June 22, 2024


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On the “Claim of Right” Defense in D.C.


by Jamison Koehler on March 14, 2022
U.S. Capitol building

It is a valid protection to a theft demand that you considered in fantastic religion that you owned the property in question.  This is the so-referred to as “claim of right” protection.  It is, on the other hand, unclear if you can assert this right on behalf of another person else.  And a declare of proper protection will fall short if the accused will take a lot more than the house whose possession is disputed.  This was the D.C. Courtroom of Appeals’ discovering in its the latest opinion, Steven Wilson v. United States, __ A.3d __ (D.C. 2022). 

Wilson was billed with exhibiting up with two other persons at the complainant’s condominium and pistol-whipping him with a handgun though the other two individuals took home from the apartment.  Ultimately convicted of conspiracy to dedicate theft, unarmed kidnapping, unarmed initially-degree burglary with the intent to assault and commit theft, and other offenses, Wilson argued on charm, among other matters, that the trial court docket refused to instruct the jury on a assert of correct defense.

The bar for issuing a jury instruction on a principle of the scenario that negates guilt is particularly low:  The defendant must only present that the instruction is supported by some proof, however weak.  The demo court therefore erred when it refused to give the instruction.  At the identical time, the D.C. Court docket of Appeals concluded, this mistake was “harmless” that is, it did not affect the final result in any significant way.

The “claim of right” defense was initial spelled out in D.C. in Richardson v. United States, 403 F.2d 574, 576 (D.C. Cir 1968).  According to that scenario, a defendant are unable to be guilty of crimes for which a certain intent to steal is an aspect of the offense “unless he experienced the specific intent to get the assets of another.”  Therefore, a defendant is entitled to a claim of proper defense if s/he has a very good religion think that s/he is entitled to the assets s/he is billed with using.

In this scenario, Wilson claimed that, mainly because he only meant to assist his good friend recover her very own assets, he lacked precise intent to steal.  Writes the D.C. Court docket of Appeals:

This court docket has not considered no matter whether a defendant can assert a declare of correct defense on behalf of a third celebration who has approved the defendant to reclaim residence.  However, assuming the viability of this sort of a declare, it is doubtful in this scenario regardless of whether this court have to have get to that query mainly because a defendant are not able to assert the assert of ideal defense when he will take home that he did not believe that in great faith belonged to him.

Judge Jose Lopez presided at trial. Mr. Wilson was represented at trial by Frances D’Antuono and on attraction by Cecily Baskir.


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