In Washington, D.C. murder cases, the defendant's attorney may argue that the defendant was acting in self-defense when they took another person's life, and, therefore, not guilty of murder. The defendant's attorney has the burden of raising self-defense as a defense to the charge, and the prosecution must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the defendant's actions were murder, not self-defense.
Requirements for Self-Defense in D.C.
The Criminal Jury Instructions for the District of Columbia lists two very specific requirements in D.C. Pattern Instruction 9.503 that the defense must meet to prove that the defendant acted in self-defense.
The first requirement is that the defendant must reasonably believe that they are in danger of serious bodily harm or death. "Serious bodily injury" refers to physical injuries that require immediate medical attention or hospitalization. To meet the standard of "reasonable," the defense must show that another person in the same situation would act the same way.
The second requirement is that the defendant must reasonably believe that "deadly force is necessary to repel the danger." The danger of serious bodily injury or death must be imminent, not at some future time.
No Obligation to Retreat
Washington, D.C. law does not require a person to consider retreating or actually retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. However, the law requires a person to "reasonably" step back or walk away to avoid taking another person's life, as long as the defendant can take those steps and preserve their own safety.
In Dawkins v. United States, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals specified that the jury must consider if the defendant has the opportunity to retreat before using deadly force, regardless of the defendant's earlier actions. In this case. Mr. Dawkins got into an argument with Mr. Brisbon while Mr. Brisbon was in a vehicle. Mr. Brisbon exited the vehicle and went to the back of it, and Mr. Dawkins followed him. Mr. Brisbon punched Mr. Dawkins, starting a fistfight. During this fight, Mr. Dawkins stabbed Mr. Brisbon in the neck, and Mr. Brisbon died soon after.
Mr. Dawkins was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, but the District of Columbia Court of Appeals overturned this, stating, "The jury's proper temporal focus is the time at which a defendant employs deadly force or has possible justification (based on a reasonable belief that he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury) to do so,” rather than the defendant's ability to retreat at any time during the encounter.
Have You Been Charged With Murder in Washington, D.C.?
Manslaughter and murder charges are very serious criminal charges in Washington, D.C., and you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your freedom. The attorneys at S.L. England, PLLC, understand that self-defense sometimes results in the loss of another person's life, but this does not make you guilty of murder. We can build the strongest defense for you and effectively argue your case to the judge or jury. Call us today at (202) 572-1020 or contact us online.