On Behalf of | Jan 21, 2019 | General Defense Info

While ending someone’s life is typically a brutal and traumatizing event, it is not always viewed as murder by the law. For example, in many cases, self-defense is a valid defense to a murder charge. In cases where one person accidentally kills another person, it may not be murder, but it could result in a conviction for other charges. It is essential for anyone facing murder charges to retain an attorney who will thoroughly explain to the jury any defense for the defendant’s actions.

The Supreme Court of Washington recently analyzed whether the court erred in failing to instruct the jury on excusable homicide, in Washington v. Henderson, a case where the defendant argued he killed the victim in self-defense. If you are charged with a crime, you should meet with a skilled Washington criminal defense attorney to discuss your available defenses.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the defendant and his victim were involved in a verbal altercation at a gas station. At one point, the victim lunged at the defendant and appeared to reach for his pocket. The defendant then drew a gun from his pocket and shot and killed the victim. He was subsequently charged with felony murder based on second-degree assault with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the defendant argued he was acting in self-defense and accidentally killed the victim. The court instructed the jury in justifiable homicide but not in excusable homicide. The jury convicted the defendant after which he appealed, arguing the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury in excusable homicide. The court of appeals reversed, after which the State petitioned the Supreme Court of Washington for review.

Excusable Homicide

On review, the court noted that criminal defendants are entitled to have the jury fully instructed on the theories of defense set forth in the case. The court stated, however, that the general consensus is that the defense of excusable homicide, unlike other defenses, adds little to a jury’s analysis. The court explained that excusable homicide is merely a description and is reserved for cases where the defendant kills someone purely by accident, without any criminal negligence. The court found that, in contrast, an instruction on the defense of justifiable homicide advises the jury that for the defense to apply they must find the defendant believed the victim intended to commit a felony or inflict death or personal injury. Here, the court found the defendant was able to adequately set forth his theory of defense under the instruction given. As such, the court affirmed his conviction.

Discuss Your Case with a Trusted Washington Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a crime, it is important to know what defenses are available and to retain a Washington criminal defense attorney that will attempt to ensure that the jury is properly advised of any theory of defense during the trial. The trusted criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith and White will analyze the facts surrounding your charges and help you to develop a strong defense under the given circumstances. We can be reached at 253-363-8662 or through our online form to schedule a meeting.