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Cooper v. United States

District of Columbia Court of Appeals
512 A.2d 1002 (D.C. App. 1986)


Leon Cooper (defendant) and his brother Robert Parker lived with their mother, Alice Cooper. After Parker had returned home from unexpectedly being away for 10 days, the two brothers began arguing about where Parker had gone. The argument escalated and Parker hit Cooper in the head with a small radio. Mrs. Cooper ran upstairs to call for help when she heard a “pop.” She went back downstairs and saw Parker lying on the floor. Cooper admitted to shooting him and Parker subsequently died. Cooper was charged with voluntary manslaughter while armed and carrying a pistol without a license. At trial, Cooper’s counsel objected to the trial court giving the standard jury instruction when a defendant claims self-defense. That instruction, 5.16B, states in part: “[i]f the defendant could have safely retreated but did not do so, his failure to retreat is a circumstance which you may consider together with all the other circumstances in determining whether he went further in repelling the danger, real or apparent, then he was justified in doing so under the circumstances. Before a person can avail himself [of]...self-defense against a charge of homicide, he must do everything in his power, consistent with his own safety, to avoid the danger and avoid the necessity of taking life..If the defendant actually believed that he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, and that deadly force was necessary to repel such danger, he was not required to retreat...He was entitled to stand his ground and use such force as was reasonably necessary under the circumstances to save his life or protect himself from serious bodily harm.” The trial court overruled Cooper’s objection to the instruction and he was convicted. Cooper appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Belson, J.)

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