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United States v. Peterson

United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
483 F. 2d 1222 (1973)



Bennie Peterson (defendant) came out of his house and discovered Charles Keitt stealing windshield wipers from his car, which was parked in the alley behind Peterson’s property. Peterson argued with Keitt, then went back inside and got a gun. When Peterson returned, Keitt was about to drive off. Peterson threatened to kill Keitt. Keitt got out of the car, grabbed a lug wrench, and walked toward Peterson with the wrench in the air. Peterson told Keitt not to come closer. Keitt advanced, though he was still in the alleyway, and Peterson shot and killed him. Peterson was standing in his yard at the time. Peterson was indicted for second-degree murder. At trial, Peterson sought a judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence, which was denied. The judge instructed the jury on self-defense. The judge said that self-defense generally does not excuse a killing if the defendant provoked the altercation, though words alone did not constitute provocation. The judge also told the jury that even if Peterson started the fight, self-defense was available if he withdrew from the conflict in good faith and let Keitt know by words or acts. The judge instructed the jury that Peterson was under no duty to retreat but it could consider whether he could have safely retreated in deciding whether his actions were justified. Peterson was found guilty of manslaughter. Peterson appealed, arguing that the judge wrongly instructed the jury.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Robinson, J.)

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