Articles Posted in Self Defense

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.

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Under Washington law, self-defense is a valid defense to an assault charge. If a jury is not properly instructed on the law regarding self-defense, however, a defendant may be improperly convicted. In Washington v. Backemeyer, the Court of Appeals of the State of Washington overturned the Defendant’s conviction for assault and granted him a new trial after finding the defense counsel performed deficiently in failing to ensure the jury received a proper self-defense instruction, which was prejudicial to the Defendant. If you face assault charges, it is essential to your case to retain an attorney who is well-versed in the defenses to the crime you are charged with and can adequately convey the defenses to the jury. You should consult a seasoned Washington assault defense attorney to discuss your options.

Facts of the Case

Allegedly, in Backemeyer, the Defendant was in a bar when he was asked to leave by an individual who identified himself as a bouncer. The Defendant told the bouncer to leave him alone and began pushing the bouncer, after which the bouncer pushed the Defendant to the floor and got on top of him. The Defendant, who was significantly smaller than the bouncer, pulled out a knife and began cutting the bouncer. The Defendant was subsequently charged with first-degree assault with a deadly weapon. During the trial, the Defendant testified he was afraid of being seriously injured and was acting in self-defense, and that he did not know the bouncer was a bar employee.


In criminal law, there are certain issues in which the defendant’s state of mind or knowledge are vitally important matters to determining his level of guilt. In other areas, the defendant’s mental state is completely irrelevant. This distinction is what unraveled one Navy seaman’s defense against a charge of assault on a police officer. The seaman sought a self-defense jury instruction, based upon his alleged lack of knowledge that the man detaining him was a police officer. The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling because, in the seaman’s case, it didn’t matter what he did or didn’t know about the officer. It only mattered that the officer’s detainment of him was lawful, which the seaman did not contest.

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A famous song from the 1960s, borrowing from Jewish and Christian scriptures, states that there is a “time to every purpose under heaven.” Encounters with police can be like that. Which is to say, when interacting with the police, there is a time to be very forthcoming, and there is a time to refrain from speaking. Suffice it to say, whatever the specifics of your situation may be, the first thing you say when you encounter a law enforcement officer should probably not be, “I did it.” One man from southwestern Washington made that mistake in his case, a case in which the Washington Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.

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A spilled beer at a bar escalated to a physical conflict and ultimately led to a customer’s stabbing of a guard. In the customer’s assault trial, he argued unsuccessfully for a jury instruction about self-defense. The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the decision not to issue the instruction. The law requires the defendant to have evidence of three things in order to warrant the instruction, and this defendant had none of the three.

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If you or a friend or relative has been accused of a crime, there are many things about which to concern yourself in the criminal trial. One of these is ensuring that your case includes all of the defenses allowed by the law, possibly including self-defense. You are entitled to request that your jury receive an instruction on self-defense if there is enough evidence in your case to create a reasonable possibility that your actions were in self-defense. As a recent Washington Court of Appeals decision makes clear, it doesn’t matter if the evidence that potentially raises the issue of self-defense comes from your case or the prosecution’s case. If the evidence is validly before the court, and it raises the possibility that you acted in self-defense, the jury should be instructed on self-defense.

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A recent case involving an alcohol-fueled quarrel that devolved into a knife attack, while yielding an outcome unfavorable to the woman accused of assault, offers some helpful information on the law of self-defense in assault cases. The Washington Court of Appeals decision, which upheld the set of jury instructions the trial judge gave before the jury found the woman guilty, demonstrates what a claim of self-defense may and may not mean in a criminal trial in relation to the instructions the judge gives the jury. In this case, the instructions were not worthy of reversal because the instructions the judge gave were justified by the evidence, and they did nothing to impede the accused woman’s ability to present her defense fully.

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