New York Court Looks at Justification Defense in Recent Assault Case

As we have discussed, the defense of justification, or self-defense is one of the most important defenses that exist in New York criminal law.  Once the defense of self defense is raised the burden is on the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.  Recently, the Appellate Division, Second Department in New York denied a defendant’s appeal in a 2019 assault case in which the defense of self-defense was raised. Faced with the defendant’s appeal, the court looked at the entire trial record to see if it agreed with the defendant’s claim that he acted in self-defense. The Court pointed out that many of the issues raised on appeal were unpreserved for appellate review.  Ultimately deciding the defendant’s argument was not persuasive, however, the court denied his appeal and kept the defendant’s original conviction and sentence in place.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant faced criminal charges after he hit the victim of his in the face with an unknown hard object. The defendant hit the acquaintance multiple times with the object, then proceeded to punch him in the face. After the incident, the victim was rushed to the hospital, where he received emergency treatment and reconstructive surgery for his injuries.

The State charged the defendant with assault in the first degree. His case went to trial, after which a group of jurors unanimously found him guilty. The court sentenced the defendant to time in prison, and he promptly appealed. The higher court issued a decision on the appeal in July 2023.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal, the defendant argued that the victim was the person who attacked him first. Essentially, the defendant was claiming that he acted in self-defense and, therefore, had a complete defense to the crimes charged. This argument is a type of defense that permits the defendant to argue that he was legally justified in using violence because of the violence committed against him. Here, said the defendant, while it was clear that he was guilty of hurting the victim, this violence was justified because he had to defend himself against the victim’s aggressive actions.

The court looked at the trial record to see if there was evidence to support this claim. Ultimately, the Court ruled that there was enough evidence that they would not disturb the juries findings.  The State had fulfilled its burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of assault in the first degree, and that the defense was not applicable.

Given this conclusion, the court denied the defendant’s appeal and affirmed the lower court’s decision on the defendant’s sentence.

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