by Lisa J. Steele

As every criminal lawyer knows, it’s very difficult to get a client off unless he’s prepared to take the trouble of going into the witness-box, to face up to the prosecution, and to demonstrate his innocence or at least his credentials as a fairly likeable character who might buy you a pint after work and whom you would not really want to see festering in the nick.
– Horace Rumpole, The Trials of Rumpole (1979)

A question much on the mind of attendees at self-defense talks is, “to what extent can a prosecutor use my life against me if I have to defend myself”. The attendee may be concerned about his or her life membership in the NRA, or subscription to Soldier of Fortune, or the number or kinds of guns that they own, or how often they go to the range, or how many self-defense classes they have taken, or any number of other lifestyle issues. The answer is: “It depends”. It depends on the facts of the self-defense case.

This article will primarily talk about the limitations on the use of lifestyle evidence at trial. Remember, however, that trial is the end of a long process – police and prosecutors may use information that is not admissible evidence as part of their decision to make an arrest, prosecute the case, and/or in plea negotiations. Police and prosecutors do not often talk about what factors go into these preliminary decisions, so there is not much guidance that one can give about whether, or to what extent, lifestyle issues affect the likelihood that you might be prosecuted for defending yourself. It is possible that a prosecutor may infer that, for example, a person who subscribes to Soldier of Fortune or carries more than one firearm or extra ammunition was more likely to be looking for trouble and thus did not act in self-defense, but there is no way to know if that is the case – prosecutors and police do not have to explain their decisions so long as they have probable cause to arrest and prosecute, which they are likely to have in all but the most obvious self-defense case. Instead, the article will talk about evidence rules and how, ultimately, lifestyle information can become evidence presented to a jury in a criminal trial.

Let’s start with three fundamental legal concepts – what evidence is relevant; material or “of consequence”; and more probative than prejudicial.

The prosecution needs to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, the prosecution cannot be denied the ability to prove every essential element of the crime by the most convincing evidence it is able to produce. Although the State has the right to prove its case up to the hilt in whatever manner it chooses, that does not mean that prosecutors are given a carte blanche to introduce every piece of admissible evidence if the cumulative effect of such evidence is inflammatory and unnecessary.

The defense, of course, has a federal constitutional right to present a defense, if it so chooses, which also includes the right to present whatever evidence is admissible under the rules of evidence in that jurisdiction, and may include vital evidence that might not be admissible under a strict interpretation of the evidence rules.

In order, then, to figure out whether a bit of evidence is admissible in a trial, one has to look at that jurisdiction’s rules of evidence.


The Rules of Evidence

The federal courts and each state have their own rules of evidence. In the federal courts, and many states, the common law rules (those developed over decades of appellate cases) have been compiled into a code of evidence. In Massachusetts, most evidentiary rules are still a matter of common law. This essay will primarily talk about Connecticut’s law, in part because it mostly follows the federal rules and is likely typical of how many jurisdictions would approach these issues. If you want to know more about a specific jurisdiction’s evidence rules, there are widely-used books about the evidence rules, specific to each state and to the federal courts, which are used by attorneys and judges when trying to figure out these very questions. Ask an attorney or law librarian to recommend the most widely-used evidence guide for your jurisdiction.

What is evidence? Normally it is witness testimony (the answers witnesses give to the attorneys’ questions) and physical evidence like weapons, clothing, photographs, and some kinds of reports and records. There are a number of other rules, which are beyond the scope of this essay, limiting witness testimony to what they observed or know, and limiting testimony about, for example, what someone else told the witness (hearsay).

In a self-defense case, evidence about most of the defendant’s life would come from the defendant himself or herself, when cross-examined after testifying in his or her own case. What the attendee wants to know, often, is “can I be asked by the prosecutor about the number of guns I own, how often I go to the range, what magazines I read, how much training I have had, and so on”. And again, the answer is, “it depends”.



Evidence must be relevant to the case. This is a low hurdle. “‘Relevant evidence’ means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is material to the determination of the proceeding more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Connecticut Code of Evidence § 4-1. The Federal Rules of Evidence replaces “material” with “of consequence”, but is otherwise identical. FRE § 401.

So the first question is – how is this fact relevant to this case? The weapon, if any, used in self-defense and any other weapons or equipment the defendant may have been carrying or had ready access to are, of course, relevant. Thus, in Commonwealth v. Peppicelli, 70 Mass.App.Ct. 87, 872 N.E.2d 1142 (2007), the prosecutor could introduce testimony not only about the handguns used by the defendants, but also the amount of extra ammunition they carried, and the knives that each had.

On the other hand, New York courts have said that any firearms or weapons the defendant had in his home, away from the incident, are not relevant evidence. See People v. Pyne, 223 A.D.2d 910, 636 N.Y.S.2d 491 (1996); People v. Zackowitz, 254 N.Y. 192, 172 N.E. 466 (1930) (both discussed below).


Material or Consequential

Relevant evidence logically helps the jury or the judge decide the issues in the case – here, did the defendant act in self defense. Evidence doesn’t have to be conclusive or unambiguous to be relevant; it just has to support the conclusion for which it is offered to some slight degree, so long as it isn’t overly prejudicial or merely cumulative.

A defendant might want to introduce handouts or contemporaneous notes from self-defense classes as relevant to his or her subjectively reasonable assessment of the need for self-defense. The judge would have to consider how much of the offered evidence is material. If, for example, the defendant took a class in martial arts for self-defense in college, some twenty years before the incident, a judge might conclude that evidence about what she learned two decades ago was not material in the current case. A more recent class taken as part of the defendant’s decision to obtain a carry permit, on the other hand, would likely be considered material, and thus testimony about it and handouts or notes from it could be admissible. For those who have taken many classes, a judge might limit the defense to listing classes and choosing the most important handouts, notes or trainer(s) to present.

Conversely, a prosecutor might be allowed to introduce evidence of training to show premeditation or an intent to mis-use the self-defense laws. In State v. Moorefield, 170 N.C.App. 698, 614 S.E.2d 607 (2005) (unpublished) (discussed below), the prosecutor was able, without objection, to introduce evidence that the defendant was an NRA member and suggest that he knew about self-defense law, and mis-used that knowledge to murder the husband of the woman he was having an affair with. It is important to note that this evidence and argument were made without an objection by his attorney – the North Carolina court only held that the argument was not so improper that the trial judge should have acted on his own; it did not address whether trial counsel was ineffective for letting this happen.


Prejudicial v. Probative

Not all relevant evidence is admissible. “Relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or surprise, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.” Connecticut Code of Evidence § 4-3. More specifically, evidence may be excluded as prejudicial (1) where the facts offered may unduly arouse the jury’s emotions, hostility or sympathy; (2) where the proof and answering evidence it provokes may create a side issue that will unduly distract the jury from the main issues; (3) where the evidence offered and the counterproof will consume an undue amount of time; or (4) where the defendant, having no reasonable ground to anticipate the evidence, is unfairly surprised and unprepared to meet it. Again, the counterpart federal rule is virtually identical, incorporating “surprise” into its concept of unfair prejudice rather than listing it separately. FRE § 403.

Almost all evidence is adverse and thus damaging to one side or the other in a case, but it is inadmissible only if it creates undue prejudice so that it threatens an injustice were it to be admitted. The test for determining whether evidence is unduly prejudicial is not whether it is damaging to the other party, but whether it will improperly arouse the jurors’ emotions. This is an extremely broad and flexible standard.

In Moorefield and in State v. Coyle, 119 N.J. 194, 204-05, 574 A.2d 951 (1990) (discussed below), the defendant claimed to be engaged in third-party defense of a person with whom he was having an affair, against that person’s spouse. The affair is an inextricable part of the case, and admissible despite the prejudice it might evoke in jurors. If, on the other hand, Moorefield or Coyle had defended their paramours against an armed robber on a public street, a court might be willing to limit or preclude evidence of their illicit relationship because it might bias the jury against them.


Admitting and Excluding Evidence

The defense attorney’s job in any criminal defense case is to try to exclude harmful evidence under these and other rules. The attorney could file a motion in limine before the trial, hoping to obtain a ruling preventing or limiting evidence that he or she expects to be raised before the start of the trial. In the alternative, he or she might object when a question is asked that would elicit information in violation of these rules. The trial court would make a ruling about whether the evidence was admissible. Its decision would be, for the most part, final — appellate courts generally review evidence rulings for clear or manifest abuse of discretion and rarely overturn the trial court’s decision.

Note that an attorney may decide not to object to a question for tactical reasons. If the question has been asked, and an attorney successfully objects, the jury will be instructed to disregard the question and not to speculate about the answer. However, human nature doesn’t work that way – the attorney may have concerns that objecting may make it look as if the defense has something ghastly to hide, and may therefore let the defendant answer the question and then try to mitigate the harm by putting the answer into context in re-direct examination and/or in the closing argument.


Opening the Door

There are some minefields lurking in the rules. First, if defense counsel asks questions about a particular subject, he or she cannot object if the prosecutor explores that same subject with the witness in later questioning. The party who initiates discussion on the issue is said to have opened the door to rebuttal by the opposing party. Even though the rebuttal evidence would ordinarily be inadmissible on other grounds, the court may, in its discretion, allow it if it feels the party who opened the door made unfair use of the evidence or is selectively introducing pieces of evidence without allowing its opponent to put the evidence into context. See State v. Garcia, 137 N.M. 315, 110 P.3d 531 (N.M.App. 2005) (discussed below).


Specific Examples

There are very few appellate cases discussing these issues as applied to a self-defense case, which makes it hard for an attorney to say with any certainty what a court might do in a specific hypothetical. A few of the appellate decisions are discussed below, to give you some idea how courts consider these questions.

In 1990, the New Jersey Supreme Court discussed whether the trial court should have allowed the prosecutor to introduce the following items seized from the defendant’s home: “a gun-cleaning kit, a customized holster, a target, a gun catalogue, a Soldier of Fortune magazine, silencer instructions, and three live rounds of nine-millimeter hollow-point bullets.” State v. Coyle, 119 N.J. 194, 204-05, 574 A.2d 951 (1990). The prosecution theory was that these items showed the defendant’s marksmanship and ability to accurately shoot the victim from range and that the defendant was “a man ‘mentally prepared to kill,’ not a reasonable man who had acted in defense of another.” Id. at 205, 218-19. The defendant acknowledged his interest in weapons and that he had told the person he defended that he was “very much against society and its rules.”. 207-08.

The majority of justices agreed that the defendant’s marksmanship was relevant and material to the prosecution’s argument that the defendant deliberately wounded the victim before shooting him fatally in the head; however, most of the items were irrelevant to that question and should have been excluded. The target could be introduced if the prosecution could show that the defendant used it, or a target like it, to practice shooting . Id. at 218-19. The majority remarked that “Unlike a trained sharpshooter, a person unskilled in shooting a gun would probably lack the ability to try only to wound, but not to kill, someone from a distance. More likely a novice would simply aim the gun and hope that the shot hit some part of the victim’s body.” Id. at 219. This suggests a fundamental misunderstanding about the difficulty of shooting a person in a dynamic self-defense situation; however, the opinion is unclear about whether the court had any evidence on this point before it.

As to the prosecution’s second reason, the majority stated that “There is no connection between defendant’s ownership of weapons information and the reasonableness of his use of deadly force. The determination of the reasonableness of deadly force is objective. Neither defendant’s marksmanship nor his ownership of the Soldier of Fortune magazine, the silencer instructions, and the gun catalogue bears on whether a reasonable person would have believed deadly force was necessary.” Id. at 219. It continued “Even if defendant’s possession of the items indicates that he is learned in weaponry, his expertise does not make it more likely that he believed that non-deadly force was sufficient to protect [the defendee] or that something short of killing [the victim] would fulfill his stated purpose. A non-expert would be just as able to assess the necessity of deadly force.” Id. at 220. Thus, the Court, having decided to order a retrial on other grounds, said that during that retrial if the prosecution proved the relevance of the target, then the trial court should weigh its probative value vs. its prejudicial effect, and decide whether to admit that evidence. Id. at 220.

Justice Handler, writing separately to concur in part and dissent in part, agreed with the majority’s conclusion that the items other than the target were irrelevant, and went further to chastise the prosecution for improperly using the items to argue that the defendant had an evil character and a predisposition to commit crimes. Id. at 245-46.

In 2005, a North Carolina prosecutor tried to use the defendant’s knowledge of firearms to show that he was a “gun nut” and had not acted in self-defense. The prosecutor argued to the jury that:

What this case is all about is this, and I contend to you this is what the evidence shows. This defendant is a gun nut. He is a gun nut who is having an affair with somebody else’s wife…. Then October 27th rolls around. All the parties get together for the first time. [The victim] is there, the defendant is there and I contend to you that, being a gun nut [the defendant] knows about gun laws. He knows about the law of self-defense of habitation and different things. He is a member of the NRA, he gets publications, he gets gun catalogs. And being a gun nut, he knows what his rights are, he thinks, and seizes the opportunity then to shoot [the victim], claims self-defense, and get the man out of the way that is completely standing between him and [the victim’s wife]….

The defense attorney did not object to this argument, and presumably did not object to evidence about the defendant’s NRA membership, gun catalogs, or the defendant’s testimony that he owned more guns that he could count off hand and kept guns throughout his home: in a safe beside his bed, in a case in the arm of the recliner and one clipped to his bed rail. On appeal, the defendant argued that the closing argument was prosecutorial misconduct; the appellate court disagreed and held it was not so excessive that the trial court should have intervened on its own. State v. Moorefield, 170 N.C.App. 698, 614 S.E.2d 607 (2005) (unpublished).

Moorefield is an unpublished opinion, so it has limited persuasive value, but it does show how one’s lifestyle can be mis-used by a prosecutor, particularly where the defense attorney does not actively try to exclude the evidence and object to a improper argument. See also State v. Garcia, 137 N.M. 315, 110 P.3d 531 (N.M.App. 2005) (defense did not object to testimony about firearms in defendant’s truck, and cross-examined said witness on his knowledge of defendant’s firearms; when defense objected to other testimony about firearms in the truck, “the horse was already out of the barn” and the objections were untimely.)

Similarly, in Coulthard v. Commonwealth, 230 S.W.3d 572 (Ky 2007), the defendant confronted a young man who he believed had earlier burglarized his house. During the confrontation, Coulthard said that the young man tried to run him over and he shot at the man’s vehicle in self-defense. Unfortunately, he hit the man in the neck, killing him. On appeal, he challenged the prosecutor’s introduction of photographs of the firearms in his home as irrelevant and highly inflammatory.

The Court analyzed the issue as follows:
Without objection, the Commonwealth questioned Appellant’s knowledge of firearms, his collection of various types of guns, his frequent trips to the firing range for target shooting, and the fact that he took “safety” classes in preparation for a “concealed carry” permit. The purpose of these questions, and the corresponding admission of photographs depicting Appellant’s guns into evidence, was to prove Appellant’s keen knowledge and skill with firearms, and thus, refute the likelihood of Appellant’s claim that he did not intend to shoot Brown when he fired at Brown’s vehicle. We agree that such questioning is relevant and that photographs used to assist the Commonwealth’s questioning were probative enough to outweigh any counterbalancing prejudicial effect.

Again, part of the problem in this case is that defense counsel did not object to these questions at trial. It is unclear whether, had it done so, the court’s analysis would have been different.

A similar problem arises in United States ex rel Guirsch v. Battaglia, 2007 U.S. Dist LEXIS 93838 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (unpublished). The defendant, a security guard with a firearms permit, was awoken one night in 1996 by an aggressive knock at his apartment door and opened it to find four men standing there, one with a visible handgun. He was frightened and fired two shots, wounding one man. Unfortunately, the men were three plainclothes officers and a uniformed sergeant. There was differing testimony about the lighting in the hall, whether the officers announced themselves as police while knocking, or whether Guirsch heard their police radios. Guirsch gave a statement admitting that he didn’t try to see who was at his door before opening it and that he heard the word police and static from radios while going to his door. Among the evidence was his firearms permit, security guard card, a “hunting patch” and a “1958 shooting blue ribbon”.

During trial and closing argument, the prosecution argued that Guirsch was a “seasoned hunter”, “trained marksman”, “sniper”, “hand grenade in a baby carriage” and that the officers were his “prey” and a hunting “prize” or “trophy”. The trial court did not instruct on self-defense because there was some evidence that Guirsch knew they might be police officers, he did not try to ascertain their identity before opening the door, and they had not acted in a way to create a reasonable fear of deadly harm. The Illinois Appellate Court apparently concluded that, in light of the defendant’s testimony, it did not overstep its boundaries in characterizing the defendant as a trained marksman and skilled hunter. It did say the statements seem “unnecessarily vitriolic”, but not so prejudicial to be reversible error.

The available opinion is an unpublished (but accessible via LEXIS) Federal District Court opinion reviewing the unpublished (and unavailable) Illinois Appellate Court opinion, so it is unclear whether Guirsch’s trial counsel objected to the introduction of evidence about Guirsch’s hunting and shooting abilities, or to the closing argument, and what, exactly, Guirsh said that the Appellate Court felt justified the prosecutor’s comments.

In State v. Hoffman, 116 Wn.2d 51, 804 P.2d 577 (Wash. 1991), the defendant and his father became involved in a shoot-out with two police officers, killing one and wounding the other. Hoffman’s father was attempting to avoid going back to jail when the shoot-out occurred. At the time of the confrontation, Hoffman, who held a concealed carry permit, was carrying a gym bag with three loaded pistols, extra ammunition for two of the pistols, one or two loaded flare guns, a knife, a can of mace, and set of nunchuku sticks. He said he always carried these items. Evidence was also admitted about firearms police had earlier seen in the father’s truck, firearms the father asked a doctor to hide after his arrest, and an “arsenal” of firearms police believed the father had at his home. The defendant and his father reached the father’s home and hid in the yard near a chicken coop. The officers were shot as they approached the father’s home to make an arrest. The defendant and his father claimed that they did not know who was approaching the property and fired in self-defense.

The Court concluded that evidence of prior threats by the defendant’s father regarding officers; a number of deadly weapons were brought to the scene of the shooting by the defendant; multiple shots were fired by the defendant and his father; one of the victims of the shooting was shot from behind; and several statements indicating premeditation that were made by the defendant and his father, were all relevant to the issue of whether the defendants fired in self-defense or whether this was a premeditated murder.

It also concluded that evidence about the father’s firearms were all relevant to whether police were justified in trying to enter the property to arrest the father and that the trial court acted within its discretion in allowing this evidence.

Under the facts of this case, it is hard to dispute the Court’s ruling as to the defendant’s weapons — the weapons one brings to a self-defense incident are generally relevant to one’s intent. The father’s weapons, which were not present, would probably not be relevant had the lawfulness of the police’s entry to the property not been an issue in the case. If the defendant and his father had shot a burglar, likely only the defendant’s weapons, the number of shots, and location of wounds would have been admissible evidence. On the other hand, had the defendant and his father made statements that they anticipated a burglary and threatened to kill anyone who set foot on their property, again, those statements might be admissible on the issue of intent.

In People v. Pyne, 223 A.D.2d 910, 636 N.Y.S.2d 491 (1996), a New York court wrote that an unrelated handgun belonging to defendant, a holster, ammunition, targets, magazine cases, and letters regarding the National Rifle Association and a local gun club were all not relevant to the case at trial and “could have been offered for no other purpose than to inflame the jury, thereby depriving defendant of a fair trial”. See also People v. Zackowitz, 254 N.Y. 192, 172 N.E. 466 (1930) (reversible error for prosecution to introduce, over objection, firearms seized from defendant’s home – improper effort to use ownership to show propensity toward crime. “To be armed from head to foot at the very moment of an encounter may be a circumstance worthy to be considered, like acts of preparation generally, as a proof of preconceived design. There can be no such implication from the ownership of weapons which one leaves behind at home.”)


Common Concerns

With these broad principles in mind, let’s consider several common concerns:

Anything dealing with the incident itself is almost certainly admissible evidence. This might include: any weapons used during the incident; other weapons or ammunition on the defendant’s person or within his or her reach; photographs, videos, and materials from the crime scene; testimony about the events leading up to the incident and in the immediate aftermath; and the defendant’s reasons for carrying a weapon at that time.

If the defendant did not possess a license (where needed to carry the weapon or firearm used in self defense), and he or she has not been charged with unlawful possession of that weapon, the defense attorney may object to evidence about the lack of a permit being offered. Courts are divided about whether this evidence is admissible. Where appellate courts have found error in admitting this testimony, generally they conclude it is not reversible error if the references are brief and the prosecution’s case is otherwise strong.

The defendant’s training and knowledge about self-defense is admissible evidence about his or her intent and perception that the actions taken were subjectively reasonable. Normally, this will be information the defense attorney will offer through the defendant’s testimony and possibly by testimony of his or her trainers; however, once the defense has opened that door, the prosecutor can cross-examine further.

The prosecutor might also ask questions about how often the defendant practices with firearms or other weapons used, about competitions he or she may have entered or won, and anything the defendant may have written, blogged about, or posted about self-defense or firearms training, particularly if the prosecution is trying to argue that he or she could have shot to wound the victim or had options other than using deadly force.

Again, the number and kinds of firearms or other weapons that the defendant owned, but did not have access to during the incident, are not relevant evidence in most self-defense cases and may be prohibited as they were in Coyle. On the other hand, if he or she testifies, a prosecutor may ask this question and defense counsel may choose not to object for tactical reasons; concerned that the jury may speculate about the answer (even though it is told not to do so) and imagine something more damaging than the defendant’s answer.

Any medical or psychiatric condition that might affect the defendant’s judgment, perceptions, or memory, may be admissible evidence. This may also include any alcohol imbibed prior to the incident. See State v. Saunders, 267 Conn. 363, 838 A.2d 186 (2004) (defendant was drinking prior to incident which took place in a bar). Normally, medical records are privileged unless the defendant decides to raise medical issues as part of a diminished capacity, extreme emotional disturbance, or other mitigating defense. There is a risk, that a clever prosecutor might try to use this sort of information to show that the defendant’s subjective perceptions of danger and the need to use force were not objectively reasonable, demolishing the self-defense claim, but that the perceptions were not so impaired as to mitigate a homicide to manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

If the aggressor is someone the defender knew and/or had prior interactions with, those prior interactions may be relevant to show the defender’s intent and/or motive during the incident. His or her knowledge of the aggressor’s past violent actions, reputation, and/or access to weapons may be relevant to the defender’s subjective decision that force was necessary. Some states allow the defender to also introduce evidence of the aggressor’s past violent acts even if he or she is a total stranger.


Living your Life

So what does this mean? If you have decided to learn about self-defense, train in a martial art or with a weapon, and/or carry a weapon in self-defense, then you have decided that the risk of your being involved in a situation in which you may need to defend yourself or another outweighs the inconvenience, class fees, and time invested in learning these skills. If you do get involved in that rare instance, there is a risk of a criminal investigation and prosecution.

If these events occur — you have had to use force in self-defense, and the situation is sufficiently ambiguous that you have been prosecuted and decided to go to trial — the police investigation may uncover many aspects of your life, such as the number and types of firearms that you own; the self-defense training you have taken; how often you go to the range or practice martial arts; views you may have expressed about self-defense; self-defense or firearms ownership organizations you may belong to; magazines you may read; and other aspects of your life. The prosecutor may believe that some or all of these parts of your life indicate that you did not act in self-defense and may try to use those aspects against you in the trial. Whether he or she can do so will depend on the specifics of the situation — and there is no way to predict those before the event.

Just as you have weighed the risks of violent crime and the costs of self-defense training, you alone will have to weigh the benefits of how you want to live your life against the risk of that hypothetical prosecution. If that rare situation should arise, the broad guidelines of relevance, materiality, and the balance between probative value and prejudicial effect will determine to what extent this information will be presented to the jury in your case.


Further Reading:


Brodin & Avery, HANDBOOK OF MASSACHUSETTS EVIDENCE (2007) (supplemented annually)


Code of Evidence
Tait and LaPlante, TAIT’S HANDBOOK OF CONNECTICUT EVIDENCE (4th Ed. 2007) (supplemented annually)


Federal Rules of Evidence


Coulthard v. Commonwealth, 230 S.W.3d 572 (Ky 2007)
State v. Coyle, 119 N.J. 194, 574 A.2d 951 (1990) (effectively overruled on other grounds in 1992 by a New Jersey constitutional amendment on the scope of its death penalty) (death penalty case involving self-defense claim)
State v. Moorefield, 170 N.C.App. 698, 614 S.E.2d 607 (2005) (unpublished decision, limited value as precedent)
People v. Guirsch, 209 Ill. 2d 589, 813 N.E.2d 225 (2004) (unpublished) (prosecutor’s vilification of defendant was deemed unnecessarily vitriolic, but not so prejudicial as to be reversible error)
People v. Zackowitz, 254 N.Y. 192, 172 N.E. 466 (1930) (prosecution improperly introduced evidence that defendant owned three pistols and a “tear gas gun” as part of effort to show defendant had an evil character).


Borden v. State, 444 So. 2d 402 (Ala.Cr.App. 1983)
Commonwealth v. Cary, 271 Va. 87, 623 S.E.2d 906 (2006)
Commonwealth v. Peppicelli, 70 Mass. App. Ct. 87, 872 N.E.2d 1142 (2007)
Coulthard v. Commonwealth, 230 S.W.3d 572 (Ky 2007)
Degro v. State, 34 Ala. App. 232; 38 So. 2d 354 (Ala. App. 1949)
Government of the Virgin Islands v. Salem, 456 F.2d 674 (3rd Cir. 1972)
Jackson v. State, 993 So.2d 45 (Ala. Cr. App. 2007)
Lowery v. State, 342 So. 2d 797 (Ala.Cr.App. 1976)
Parks v. State, 333 So. 2d 906 (Ala. Cr. App. 1976)
People v. Austin, 215 Ill. App. 3d 323, 574 N.E.2d 1297 (1991)
People v. Borrero, 118 A.D.2d 345; 504 N.Y.S.2d 654 (NY App. 1986) (rare case of trial conviction reversed on appeal in self-defense case)
People v. Garippo, 321 Ill. 157; 151 N.E. 584 (1926)
People v. Guirsch, 209 Ill. 2d 589, 813 N.E.2d 225 (2004)
People v. Magliato, 68 N.Y.2d 24; 496 N.E.2d 856; 505 N.Y.S.2d 836 (1986) (argued as accidental shooting, not self-defense)
State v. Abrams, 115 Kan. 520, 223 P. 301 (1924)
State v. Corchado, 188 Conn. 653; 453 A.2d 427 (1982)
State v. Foster, 2008 Ohio 3525 (Oh. App. 2008)
State v. Hoffman, 116 Wn.2d 51, 804 P.2d 577 (Wash. 1991)
State v. Powell, 237 Iowa 1227, 24 N.W.2d 769 (1946)
State v. Sanders, 556 S.W.2d 75 (Mo. App. 1977)
State v. Saunders, 267 Conn. 363, 838 A.2d 186 (2004)
State v. Stone, 24 Wn. App. 270; 600 P.2d 677 (Wash App. 1979)
United States ex rel Guirsch v. Battaglia, 2007 U.S. Dist Lexis 93838 (N.D. Ill. 2007) (unpublished)
United States v. Keiser, 57 F.3d 847 (9th Cir. 1995)


Copyright 2009, Lisa J. Steele, Bolton, MA. This article may be reprinted for training purposes, so long as this copyright notice and disclaimer are included.
This article is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and any reader. If you want specific legal advice, you need to hire an attorney.

You may be able to glean something about your local prosecutor and/or police chief’s attitudes from statements in the press in the aftermath of an officer-involved shooting or attempted felony ended by the victim defending him or herself. If you don’t like what you hear, you may want to complain to the official, or those who elect or appoint him or her.