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Landmark Decision in AZ Supreme Court Changes Face of Self-Defense Law

PHOENIX — On February 27, 2018 the Arizona Supreme Court ruled on a case involving a man who claimed non-involvement but later wanted the jury to consider that his actions–or rather the lack thereof–were done in self-defense.

In 2013 Antajuan Stewart Carson Jr. was charged and ultimately convicted of second-degree murder after a fight at a house party turned into a deadly altercation with two men shot and killed and a third man injured. Carson’s defense throughout the trial maintained that he was innocent by a claim of non-involvement, or in other words, he was not the man that pulled the trigger. After the shooting, Carson fled the state and was later arrested in Michigan and extradited back to Arizona for the trial. The handgun used in the shooting was never found.

Photo Courtesy of the Tucson Police Department

Antajuan Stewart Carson Jr. – Photo Courtesy of the Tucson Police Department

Just before the case was to be deliberated upon by the jury, the defense requested of the judge that the jury be given self-defense instructions as well. This seemed to imply that, although Carson was not the one who committed the act, if he had in fact done it the circumstances would show that his theoretical actions were actually justified by self-defense. The judge denied the request to provide the jury self-defense instructions. This was backed up by case law as you can see in State v. Plew, 722 P.2d 243 (AZ Sup. Ct. 1986), State v. Williams, 644 P.2d 889 (AZ Sup. Ct. 1982), State v. Ruggiero, 120 P.3d 690 (AZ. Ct. App. 2005), and several other cases.

You see, you cannot claim innocence from a crime by arguing you did not do it and then also claim that you should receive immunity from the charges because it was in self-defense. These two arguments are in opposition to each other! A claim of self-defense, by its nature, is a confession of the commission of the act, but you should receive immunity from prosecution because you were justified in protecting yourself or another person from a legitimate threat. Flip it around, and you cannot argue self-defense and then also state that you didn’t do it, because in making your self-defense claim you are also admitting that you did it!

However, this latest state Supreme Court ruling changes all of that and flips it right over onto its head. Quoting from the court’s opinion:

“… if the slightest evidence supports a finding of self-defense, the prosecution must prove its absence, even if the defendant asserts a misidentification defense. And if the case is tried to a jury, the trial court must give a self-defense instruction, if requested and supported by some evidence.”

While this expands the premise whereby innocent citizens can argue self-defense in future cases, it also can be viewed as an opportunity for criminals to effectively mount a defense that gets them off the proverbial hook.

In the end, Carson’s convictions were vacated and it was ordered that he be retried with a jury being provided the applicable self-defense instructions prior to deciding his case. This case firmly plants Arizona in new territory as it is the only state I am aware of that will allow for this type of defense claim. It will be interesting to see if any other cases arise and other states will follow suit.

Credit must be given to our good friend, Andrew Branca of The Law of Self Defense for bringing this case to our attention. He wrote up an excellent analysis of the case and the court’s rulings. You can check it out here on Andrew’s website,




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