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Odd Conviction in Self-Defense Case in Philadelphia

I’m sure there is more to this case than the media story here is covering, but I find several things about it odd. For one, I don’t know why his attorney would have his client waive his right to trial-by-jury in a self-defense case. Any of you criminal defense lawyers out there, feel free to comment about this. I would imagine in virtually all circumstances, that a jury is going to be more likely to acquit on self-defense grounds than a judge is. Based on the media reports here, this looks like a cut and dry case of self-defense to me, meaning this is yet another case of the city frowning upon people defending themselves. I’m surprised the Daily News reporter is surprised by this:

The case underscores how uncertain the claim of self-defense can be, even in a state that revised its “Castle Doctrine” last year to give an individual the right to use deadly force in self-defense anywhere in which a person has a legal right to be.

Such was the case before castle doctrine, and such will continue to be the case after castle doctrine, because the honest truth is that the castle doctrine laws in the various states don’t change that much in regards to the standards that have to be met for self-defense. Because there’s a reasonableness element to it, it’s always going to be subject to some degree of uncertainty in some cases, as to whether one’s perception of the threat was reasonable.

You have to wonder if a lot of reporters really bought into the chicken little nonsense from the gun control crowd and the D.A. association.

16 Responses to “Odd Conviction in Self-Defense Case in Philadelphia”

  1. David says:

    I can tell you, in Berks County, sometimes you’d want a bench trial if your skin is darker than that of the all white jury. Especially if your victim is white and from the suburbs. Juries will go hard on these defendants.

    • Sebastian says:

      I can buy that, but that’s a sad state of affairs.

      • David says:

        I was in the court house elevator with a defendant and a his conflict council attorney. The attorney turns to this kids and says “What the hell were you thinking? That jury is going to be all white, all from the suburbs, and all with jobs. They’re going to blame you for rising taxes, increased crime, and falling property values. And they hope to hell their daughter never brings someone like you home. These are the last people you want deciding your fate and for some stupid reason you wanted a jury trial” Turns out the attorney was right, this kids was found guilty of all charges. Even “a little bit” of weed can become a life marring felony when you’re caught in a school zone.

        • thefirstndsecond says:

          Don’t break the law and you won’t have to worry about a little bit o’weed will ya?

          • Matthew Carberry says:

            Regardless of guilt, punishments should fit the crime, not drag in existential angst on the part of juries.

  2. terraformer says:

    Based on the news article you linked to, the judge made some serious errors. The criminal history of the assailant can be used to determine the likeliness of who started the altercation. This judge is a mess.

  3. Bram says:

    I’m guessing it was a court-appointed attorney.

  4. Ian Argent says:

    If he didn’t deploy the knife until he was on the ground, that’s a valid use of deadly force almost any place, regardless of castle doctrine. It would (to my mind, it even meets the bar for use of deadly force per the NJ jury instructions: to wit, retreat not possible and attacker has used deadly force. Once you are on the bottom of a grapple on pavement, the ground is a deadly weapon due to blunt force trauma.) Stab wound in the back are indicative of nothing particular in this case, as the back of the guy on top is easier to stab than his front.

  5. Jake says:

    IANAL, but I work for one, and what I see is that often with a bench trial, if there is a conviction the prosecutor will recommend a sentence according to the state’s guidelines and the judge will agree without any issues, but with a jury trial prosecutors will leave any sentencing decisions up to the jury, which leaves the risk that they will impose the maximum sentence even if the situation would clearly justify the minimum (or less). Also, a defense attorney can usually work out a lighter sentence with the prosecutor in a bench trial, but doesn’t get to negotiate sentencing with the jury. I frequently see cases where the statute says (for example) “5-10 years”, but the guidelines and the prosecutor say “6 months plus a year of probation”. Why risk a jury looking at the statute and saying “well, 5 years is the minimum, so we’re not going lower”? (FYI, in VA, I believe the judge has to justify imposing a sentence outside the guidelines in a bench trial, but not in a jury trial if that’s what the jury recommends, and does have to justify imposing something other than the jury’s decision.)

    • Sebastian says:

      Yeah, that makes sense, I would think, if you thought you had a weak case. But this, as described in the article, looks like slam-dunk self-defense. Unless there’s details the media doesn’t understand or doesn’t know.

      • Jake says:

        I suspect there are details the media doesn’t understand (do they ever?) and/or doesn’t know. Something’s just not right with this story. There’s a hint in the story of testimony that Lowe may have been taunting Manning after stabbing him. While that doesn’t necessarily show malicious intent, I wonder if his attorney may have thought that would hurt his case less with a judge than a jury – my impression is that judges are more likely to stick to technical factors and strict interpretation of the law (because there can be consequences to their careers if they’re reversed too often) and that juries are more likely to be swayed by emotional arguments.

        On the other hand (barring some damning information that we don’t have), this looks like a case that’s very good for an appeal.

        • Ian Argent says:

          There pretty much has to be info we don’t know.

        • Ed says:

          “I wonder if his attorney may have thought that would hurt his case less with a judge than a jury – my impression is that judges are more likely to stick to technical factors and strict interpretation of the law (because there can be consequences to their careers if they’re reversed too often) and that juries are more likely to be swayed by emotional arguments.”

          I am a lawyer, though not doing much criminal law anymore, and this pretty much sums it up.

          If you’r innocent on legal grounds I want a judge (same goes for any case, really). They’ve heard a worse case than you, probably this week, so they don’t usually get emotionally involved and will really consider the legal points. Juries I want for a sympathetic client, someone who presents well, especially if innocence hinges on factual issues that come down to who the jury thinks is lying less. Or, if the law is fairly simple but the facts are messy, juries seem more willing to let a defendant go under “innocent because this is too hard to figure out who’s right”.

  6. The news account sounds like a relatively clear cut self-defense case. WTF?

  7. Templar223 says:

    This certainly seems to have reasonable doubt written all over it!

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