The controversial grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri, has not only led to civil disobedience including protests in Ferguson but throughout the United States including Los Angeles, California.  The grand jury in Ferguson decided that there was not enough evidence or “probable cause” to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson who shot Michael Brown numerous times killing the teenager.      It appears to most that it is outrageous that the grand jury could not find at least probable cause to proceed with the charges against Officer Wilson.   By finding no probable cause to indict Officer Wilson for Murder or any other kind of homicide offense including Manslaughter, the grand jury determined that Officer Wilson acted in self-defense in shooting and killing Michael Brown.   Whether you are a police officer or a citizen of who is being charged with murder, if evidence shows that your actions amounted to self-defense, it can lead to the dismissal of murder charges or in this case the finding of no probable cause to indict someone for murder or other homicide offense.   Charges such as assault with a deadly weapon or in the Ferguson case, murder, are some of the most serious criminal charges a defendant can face and it is always advisable to know your legal rights including defenses to criminal charges which may lead to the reduction or dismissal of criminal charges.

Self-Defense Defined Under California Penal Laws

When charged with a serious felony such as assault with a deadly weapon, murder or manslaughter, a self-defense theory may be available to completely exonerate a person of criminal charges.    In California including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside or any other county, the finding of self-defense by a jury will lead to a not guilty verdict in most cases.  In order for a defendant to provide self-defense, an attorney will put on evidence showing  that the defendant reasonably believed that the defendant was in immediate and/or imminent danger of suffering a great bodily harm or injury, the defendant used reasonable and force necessary to defend themselves, the defendant used the force for as long as it is necessary to defend themselves and there was no alternative way for the defendant to  against the immediate harm or danger other using force.    Applying this standard in the Ferguson case, there appears to be a serious question of fact based on eyewitness testimony and physical evidence, whether the force used by Officer Wilson was necessary.   At a minimum, there appeared to be enough evidence to allow for the filing of criminal charges.   Whether Officer Wilson would have been convicted of murder or a lesser offense would have depended on a juries evaluation of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the criminal defense attorney for Officer Wilson.  In addition, just because Officer Wilson was a police officer should and does not make him immune to criminal charges which apply to all persons whether you are  living in California or Ferguson, Missouri.

In addition, a California criminal defense attorney may also defend criminal charges on a theory of self-defense to a charge of murder if facts are present indicating that the defendant was defending themselves against a “forcible and atrocious crime.”    “Forcible and atrocious” in the context of self-defense in a California criminal case includes a person defending themselves in situations where they are the victim or the potential victim in the following crimes as defined under California law:  1. Mayhem; 2. Rape;  3. Murder. 4. Manslaughter 5. Robbery and 6. being a victim to an assault or attacked in a way that would cause great bodily harm.

Clearly the Ferguson grand jury determination is hard to accept at that stage of a criminal case as a jury never got to rule on the facts.   However, some criminal matters do get resolved or dismissed for official charges are filed or an indictment is issued.  It is always advisable to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer when facing criminal charges especially charges carrying a life sentence or even the death penalty such as First Degree Murder.