One of the most important tools an Illinois criminal lawyer can use to prove that his client did not commit a simple or aggravated battery, domestic battery, simple or aggravated assault, or homicide, is the self-defense argument. Successfully proving self-defense acts as an absolute bar to jail time, finding of guilt, or conviction and can also discourage your accuser from filing a civil lawsuit against you. Most people know what self-defense is when they see it, however, the Illinois self-defense law has specific guidelines that must be met in Court to determine whether the force you used was legal or illegal. This article discusses some ways to help prove that you used force only to defend yourself and are therefore not guilty.
One day, Paul Lynch's physically and mentally handicapped son (Junior) took Ernest Bell's car without his permission and totalled it. Bell demanded money to repair the car, but Lynch didn't have it. Bell was very angry and said that he would either get his money or kill Junior. Several days later, Bell showed up at Junior's apartment with another man named Howard. Both were bigger than Lynch, both had been drinking, and it wasn't long before a verbal argument ensued. According to Lynch, after about 15 minutes of arguing, Howard said "I don't have to sit here and listen to this goddamn bullshit any further" and lunged forward, reaching behind his back and underneath his coat with his right hand. Lynch, thinking that Howard was going to shoot him, pulled his gun and shot Howard dead. Lynch was charged with murder.
The case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court. In it's opinion, and in other cases like it, Illinois Courts give clear guidelines for ways to prove self-defense in addition to the facts and details surrounding the actual fight:
1. Show that the person accusing you was the true aggressor by offering evidence of his violent character. In Paul Lynch's case, the Court thought it important that Bell and Howard both made threatening remarks before Lynch pulled his gun. Do you have a history with the person now accusing you of battery or homicide? Have they threatened or attacked you before? If so, this would support your claim that you, in your mind, reasonably believed you had to either use force in self-defense or suffer a physical attack.
What is truly powerful about the Lynch case for defendants accused of battery, aggravated battery, or homicide, is that you can use your accuser's criminal background to prove that your accuser is a violent person even if you did not know about his criminal history at the time you defended yourself. In Lynch's case, for example, Howard had three prior battery convictions, with one conviction coming just six weeks before the homicide. Many clients are amazed at how often checking an accuser's criminal background reveals information that supports their self-defense claim. This is why investigation is so important in battery and homicide cases and why I often use trusted private investigators to learn the facts about a client's accuser.
Just because your accuser has threatened you before or you know that he has been convicted in the past does not mean that you can automatically use this as evidence; use of the evidence is subject to the judge's discretion and the Illinois rules of evidence. A written Motion In-Limine should be filed providing the judge with the legal suport, cases, laws, and analysis that will allow your judge to feel comfortable admitting the accuser's character and past events into evidence. This course of action has the added benefit of gauging the judge's attitude towards your case.
2. Video never lies. Video is everywhere and in some cases can prove that the force you used was in self-defense. Obtaining video proving that the charges against an accused are false is one of the most professionally satisfying experiences I have ever had as a Chicago criminal lawyer. Video is routinely destroyed, however, so it is important to issue a subpoena as quickly as possible if you want to preserve it. Like video, if there were witnesses to the altercation, it is important that they be interviewed as soon as possible before the government gets to them and either intimidates them or twists their words.
3. Your size, health, and fighting ability compared with the person accusing you can also be relevant in proving that you had to use force in self-defense. In Illinois v. Shipp, for example, the Court considered the case of a battered woman whose husband beat and threatened her on multiple occasions before she finally snapped and shot him to death. The battered woman was charged with voluntary manslaughter and she claimed self-defense. In considering her self-defense argument the Court said that "The [dead husband] was physically far larger and more powerful than the defendant...Her terror was both reasonable and complete."
4. Your past can hurt you in court. The use of a history of violence is a double edged sword; just as you can use it against your accuser, so too can your accuser use it against you. The legal protections afforded to a criminally accused defendant, however, are substantially greater than those of an accuser. If the government has knowledge of crimes of violence in your background such as battery or assault you must file a written Motion asking the judge to bar use of your criminal history and providing him with the legal cases and laws saying that such evidence against you is unfairly prejudicial.
As a nation founded by fighters, the United States has a strong legal tradition of honoring the right to self-defense. This right goes as far back as the Roman Empire. Under Roman law, individuals had a right to defend themselves and their property. One provision in the Codex Justinianus regarding defending oneself from an assailant reads: "Let him suffer the death which he threatened and incur that which he intended." Today, Illinois law builds on this tradition. If you have been accused of simple battery, aggravated battery, assault, aggravated assault, homicide, or nearly any other type of violent crime, you can turn to these principles for protection.