Criminal Law Cases Examinations Essay Paper

People v. Goetz (1986)

1. Give an overview of the case.

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The controversial People v. Goetz (1986) involves the Defendant, Bernhard Goetz (Defendant) who shot and injured four young black men on a subway train in the Bronx. Four black youths, Troy Canty, Darryl Cabey, James Ramseur and Barry Allen were riding the subway train; two of the youths had screwdrivers hidden on their person, later admitting the intention of using these screwdrivers to unscrew the coin boxes attached to arcade games. The defendant was also riding the train and had an unlicensed .38 caliber pistol, a gun he had procured in 1981. Canty approached Goetz with possibly one of the other young men beside him, and said, “Give me five dollars”: there was no use of force nor was their a display of a weapon. The Defendant answered by standing and releasing four shots from his unlicensed gun, the one that he had been carrying in the waistband of his pants. A bullet made contact with each of the young men and then Goetz fired another shot at Cabey, permanently damaging his spinal cord. Goetz fled the scene, ultimately surrendering himself to the police in New Hampshire a week later. Much of the controversy surrounding the case revolves around whether or not a person has a right to engage in deadly force if they hold the belief that they are in clear and present danger for severe bodily harm.


2. Consider the following:

a. New York tried Goetz for attempted murder and assault. The jury acquitted him of both charges. The jury said Goetz “was justified in shooting the four men with the silver plated .38-caliber revolver he purchased in Florida.” They did convict him of illegal possession of a firearm, for which the court sentenced Goetz to one year in jail.

b. Following the sentencing, Goetz told the court: “this case is really more about the deterioration of society than it is about me….I believe society needs to be protected from criminals.”

Criminal law professor George Fletcher followed the trial closely. After the acquittal, he commented:

The facts of the Goetz case were relatively clear, but the primary fight was over the moral interpretation of the facts…I am not in the slightest bit convinced that the four young men were about to mug Goetz. If he had said, “Listen buddy, I wish I had $5, but I don’t,” and walked to the other side of the car the chances are 60-40 nothing would have happened. Street-wise kids like that are more attuned to the costs of their behavior than Goetz was. (qtd. In Roberts 1989)

If Professor Fletcher is right, was Goetz justified in shooting?


Professor Fletcher made an extremely astute and correct observation when he observed that Goetz was not justified in shooting, as he noted that a mere “sorry, I don’t have five dollars” would have readily diffused the situation. It’s more likely that this case is a slice of life about racism in society and in the justice system, as it existed in the 1980s. Goetz was clearly raw and somewhat traumatized and on edge from the time he was mugged in 1981, the incident which caused him to purchase the gun in the first place. Goetz was not behaving reasonably: any reasonable person would have finished the exchange verbally before resorting to the use of a firearm. Professor Fletcher is most likely correct: the men had no intention of mugging Goetz: had he simply dismissed their request and moved to the other end of the car, they would have likely left him alone.


3. Under what circumstances can people use deadly force, according to the New York statutes cited in the opinion?

According to the New York Statues cited in the opinion, the justification statue needed an aspect of it to be objective, in that deadly physical force is acceptable as long as a reasonable person would believe that he is in imminent danger of injury or death.


4. Do you agree with those circumstances?

As worded, the statue is reasonable.


5. Would you add more? Remove some? Which ones? Why?

However, there should be a detail in it, which specifies that there should be clear evidence of imminent danger: such as someone brandishing a weapon, or engaging in threatening body language. Also, since this case, jurors are now instructed to consider a defendant’s background and reflect upon whether a reasonable person would feel in danger if in that same situation. This is to ensure that one accounts for the difference in people’s backgrounds and how that can skew a person’s sense of danger.

6. Were Goetz’s shots a preemptive strike? Retaliation? Necessary for self-protection? Defend your answer.


Goetz’s shots were clearly fearful and largely unnecessary for self-protection. If the victims had been white, it is likely that he would have been tried for attempted murder and assault.


State v. Stewart (1988)

1. LIST all the facts and circumstances relevant to deciding whether Peggy Stewart was in “imminent” danger.

The State v. Stewart (1988) is a case where a woman, Peggy Stewart, was tried for shooting and killing her sleeping husband. In this case, Stewart’s legal team claimed her actions were self-defense, which might have seemed absurd to some. However, Stewart’s team went to great lengths to establish how she was the victim of long-term abuse. Apparently, the morning of the day that Stewart shot and killed her spouse; she found a loaded .357 magnum in the house she lived in with her husband. Aside from being frightened by this finding, Stewart testified that, “her husband often made remarks about how she shouldn’t bother cleaning the house because she wouldn’t be there for long. That evening, after enduring the physical and sexual abuse of her husband, Stewart considered the possibility of suicide” (Wiley).


2. Summarize the court majority’s arguments against imminent danger. Summarize the dissent’s arguments for imminent danger. Summarize the dissent’s arguments for imminent danger.

Hence these details demonstrate a long-standing and recent history of both physical and sexual abuse, as well as repeated threats. These facts demonstrate that Stewart was indeed in very real and prominent danger, however, the facts do not suggest that the danger was immediate. In this manner, the court majority’s arguments against imminent danger are numerous. The fact that her husband was asleep at the time, shows that Stewart had a variety of options: she could have fled the house, fled the country, called the police, or any number of actions to protect herself that she did not engage in. Her husband was not threatening her at that moment, and Stewart had numerous options to protect herself or leave the situation that she did not engage in.


However, the dissent’s arguments for imminent danger revolve around the history of abuse. This man for victimized Stewart so long, that she was suffering from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, something that her attorney did attempt to use in her defense, by making a case for her being controlled by Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS). In this manner, one could argue that the danger for Stewart was imminent because she was unable to leave him, call the police or make any reasonable attempts to protect herself. It was this extreme psychological damage that she suffered from which was exactly what kept her trapped in this marriage in the first place.


3. Consider the following comments:

a. Retaliation, as opposed to defense, is a common problem in cases arising from wife battering and domestic violence. The injured wife waits for the possibility of striking against a distracted or unarmed husband. The man may even be asleep when the wife finally reacts.

b. Retaliation is the standard case of “taking the law into your own hands.” There is no way, under the law, to justify killing a wife batterer or a rapist in retaliation or revenge, however much sympathy there may be for the wife wreaking retaliation. Private citizens cannot act as judge and jury toward each other. They have no authority to pass judgment and to punish each other for past wrongs (Fletcher 1988, 21-22).

c. “The right to use force in the defense of one’s person, family, habitation, lands, or goods is one of the unalienable rights of man. As it is a right not granted by any human code, no human code can take it away. It was recognized by the Roman law, declared by that law to be a natural right, and part of the law of nations. It is no doubt recognized by the code of every civilized State” (Thompson 1880, 546).

d. “A man is not born to run away. The law must consider human nature and make some allowance for the fighting instinct at critical moments. In Texas it is well settled, as you might imagine, that a man is not born to run away” (DeWolfe Howe 1953, 1:331).

Are any of the statements relevant to battered woman domestic violence cases? Do you agree with the statements? Explain your answer.


All of these statements are relevant to a battered woman in domestic violence cases. I agree with the statement, depending on the situation.


4. In your opinion, did Peggy Stewart kill Mike Stewart in self-defense? As a preemptive strike? Or as retaliation? Or something else? Defend your answer.

Stewart really did shoot her husband out of an act of self-defense. When someone is in an abusive relationship for a prolonged period of time, it can create a mental and emotional prison for that person, where the abuser has much or total control over them. The victim lives in fear as the abuser engages in foul and degrading behavior of him or her. This is exactly the circumstance that Stewart was in and was precisely why she couldn’t take advantage of a range of other alternative solutions to this problem. In her mind, she had to slay the metaphorical dragon of her life, a monster that her husband had willfully turned himself into in order to terrorize his wife.


State v. Shelley (1997)

1. According to the court, why can participants in a sporting event consent to conduct that would otherwise be a crime?

In the case State v. Shelley, participants in a sporting event can consent to conduct that would otherwise be considered a crime if the conduct could be reasonably foreseeable, flowing directly from the rules of the game. For example, it’s reasonable to assume that agreeing to a boxing match might result in getting punched in the face, or other comparable injuries.


2. Why should they be allowed to consent to such conduct when in other situations (such as those enumerated in the Exploring Further cases that follow) they can’t consent?

Participants should be allowed to consent to such acts because the situation’s realm of possibility dictates such acts might happen. A person who consents to a game of contact football, knows that it is within the realm of possibility that he might be knocked down so hard by another player, he could suffer a concussion: the particulars of the sport dictate that such altercations might occur and thus, the players consent to the possibility of suffering such injuries. However, in this same example of football, a player cannot consent to being choked by another player, since that type of injury isn’t something that would foreseeably occur, given the rules of the game. Hence, consent for such acts, cannot be given.


3. Should individuals be allowed to knowingly and voluntarily consent to the commission of crimes against themselves? Why or why not?

Individuals can be allowed to knowingly and voluntarily consent to the commission of crimes against themselves within reason and within reasonable circumstance. Many professions in life aside from professional sports do require individuals to put themselves in harm’s way and consent to allowing events to occur to them, which would be considered assaults or attacks in other circumstances. For example, combat or stage fighting in theatre or film attempts to take the danger out of these endeavors, however the actors know that at any moment, their fellow actor might miss their mark, and end up punching them right in the face. However, one cannot censor this art form out of the fear of harm. Free individuals in society have the right to put themselves in harm’s way, within reason.


4. Why was Shelley not allowed the defense of consent in this case?

Shelley was not allowed the defense of consent in this case because no basketball player could ever consent to the possibility sustaining this type of injury during a basketball game. While adhering to the rules of basketball, an injured jaw should not be something within the realm of the remotest possibility. It’s like a volleyball player getting punched in the face by another volleyball player.


5. Do you agree with the court’s decision? Relying on the relevant facts in the case, defend your answer.

For the reason stated above, I completely agree with the court’s decision. Shelley hurting that man’s jaw was by no means a foreseeable event within the rules of basketball. Injuries such as a sprained ankle, a dislocated knee, a strained shoulder, and a bruised rib even—these are all within the realm of possibility for a basketball game. However, a broken jaw is not something a person can give consent to, regardless of the fact that game was unofficiated and informal.




Works Cited


People v. Goetz, 68 N.Y.2d 96. 1986. Print.

State v. Shelley. 929 P.2d 489 Wash. App. 1997. Print.

State v. Stewart. Supreme Court of Kansas. 21 Oct. 1988. Print.

Wiley, Krista. \Getting Away With Murder.\” Psychology Today

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