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In The Media :

What evidence is required to present self-defense in Illinois? (Part 3)

This is Part Three of our article relating to what evidence is required to present Self-Defense in Illinois. Self-Defense is an affirmative defense. If you are charged with a crime in Springfield, Illinois, Decatur, Illinois or anywhere else in Central Illinois, contact our Criminal Defense Attorneys at (217) 414-8889 for a Free Initial Consultation.

Part One can be found here and Part Two can be found here.

It is the defendant’s perception of the danger, and not the actual danger, that is dispositive where the defense is self-defense.  The reasonableness of a defendant’s subjective belief that he was justified in using deadly force is a question of fact for the trier.  The reviewing court will not disturb a jury verdict unless the evidence is palpably contrary to the verdict or so unreasonably improbable, or unsatisfactory, that it justifies entertaining a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.  People v. Sawyer, 115 Ill. 2d 184, 104 Ill. Dec. 774, 503 N.E.2d 331 (1986).

To raise the defense of self-defense successfully, the defendant is required to present at least some evidence in support of each of the following elements: (1) the victim threatened force against the defendant; (2) defendant was the aggressor; (3) the danger of harm was imminent; (4) the force the victim threatened was unlawful; (5) defendant actually believed that (a) a danger existed, (b) force was necessary to avert the danger, and (c) the amount of force defendant used was necessary; and (6) these beliefs were reasonable. Once the defense is raised, a question of fact arises concerning whether the defendant’s belief was reasonable. The burden then shifts to the state to prove the defendant’s use of force was not justified.  People v. Clarke, 245 Ill. App. 3d 99, 184 Ill. Dec. 191, 612 N.E.2d 1351 (2d Dist. 1993).

Where a defendant pleads self-defense, it is sufficient to acquit him if his evidence on self-defense, when taken with all the other evidence in the case, creates a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.  People v. Perkins, 11 Ill. App. 3d 828, 297 N.E.2d 669 (1st Dist. 1973).

A defendant may assert the affirmative defense of defense of person when (1) unlawful force was threatened against him or the person he was defending, (2) defendant was not the aggressor, (3) defendant believed that danger of harm was imminent, (4) the use of force was necessary to avert the danger, and (5) the amount of force used was appropriate. The defense can only be raised if defendant presents some evidence regarding each element. Once the issue is raised, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant did not act in self-defense.  Only one element need be negated. If the trier of fact has determined that the state has negated beyond a reasonable doubt any one of the elements justifying the use of force, then the state has carried its burden of proof. The trier of fact’s decision on the issue of self-defense will not be disturbed on review unless the decision is so improbable or unsatisfactory as to raise a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt. People v. Shields, 298 Ill. App. 3d 943, 233 Ill. Dec. 67, 700 N.E.2d 168 (1st Dist. 1998).

Since the accused’s subjective belief is at issue, evidence that shows the accused’s state of mind is admissible. Such evidence can include prior incidents with the assailant, threats, or evidence tending to show the accused had a particular reason to be more fearful than another person might. The accused and assailant’s physical size, health, or mental condition may be relevant. See: People v. Shipp, 367 N.E.2d 966 (2d Dist. 1977).

The self-defense instruction must be given whenever “some evidence,” whether presented by the prosecution or defense, has raised the issue. People v. Wells, 442 N.E.2d 1341 (5th Dist. 1982). Once self-defense is raised, either by the prosecution or the defense, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt it was not self-defense. People v. Rorer, 358 N.E.2d 681 (5th Dist. 1976).

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