Yesterday the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the assault conviction of Vernice Scott because the trial court had excluded evidence that was relevant to his claim that he acted in self-defense.
Under Oregon law all persons are entitled to defend themselves from what they reasonably believe to be the use or imminent use of physical force against them. In defending yourself you are entitled to use the level of force you reasonably believe necessary for that purpose.
This inclusion of what a person "reasonably believes" injects both an objective and a subjective perspective into the analysis. This in turn creates a situation in which every claim of self-defense must be analyzed upon the particular facts and history between the parties.
In Ms. Scott's case, she sought to introduce evidence that the so-called victim in her case had assaulted her some ten years prior to the current charge. The trial court refused to allow her to present this evidence on the ground that it was so remote in time from the current charges.
The Court of Appeals held that such evidence of a prior assault, even from ten years ago was relevant to Ms. Scott's "reasonable belief" concerning the need for her to use force to defend herself. Even better the appellate court refused the state's invitation to leave the conviction in place on the theory that that the exclusion of this critical evidence was just harmless error.
Self Defense in Oregon is one of the most protective defenses available to criminal defense attorneys and their clients. Once raised, the defense does not require the client to prove he or she acted in self-defense; Rather, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self defense.
Unfortunatley for Mr. Scott, he was originally convicted in September of 2012 and has been serving a 70 month Measure 11 sentence as a result of this erroneous conviction.Such a result demonstrates the need to retain experienced and effective defense counsel.