In murder cases: who has the burden of proof for self defense?

Who holds the burden of proof for self-defense claims? Say that although there were no direct witnesses to a shooting or the time shortly before the shooting, it was demonstrated that party A shot party B and killed him. Party A then claims that it was in self-defense. Who has to prove what in such cases? Does it lie on the lawyers of party B to demonstrate that it could not be self-defense? Or does it lie on the lawyers of party A to demonstrate that it was self-defense?

Generally it goes something like this. The Defence has an evidential burden, which is discharged by adducing enough evidence to raise and make the issue a live one at trial. Then the prosecution has to disprove self defence beyond a reasonable doubt.

Furthermore, in some cases the possibility of self defence might be ex facie apparent on the face, in that case, the prosecution might be directed by the Judge to disprove (beyond reasonable doubt) without the defence needing to raise it.

There might be certain difference in practice between jurisdictions.

In the OP, there were no other witnesses. Just the claim by party A, but no actual “evidence”. Would that be sufficient to “raise and make the issue a live one at trial”?

Testimony by the defendant is evidence. Whether it’s evidence that the judge/jury accepts as sufficient to raise the self-defense defense is case-dependent.

If the defendant doesn’t testify at trial can the defense make an effective self-defense claim?

IANAL, but I’m pretty sure that in most self-defense cases, the defendant is being tried for murder.

Therefore the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant murdered the other guy* beyond a reasonable doubt*, not for the defense to prove self defense.

Self defense is one of those things that generally would be used (I think) as a way to blast a big logical hole in a murder prosecution, assuming that the prosecution doesn’t have the defendant dead to rights with some sort of damning evidence.

Since we’re clearly talking Zimmerman/Martin here; it goes something like this: The prosecution has to prove that Zimmerman murdered Martin beyond a reasonable doubt. The presence of a possible self-defense motive by Zimmerman and/or thuggishness on the part of Martin is something that raises reasonable doubts in the minds of the jury, and will almost certainly be focused on by the defense.

Zimmerman doesn’t have to prove self defense- the burden of proof is not on him.

It’s possible but not particularly probable. Sustaining a self-defense claim without having the defendant testify seems like it be rather difficult to do. So the defendant testifying is one of those things that’s not technically required but practically, you pretty much have to, especially if there are no witnesses*. The evidence to raise a defense has to come from somewhere, even if it’s from the prosecutor. As you might imagine, the prosecutor’s evidence is typically not a great source of arguments for the defense.

  • The other person present at the murder being unavailable for the trial.

Which can be considerable. The Illinois statute on the matter provides as follows:

Thus, the state has the burden of showing beyond reasonable doubt (BRD) that (i) the elements of first degree murder are present, and (ii) that defendant’s use of deadly force was not supportable by an objectively reasonable fear of serious bodily harm. If the state fails to do (ii), the defendant cannot be convicted of either first or second degree murder.

If the state succeeds in showing (ii) when self-defense has been raised, the defendant may then negate first degree murder (but not second-degree murder) by showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he a subjectively genuine (but not objectively reasonable) fear of serious bodily harm (this is also known as “imperfect self-defense”).

The defendant has the burden of production as to self-defense. That is, the prosecution does not need to negate it if it is not raised and supported by an appropriate quantum of evidence. What is that quantum? Well, it must be enough that, standing alone and before any rebuttal, raises at least a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not lawfully permitted to use deadly force in self-defense.

This evidentiary basis could be the defendant’s testimony or other evidence. If the prosecution enters into evidence the video recording of the claimant’s Mirandized police interrogation, and that video shows the defendant alleging self-defense, that could raise reasonable doubt without requiring the defendant to take the stand. If the prosecution only enters part of the recording, omitting the parts about self-defense, the defense may have it entered under F.R.E. 106 (or its state court analogue) (“If a party introduces all or part of a writing or recorded statement, an adverse party may require the introduction, at that time, of any other part — or any other writing or recorded statement — that in fairness ought to be considered at the same time”), without requiring the defendant to take the stand.

…Martin v. Ohio (1987), 480 U.S. 228 – It is not a violation of due process for Ohio to place the burden of proving self defense, by a preponderance of the evidence, upon the accused. State v. Martin (1986), 21 Ohio St. 3d 91, affirmed…

Are you thinking of any one case in particular? :slight_smile:

IIRC in other discussions - in some states it is an affirmative defence, the defendant must prove the situation was self-defence (according to the law’s definition). In others, and IIRC Florida was mentioned as one, the Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was NOT self-defense.

It’s almost always an affirmative defense in the US. States may modify the burden of production and the burden of proof for affirmative defenses, but it doesn’t make them something else. The only way to modify it from an affirmative defense to an element of the crime is to include its negation in the statute.

Just the opposite in Canada. Under the presumption of evidence, set out in s. 11 of the Charter, the Crown must generally prove every element of the offence beyond a reasonable doubt, and disprove any defence beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused only bears an evidential burden, as described by AK84: R. v. Whyte, SCC 1988. It doesn’t matter if it’s an affirmative or a negative defence

There are some exceptions to this principle, but any statutory reversal of the presumption of innocence must be justified under s. 1 of the Charter.