Tag Archives: Washington Self Defense Lawyer

Fighting Back! The Use of Affirmative Defenses in Your Criminal Case

Frank Walker Law Pittsburgh Lawyer

Affirmative defenses, generally speaking, are defenses that if proven by the defendant, mitigate or excuse the conduct of the defendant on legal grounds, even though absent the defense the defendant could have potentially been found guilty of the underlying criminal charge. Affirmative defenses include self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, insanity, intoxication, mistake of fact or law, consent, accident, coercion and duress, execution of public duty, entrapment, and other offense-specific defenses.

Once an affirmative defense has been raised, it is up to the Commonwealth to disprove that defense (with exceptions).  This does not mean that in a criminal case the Commonwealth must disprove all potential affirmative defenses. Instead, affirmative defenses must be raised before they must be contested by the Commonwealth.

A thorough explanation of each defense could constitute the basis of their own post, but generally speaking, most affirmative defenses include a justification or excuse for the intent element necessary to convict of a crime.  For example, in a Simple Assault case, it is a necessary element that the defendant attempted to cause or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused bodily injury to another.  With the affirmative defenses of self-defense or defense of others, the intent is to protect the self or someone else, not to cause injury to the one assaulted.

Not every affirmative defense puts the burden on the Commonwealth to disprove it beyond a reasonable doubt. For example, to establish the defense of entrapment, the burden is on the defense to show that the evidence demonstrates that the evidence shows that it is more likely than not (a preponderance of the evidence standard) that the defendant was entrapped.  Likewise in the case of an insanity defense, the burden is on the Defense to establish that a defense of insanity applies by a preponderance of the evidence.  Most affirmative defenses may be brought up for the first time at trial, with the exception of defenses such as insanity or mental infirmity which require notice to the Commonwealth in a timely manner.

If you or a loved one has been accused of a criminal offense it is important that you retain an experienced attorney who can assess your potential culpability and mount a serious defense to the charges.  Attorney Frank Walker of Frank Walker Law is a National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer and Personal Injury Attorney with offices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Morgantown, West Virginia. Call now for a consultation! Our number is (412) 212-3878 for our clients in Pennsylvania and (304) 712-2089 for those in West Virginia.

Castle Doctrine Defense: Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer Obtains Acquittal on Washington County Homicide

The Pittsburgh Criminal Law firm of FrankWalkerLaw obtained an acquittal on Homicide Charges in a widely publicized Murder Trial involving Self-Defense.

The central issue was whether a decorated Afghanistan and Iraqi veteran, Brandon Thomas, was found NOT GUILTY of First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder, Third Degree Murder or Voluntary Homicide when he shot and killed Vaughn Simonelli.  To reach their verdict, the Washington County Jury had to determine whether Mr. Thomas was justified in his actions or whether his actions were protected under the Castle Doctrine Law of Pennsylvania.

Generally, to establish the defense of self-defense, or defense of others, it must be shown that a) the slayer, or the other he seeks to protect, was free from fault in provoking or continuing the difficulty which resulted in the slaying; b) that the slayer must have reasonably believed that he [or the other he seeks to protect] was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and that there was a necessity to use such force in order to save himself [or the other] therefrom; and c) the slayer [or the other he seeks to protect] did not violate any duty to retreat or to avoid the danger.

If there is any evidence from whatever source that will support these three elements then the decision as to whether the claim is a valid one is left to the jury and the jury must be charged properly thereon by the trial court.

However, the case of Commonwealth v. Brandon Thomas is unique because it was the first case where the Castle Doctrine was raised as a defense in addition to the general rule of Self-Defense or Justification.

The Castle Doctrine of Pennsylvania provides that an actor is presumed to have a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat if both of the following conditions exist: The person against whom the force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered and is present within, a dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle; or the person against whom the force is used is or is attempting to unlawfully and forcefully remove another against that other’s will from the dwelling, residence or occupied vehicle.

In Commonwealth v. Thomas, the Defense established through witness and scientific evidence that Mr. Thomas was in his car during the time of the shooting and that the assailant, Vaughn Simonelli, was unlawfully attacking Mr. Thomas through the window of of his vehicle. Applying the law of self defense and Castle Doctrine Defense, the jury was free to presume that the Defendant’s force used against Vaughn Simonelli was lawful and accordingly found Mr. Thomas justified and acquitted him of Murder and Manslaughter charges. 

Pittsburgh Criminal Lawyer Frank Walker was satisfied with the verdict and simply stated, “The jury heard the facts and found that Vaughn Simonelli attacked Mr. Thomas, Mr. Thomas retreated to his car and was attacked again by Vaughn Simonelli when he attempted to enter and attack Mr. Thomas through his car window. Mr. Thomas used whatever force was necessary to defend himself against the attack and the jury found the same.”

Attorney Frank Walker of Frank Walker Law is a National Top 100 Criminal Defense Lawyer and Personal Injury Attorney with offices in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and Morgantown West Virginia.

If you or someone you love are facing criminal charges or seriously injured in an accident, contact Attorney Frank Walker immediately at 412-315-744124 hours a day, 7 days a week for aggressive and experienced Criminal Defense or Representation in a Civil Case.