Harold Fish conviction reversed
Pdf of AZ Ct of Appeals ruling here. To shave a long opinion to its core--
Fish was hiking, saw another guy, waved, other guy's dogs charged him, he fired a warning shot. Then the other guy charged him, crazed look in eyes, windmilling arms and shouting threats. Fish shouted to halt and, that having no effect, shot him fatally.
Major issue on appeal: trial court refused to allow testimony from several other people that other guy, upon confrontation relating to his dogs, had rushed at them, crazed look in eyes, arms windmilling and shouting threats.
Ruling: general rule is that self defense must be based on reasonable fear, and reasonable fear cannot be based upon something the defender doesn't know (in this case, that the guy tended to go off balance with regard his dogs and behaving in a threatening way). Arizona case had allowed court to admit unknown events, in its discretion, but adoption of the federal rules of evidence (which have no such provision) as the state rules ended that. HOWEVER, the prosecution, by arguing that Fish's claim that other guy behaved so crazily was ridiculous, opened the door to Fish bringing in evidence that that was, in fact, how the guy had behaved in the past. Conviction reversed and sent back for new trial.
UPDATE: yup, this was the case that led to a change in the statutes on self defense -- previously self defense was an affirmative defense, meaning that (like insanity, etc.) the defendant had to prove it, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely true than not). During this case, the legislature modified the law so that justification defenses, including self-defense, had to be disproven, beyond a reasonable doubt, by the prosecution. Problem was the legislature gummed it up, and forgot to include a clause making the change retroactive, and the court held that the legislature *can* make a liberalized defense retroactive, it must give some indication of this intent, there was none here, ergo Fish would be tried under the law as it existed at the time of the shooting. There's now a move to pass a statute that would clarify a retroactive intent.
"Reasonable fear" ... may write a separate post on this. It's rather strange, I can't offhand think of another defense where what matters is what you *think*, but not how things *are*. To prove self-defense you must prove a reasonable fear that the other guy was going to inflict death or serious bodily harm. At least, that's been the US standard since the early 19th century. So....
Guy bashes in your door one night, comes at you, you shoot in reasonable belief he means you serious harm. Turns out he was staggering drunk, thought he was breaking into his own house. You have a defense since you feared serious harm and it was reasonable to do so (even though in fact you may not have been endangered).
Officer stops guy, guy has crazy look, reaches for something, officer shoots. Afterward it turns out guy has a murder warrant, killed last officer who stopped him, clearly did mean to kill this one, too. BUT officer didn't know that when he shot. In practice, he'd not be prosecuted, and the jury would walk him anyway, BUT in theory, were it tried, officer would only be allowed to prove the basis of his fear -- that guy looked crazy and seemed to reach for something -- and jury would only consider whether those two facts were sufficient cause to shoot him. That he in fact was a fleeing cop killer would not be allowed in evidence. The officer didn't know that, so it could not have formed a basis for him to fear for his life.
I don't say the above makes great sense, logically, but it's the way the law works just now. I've had proposals for statutory amendments to cure it, and may write an article on the subject.