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People v. Goetz

Court of Appeals of New York
497 N.E.2d 41, 68 N.Y.2d 96 (1986)



Bernhard Goetz (defendant) boarded a subway train. Four youths, Troy Canty, Darryl Cabey, James Ramseur, and Barry Allen approached Goetz and said, “give me five dollars.” Two of the four had screwdrivers in their pockets, but the group was otherwise unarmed. Goetz pulled out an unlicensed gun and shot all four of them, leaving one paralyzed. Goetz told the conductor that the youths tried to rob him. Goetz fled but later surrendered to the police. Goetz told the police he did not think the youths had weapons but was afraid of being “maimed,” because he had been mugged in the past. Goetz was brought before a grand jury. The grand jury indicted Goetz on weapons charges, but the attempted murder and assault charges were dismissed. The prosecution was permitted to resubmit the charges to the grand jury on the basis of new evidence. That grand jury indicted Goetz on ten counts, including attempted murder and assault. Goetz moved to dismiss, claiming that the evidence was insufficient to support the charges and the prosecutor’s jury instructions were invalid. Specifically, the prosecutor instructed the jurors that the state’s justification defense depended on a finding that Goetz had acted as “a reasonable man in his situation” would have. The lower court dismissed the charges, concluding that the prosecutor’s inclusion of an objective element of self-defense in the instructions was erroneous. The prosecution appealed, and the appellate division affirmed. The prosecution then appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Wachtler, J.)

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