Felons can’t have guns or ammunition in California. There is a limited exception to this which basically allows a felon to possess a gun IF he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury, the belief is reasonable, the gun became available to the felony without any advance planning or preparation, there was no other means of avoiding the danger, and the firearm was possessed no longer that reasonable necessary to protect against the danger.
It’s an incredibly limited exception. Super specific. I’ve never seen it actually be applicable in the real world. But, that doesn’t mean that felons don’t attempt to argue possession for self-defense on a regular basis. Jury trial #23 is an example of this.
The defendant in this case had allowed the victim to park his RV on the defendant’s property and the relationship had soured. Defendant tried to get the victim to leave voluntarily but it was taking too long. On the date of this incident defendant had had enough and resorted to “eviction by bat.” Defendant went to the RV, called out the victim and told him to leave or else. The victim had different plans, and a fist fight ensued. Defendant lost and went back to his house. Defendant grabbed a shotgun, walked back to the RV and shot 2 rounds over it. There was some distance between the house and the RV as they were separated by a fence and outbuilding. When the cops arrived, the defendant was nursing a black eye and turned the gun over immediately. It had been living in his garage for several years. Defendant was a felon and was not allowed to have the gun.
The victim fled into a nearby orchard and called 911. Eviction by bat may not have worked, but eviction by gun sure did. In fact, so well that we were unable to find the victim for the jury trial at all.
Defendant tried to argue that he had acted in self-defense. That he was scared for he and his aging mother who lived with him. At the same time he acknowledged that the victim did not follow him to his house and that at the time the shots were fired he had assumed the victim was in the RV. Defendant told the jury he has possessed the gun for several years but that it belonged to his mother who lived with him.
During closing argument it was one of the few times I went completely off script, but the fact of the matter was this incident was no different than a playground fight. Getting bested in a fight, especially one that you start, doesn’t make you scared, it makes you angry. It gets your blood boiling and your start plotting your revenge. The last time I had felt that way was in 4th grade and it has stuck with me ever since. Not the need for revenge, but the humiliation that comes with losing a fight you had no business starting in the first place. As the eldest of 4 siblings I was acutely aware of that feeling and the jury was too. This wasn’t a last resort act of self-defense because the defendant had no other option to avoid serious injury or death, it was an act done out of anger and humiliation for having lost a fight. Imminent danger did not play out in this jury trial and the defendant was convicted.
Jurors have an essential role in our criminal justice system. They apply the law to the facts they find true. That doesn’t mean they check their common sense at the door and, in this case, common sense prevailed.