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Manslaughter, Not Self-Defense, For Killing An Unintended Victim

Manslaughter, Not Self-Defense, For Killing An Unintended Victim

For the murder of Lavern Ritch, Robert Davies was charged by a grand jury with murder (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)-(b)); aggravated manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1)); passion/provocation manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b)(2)); second-degree reckless manslaughter (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(b)(1)); third-degree possession of a weapon with an unlawful purpose (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(d)); fourth-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted person (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(a)); and possessing a knife under circumstances not manifestly appropriate for its use (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(d)). At the close of a trial, Davies was found guilty of second-degree reckless manslaughter, third-degree possession of a weapon with an unlawful purpose, and fourth-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted person. Prior to sentencing, Davies motions for a judgment of acquittal and a new trial were denied by the court. The defendant was sentenced to 20 years in prison subject to a mandatory extended term for manslaughter pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6.4(e), a discretionary extended term under the persistent offender statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-3(a) and a period of parole ineligibility under the No Early Release Act (NERA) (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2) but offered no clarification of the actual basis for the extended term. Additionally, the sentenced set forth on the record differs from that in the Judgment of Conviction as to whether sentences for the weapons convictions would run consecutive or concurrent to the manslaughter sentence. At trial, in State v. Davies, the defendant represented himself pro se for some time prior to requesting that stand-by counsel assume representation on his behalf. Testimony at trial indicated that Davies had just been punched by Chavez following the exchange of words the restroom of a bar shortly prior to the attack and was chasing Chavez when Ritch, running behind him along with other companions of Chavez touched the defendant on the shoulder from behind at which time the defendant turned around and stabbed Ritch. The defendant claimed to have stabbed Ritch thinking he was defending himself against another attack from Chavez’ companions. Witnesses testified that, when defendant spun around toward Ritch, Ritch put his hands up and stated he was trying to help Davies although some testimony differed from testimony offered to police previously. Witnesses testified to seeing Davies strike Ritch, although no knife was visible, and then seeing Davies immediately resume pursuit of Chavez. Witnesses immediately went to Ritch who was bleeding from his side and said he had been stabbed. His death ultimately resulted from a stab wound to the heart. Davies appealed seeking a new trial due to multiple alleged errors relating to the trial. With regard to the defendant’s theory of self-defense, N.J.S.A. 2C:3-4 requires the need to protect oneself from death or serious bodily harm in order to justify the use of deadly force within certain confined areas. The events in the within matter occurred in a public area and did not give rise to a claim of self-defense in the opinion of the NJ Appellate Division. Additionally, under N.J.S.A. 2C:3-3 to 2C:3-8, even if Davies had been justified in using deadly force against Chavez, the Appellate Division determined the reckless and negligent use of deadly force against Ritche was unjustifiable. As such, the trial court did not err in failing to provide the jury with instructions regarding Davies self-defense claims. After ample consideration of Davies other multiple challenges to jury instructions and court procedures, the Appellate Division found there were no errors requiring a reversal of the conviction. The Appellate Division did find that, pursuant to State v. Diaz, 144 N.J. 628 (1996), merger is required of the offenses although the victim was ultimately an unintended victim. The matter was remand the matter for re-sentencing including the requirement that the trial court set forth fully its consideration under the factors of State v. Yarbough, 100 N.J. 627, 643-44 (1985) and the basis for any extended term pursuant to State v. Robinson, 217 N.J. 594, 610 (2014) and State v. Pierce, 188 N.J. 155, 170 (2006). Additionally, the trial court is directed to sentence Davies in consideration of his present lifestyle and conditions as opposed to how circumstances presented him on the date of the original sentencing pursuant to State v. Randolph, 210 N.J. 330 (2012). If you are facing charges of murder you are looking at a sentence of 30 years to life and even for lesser included offenses the sentence can be the same as life in prison depending on your age at sentencing. When confronting such charges, it is imperative that you have experienced and trusted criminal defense counsel at your side to ensure you have the best chance possible in fighting the case and protecting your rights. For more information about murder, aggravated manslaughter, assault or weapons charges in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.

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