State v. Faulkner

The Facts

Defendant was engaged with an argument between two brothers that escalated into a fight with one brother.  Defendant believed that one brother had a knife and pulled out his handgun as a result and began shooting.  Defendant, however, shot the other brother as he tried to remove his brother from the line of fire.  The testimony conflicts greatly regarding why defendant believed one of the brothers had a knife and who was acting in self-defense.

Procedural History

Defendant charged with assault with intent to murder.  At trial the jury was instructed was instructed that justification by way of self-defense and reduced sentences by way of “hot-blooded response to the provocation of mutual combat.”  The jury was not instructed on imperfect self-defense.  Defendant found guilty of assault with intent to murder.


Imperfect self-defense is a partial defense.  “Its chief characteristic is that it operates to negate malice, an element the State must prove to establish murder.  As a result, the successful invocation of this doctrine does not completely exonerate the defendant, but mitigates murder to voluntary manslaughter.”  It can operate in homicide cases where defendant initiated the violent physical scuffle, but then acted in self-defense by killing.  It can operate where defendant made killed because of an “unreasonable belief that he was about to suffer death or serious bodily harm.”  Courts also recognize the doctrine when defendant used unreasonable force in self-defense.

The Issue

“Whether Maryland recognizes the mitigation defense, and if so, whether that defense applies to the statutory offense of assault with intent to murder.”

The Holding/Reasoning

Yes.  Defendant should be entitled to an imperfect self-defense instruction.  The imperfect self-defense doctrine is appropriate.  States that recognize the doctrine have “adopted the subjectively honest but objectively unreasonable standard of the imperfect self-defense doctrine.”  It requires, in other words, that the defendant subjectively believe that his use of force was reasonable, while his use of force would in reality be objectively unreasonable as determined by an ordinary person.  A person who subjectively believes his force is reasonable is not acting with the malice required for a murder conviction.  However, he should not be acquitted on the basis of this defense because the killing is not fully justified or excused.

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