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Michigan Supreme Court Finds that Defendant May Present Affirmative Defense of Self Defense for CCW

Michigan Supreme Court

Whether the common-law affirmative defense of self-defense is available to a defendant charged with carrying a concealed weapon (CCW); MCL 750.227(1); People v. Townsel; “Other dangerous weapon”; People v. Goolsby; People v. Vaines; "Self-defense"; People v. Dupree; “Momentary innocent possession”; People v. Hernandez-Garcia; Prejudice; People v. Carines

Summary:Holding that “the common-law affirmative defense of self-defense is available to a defendant charged with CCW for concealing an instrument which is a dangerous weapon only because it is used as a weapon,” the court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacated the defendant’s CCW conviction, and remanded.

Defendant was arguing with his wife on the side of the road when two men pulled over. As the situation escalated, one of the men allegedly began choking defendant. Defendant pulled out a utility knife and held it in the air. The men got back in their car and drove off. Defendant was charged with felonious assault, CCW, and domestic violence. The trial court instructed the jury that self-defense was an available defense to the felonious assault charge, but not to the CCW charge. The jury then acquitted him of felonious assault, but convicted him of CCW and domestic violence. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

On appeal, the high court noted that because “there is no ‘clear indication’ that the Legislature abrogated or modified the common-law affirmative defense of self-defense in the CCW statute, such that defendant would be precluded from asserting it to justify” his actions, he “should have been allowed to present self-defense as an affirmative defense to his” CCW charge. “The actions that resulted in the defendant’s violation of the CCW statute were the same as those that resulted in his charge of assault, which he explained were justified because he acted in lawful self-defense. Unless the prosecution disproved beyond a reasonable doubt his claim of self-defense, the defendant was justified in violating the CCW statute as well as the assault statute.”

The court rejected the Court of Appeals’ reasoning that “a defendant’s purpose for concealing a weapon is irrelevant to determining” his or her guilt for violating the statute. “Concealing an instrument that is charged as an ‘other dangerous weapon’ under MCL 750.227(1), violates the statute only when a defendant in fact uses it as a weapon.” A defendant’s “use or purpose for carrying an ‘other dangerous weapon’ is always relevant to determining a defendant’s guilt under MCL 750.227(1).” Thus, “self-defense is available to a defendant charged with violating MCL 750.227(1) when a concealed instrument becomes a dangerous weapon when the defendant uses it as such. While the defendant’s utility knife became an ‘other dangerous weapon’ under MCL 750.227(1) when he used it as a weapon, [he] was entitled to present the affirmative defense of self-defense to justify his use of it.”

The trial court’s “instruction that self-defense was not available to the defendant with respect to his CCW charge” was erroneous and affected his substantial rights.

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