In People v. Wafer, No. 153828, the Michigan Supreme Court granted mini-oral argue to consider whether a trial court’s denial of a defendant’s request for a jury instruction regarding the rebuttable presumption of the Self-Defense Act violated the defendant’s right to present a defense and the right to a properly instructed jury.
A jury convicted defendant of second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, and felony possession of a firearm. Defendant Wafer shot and killed a 19-year old Renisha McBride on the front porch of his home in the early morning hours of November 2, 2013. At trial, defendant admitted that he shot McBride, but claimed that he did so in self-defense because he thought McBride was attempting to break into his home. The evidence showed that McBride was not armed at the time of the shooting and did not possess burglary tools.
Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred when it denied his request for a jury instruction based on the rebuttable presumption of the Self-Defense Act, MCL 780.971 et seq. (“SDA”) A portion of the SDA, MCL 780.972(1)(a), sets forth the circumstances in which a person may use deadly force in self-defense:
(1) An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses deadly force may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if...:
(a) The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.
Defendant requested an instruction based MCL 780.951(1), which provides a rebuttable presumption that a defendant who uses deadly force acted with an honest and reasonable belief that imminent death or great bodily harm would occur if the victim was: (1) in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling; and (2) the defendant believed that the individual against whom deadly force was used was in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling. Defendant insisted this jury instruction was warranted because evidence existed supporting the assertion that McBride was in the process of breaking and entering his home at the time of the shooting.
The Court of Appeals determined that, based on defendant’s testimony at trial regarding his fear from the pounding and banging noise he heard, the time of the incident, and the fact that there were other criminal incidents in the neighborhood that summer, there was sufficient evidence to support that defendant may have believed that a person was in the process of breaking into his home. However, the court reasoned that the fact that the defendant may have reasonably perceived McBride was attempting to break into his home did not establish that she was actually trying to do so. The evidence did not support a finding that McBride was attempting to access the house. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the evidence did not support the assertion that McBride was in the process of breaking and entering when the shooting occurred. Consequently, the court did not abuse its discretion by denying defendant’s request for a jury instruction based on MCL 780.951(1).
The Michigan Supreme Court granted mini-oral argument on the application for leave to appeal and requested that the parties address whether the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s request for a jury instruction regarding the rebuttable presumption of the Self-Defense Act violated the defendant’s rights to present a defense and to a properly instructed jury.