Self-Defense Cases and the Victim’s Character Trait of Violence

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In the case of Narcisse Antoine versus the State of Florida, Mr. Antoine was convicted of attempted second degree murder with a firearm. He was at a nightclub when he was punched in the jaw. According to Antoine, two men appeared to be reaching for weapons, so he pulled out a gun and began shooting, killing one of the men and shooting the other several times.

At his trial, Antoine argued that he acted in self-defense when he shot the two men because he reasonably believed that they were about to shoot him. In support of that defense, Antoine presented the testimony of one of the nightclub bouncers that one of the men who was shot, named Hammond, had a reputation for violence. However, Antoine did not know about that reputation when he shot Hammond.

The judge at Antoine’s trial told the jury that if Hammond did, in fact, have a reputation for being a violent person and if Antoine knew about that reputation, then the jury could consider those facts in deciding whether Antoine reasonably acted in self-defense. The problem, of course, was that Antoine did not know about Hammond’s reputation for violence.

Antoine appealed his conviction, and his case was overturned because of what the judge told the jury. The court of appeals stated that a victim’s reputation for violence is admissible in a self-defense case in order to prove that the victim was actually the aggressor, and it is legally irrelevant whether the perpetrator knew of that reputation when he committed the act of violence. So, in this case, Hammond’s reputation for violence was admissible at Antoine’s trial in order to help Antoine prove that Hammond was actually the aggressor, and Antoine’s knowledge of Hammond’s reputation prior to shooting him was legally irrelevant. But because the trial judge told the jury that Antoine had to know about Hammond’s reputation before shooting him, Antoine’s case was reversed for a new trial.