Self-Defense and Endangering an Injured Victim (Part 1)

by | Jul 7, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

On May 13, 2021, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Essex County case of State v. Julian Sanders. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.2 involved the application of a self-defense charge to a case involving the endangerment of an injured victim.

Judge Gooden-Brown wrote for the Appellate Division in relevant part: An interpretation of the endangering statute that allows self-protection as a defense to liability is not supported by the legislative history. Instead, liability under the statute appears to encompass a participant in the events causing the victim’s injury, irrespective of whether the participant reasonably believes the injury-causing force was necessary for self-protection or the protection of others. In that vein, leaving the scene without summoning medical assistance for a subdued and injured attacker does not appear to extend beyond the reach of the endangering statute.

Whether or not self-defense applies to the endangering statute under any circumstances, we are satisfied that its omission in the unique facts presented in this case does not rise to the level of plain error. Here, when defendant walked away, it was clear that his conduct had rendered Anthony physically helpless such that he no longer posed a threat to defendant or anyone else. Indeed, the jury’s determination that Anthony was “physically helpless” as evidenced by the verdict obviates a finding that defendant could have had a reasonable belief in the need to use force or no ability to safely retreat to justify self-defense. See State v. O’Neil (2014) (“The use of deadly force is justifiable provided that the defendant reasonably believed that such force is necessary to protect himself against death or serious bodily harm, and he does not have the ability to safely retreat.”

With trial issues like this, it is usually safer for judges looking to avoid a reversal to side with the defense. That is because jeopardy attaches upon acquittal and it bars an appeal by the prosecution. On the other hand, a conviction triggers an automatic right for the defendant to appeal.