Judges have broad discretion when it comes to allowing defendants to represent themselves. In a recent case, a judge denied a pro se petition by Dwight Doty to represent himself in the slaying of a 9-year-old boy whose father was a member of a rival gang. But another recent case outlines the perils of getting what you wish for.
Jovan Battle, a homeless man who was accused of murdering an off-duty police officer was convicted after a jury determined he was culpable for the death of an officer and the wounding of his friend. While the case would have likely resulted in a conviction of some kind, it did not have to result in a first-degree murder conviction and several armed battery counts for which Battle will spend the rest of his life in prison. In fact, Battle never pulled the trigger or opened fire on anyone.
According to prosecutors, Battle mistook the police officer for some another person with whom he had had a fight earlier that night. He directed one of the two other men he was with that night to their car and that man opened fire, killing the officers and injuring his friend. Of course, none of that should have been disclosed to police during the interrogation, and yet all of it was, so it formed the basis of their first-degree murder charge against Battle.
A Dozen Different Ways to Defend Against a Murder by Proxy Charge
Essentially, the prosecution’s case rested on the fact that Battle directed a man with a weapon who he knew would discharge the weapon on the targets to the targets. It is the kind of “but…for” argument that you see in civil cases. But for the fact that Battle had not led the co-defendants to the officer’s car, the officer would still be alive. Thus all three men were charged with the same crime of committing murder.
Despite that fact, Battle never directly killed anyone. In Illinois, however, being an accessory to murder simply means that you are guilty of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule. Anyone who, in the commission of a felony, either directly or indirectly causes another person to die is guilty of first-degree murder in Illinois. While that is a harsh sentence, that does not always make sense, there are situations in which it makes it easier for the prosecution to try a person for murder even when they did not fire a gun.
However, in order to be guilty under the felony murder rule, prosecutors had to show that Battle aided in the commission of a felony. They were able to do this when Battle and his two other cohorts approached the vehicle with the intention of causing harm to the people inside. Since one of them died, all three men were charged with murder.
But it did not have to go down that way. Had Battle had a defense attorney with him during questioning, the attorney would have advised him not to offer this information to police. That would have forced the prosecution to prove what Battle did or did not know about the other men and speculate as to his involvement in the slaying.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are being charged by police, it is imperative that you have an attorney present to preserve the integrity of your case. If you blab to police and then try to convince a jury that the law should not apply to you, then you are going to end up spending the rest of your life in prison, like Jovan Battle. Before that happens, give David Freidberg, Attorney at Law a call at (312) 560-7100 and talk to us early in the process.
(image courtesy of Drew Patrick Miller)