From Michigan Supreme Courtroom Justice Bridget McCormack’s majority opinion (for 4 of the seven Justices) delivered Thursday in Individuals v. Gafken:
[W]hile fleeing from police, Theresa Gafken ran a crimson gentle at speeds topping 100 miles per hour and collided with different automobiles, killing one individual and inflicting extreme accidents to a number of others; Gafken was additionally injured. The prosecution charged her with second-degree homicide, and two counts of working a automobile whereas intoxicated (OWI) inflicting critical impairment of a physique operate.
Earlier than trial, Gafken moved to permit sure testimony. Particularly, she requested to be allowed to testify that she supposed to tug over when the police officer activated his overheard lights and that she did not achieve this as a result of Michael Scandalito, who was sitting behind her, then thrust a gun into her ribs and threatened to kill her if she stopped the automotive. She additionally wished to testify that Scandalito was on parole and being hunted for a parole-violation warrant and had dedicated aggravated assault towards his mom whereas in a methamphetamine rage….
The bulk held that the testimony ought to have been admitted, and Gafken ought to have been ready to make use of the duress protection primarily based on that testimony. This is the guts of the brief majority opinion, although there may be additionally an attention-grabbing and rather more detailed concurrence, plus three detailed dissents.
“The weather of second-degree homicide are: (1) a demise, (2) brought on by an act of the defendant, (3) with malice, and (4) with out justification or excuse.” Malice could also be established in 3 ways: by displaying (1) the intent to kill, (2) the intent to trigger nice bodily hurt, or (3) the intent to do an act in wanton and willful disregard of the chance that the pure tendency of such conduct is to trigger demise or nice bodily hurt…. The prosecution charged Gafken solely beneath the third principle of malice, generally known as depraved-heart homicide.
“Duress is a common-law affirmative protection.” … “The rationale of the protection of duress is that, for causes of social coverage, it’s higher that the defendant, confronted with a selection of evils, select to do the lesser evil (violate the prison legislation) with the intention to keep away from the better evil threatened by the opposite individual.” …
“[H]istorically, duress was not permitted as an affirmative protection to homicide.” [In the words of] Lord Matthew Hale and William Blackstone, “[T]hough a person be violently assaulted, and hath no different doable technique of escaping demise, however by killing an harmless individual; this concern and pressure shall not acquit him of homicide; for he ought somewhat to die himself, than escape by the homicide of an harmless.”‘ … The rationale for the no-duress-defense-for-murder rule is … absent when depraved-heart homicide is charged. Wicked-heart homicide doesn’t current the selection between sparing one’s personal life or taking the lifetime of an harmless. It’s not kill or be killed. Fairly, the selection introduced right here is …: lose one’s life or commit a lesser felony than intentional homicide (right here, reckless driving and fleeing from legislation enforcement).
Though it has usually been repeated that duress isn’t a protection to “murder” or “homicide,” we now have acknowledged that that is a very broad assertion of the rule. As an alternative, the no-duress-defense-for-murder rule has been restricted to circumstances of intentional homicide traditionally.
To make certain, some authority from different jurisdictions sounds in a broad rule—that duress isn’t a protection to “homicide” with out qualification. See, e.g., Individuals v Anderson (Cal. 2002) (“duress isn’t a protection to any type of homicide”); Am Jur 2nd, Murder (it’s “typically held” that duress isn’t a protection to homicide and that “duress [does not] mitigate homicide to manslaughter”). However typically, this authority entails interpretation of a statute offering beneath what phrases a duress protection could be raised. After all, a state legislature could dictate the phrases through which the duress protection could also be raised. As a result of our Legislature has not achieved so, we apply the common-law rule. And we’re conscious of no courtroom that has thought of the problem of whether or not duress could be raised as a protection to an unintentional murder….
Understanding the muse of the no-duress-defense-for-murder rule, we imagine that Hale and Blackstone wouldn’t have supposed to withhold the duress protection on these information. As a result of Gafken alleges that she selected to do the lesser evil, a duress protection is offered.
The prosecution does not supply many arguments on the contrary. As an alternative, it argues that this Courtroom mustn’t permit a duress protection for depraved-heart homicide as a result of the information will make it very troublesome for Gafken to succeed beneath a duress protection. However that argument confuses whether or not the legislation permits a duress protection (our job) with whether or not the defendant will be capable to prevail on such a protection earlier than a jury (not our job). A jury could agree with the prosecution—Gafken has a proper to search out out.
A defendant is constitutionally assured the correct to a “significant alternative to current a whole protection.” The trial courtroom’s order stopping Gafken from elevating a duress protection to a second-degree homicide cost that relied on a depraved-heart principle of malice was error, and it was not innocent. The denial of the protection, coupled with the trial courtroom’s exclusion of any proof that Scandalito threatened Gafken, successfully left Gafken with no protection in any respect. The jury heard Gafken concede that she engaged within the conduct resulting in the sufferer’s demise however was by no means in a position to take into account whether or not “the legislation excused [her] conduct ….” …