People v. Goetz, 68 NY 2d 96 (1986)

Case Name: People v. Goetz
Citation: 68 NY 2d 96 (1986)

Facts: Goetz was indicted on attempted murder, assault, and other charges for having shot and wounded four youths on a New York City subway train. The youths had approached Goetz and asked him for $5. Goetz had previously been mugged on the subway and believed these youths were going to mug him. The defendant then shot all four of the youths from left to right with his unlicensed pistol. The fifth bullet in the gun he used on one of the boys who “seem[ed] to be all right” so Goetz gave him “another.” None of the youths died but the boy who was shot twice was left paralyzed and with brain damage.

State’s argument: In evaluating the defendant’s self defense claim, the question is whether the defendant’s conduct was that of a reasonable man in the defendant’s situation.

Defendant’s argument: The use of the phrase “reasonably believes” in the penal code means that the analysis is from the point of view of the defendant and whether he reasonably believed he needed to act in self defense.

Holding: The state’s reading of the statute is proper.

Reasoning: The use of the word “reasonable” before belief shows that the drafters wanted to adopt an objective standard. The defendant’s own perceptions could completely exonerate him from any criminal liability.

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