Thursday, July 3, 2008
The Utah Supreme Court reversed a manslaughter conviction in a case that arose out of a dispute among a group of people using cocaine. The victim teased the defendant for smoking, rather than snorting, the cocaine. Matters got worse when the victim threw the defendant down as he was urinating (the victim had been a competitive wrestler). The victim later threw cold water, attempted to get him to drink hot water, and, in the ultimate insult, administered a "wedgie" on the defendant. The shooting that caused the victim's death occurred within seconds of the "wedgie."
The defendant was charged with an array of offenses including murder. He was convicted of only a concealed weapons offense at a first trial. At a second trial, he was convicted of manslaughter. He had claimed self-defense, claiming that the victim had pointed a weapon at him. The jury was instructed, over defendant's objection, on imperfect self-defense and extreme emotional distress. Under Utah law, findings based on those instructions reduce murder to manslaughter.
The court reversed the conviction because imperfect self-defense and extreme emotional distress manslaughter are affirmative defenses. Defendant did not raise these affirmative defenses and no evidence was presented to support such claims. Indeed, the court observed, the defendant had endured the hazing with equanimity and did not claim to be upset. (Mike Frisch)