State v. Norman
324 N.C. 253, 378 S.E.2d 8 (1989)

  • Norman was regularly beaten by her husband. He did some pretty horrible things to her. One night, while he was sleeping, she shot him three times in the back of the head, killing him dead.
    • Norman claimed that the shooting was in self-defense.
    • Norman's husband had beaten her earlier in the day, but at the time she shot him he was sleeping peacefully. Her life was not in immediate danger.
      • She had gone to the police that day, but was too scared to file charges. She also could have left while he was sleeping.
  • The Trial Court found Norman guilty of voluntary manslaughter. She appealed.
    • The jury was not given an instruction about self-defense.
  • The Appellate Court overturned the conviction and remanded for a new trial. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that a jury could have reasonably found that Norman could have killed her husband in self-defense even though he was asleep at the time, and self-defense is only applicable when the defendant believes there is a threat of imminent harm.
      • The Court suggested expanding the term "imminent" to include the near future.
  • The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed and upheld the conviction.
    • The North Carolina Supreme Court reviewed the evidence and found that, at best, Norman may have believed that it was necessary to kill her husband to save herself from imminent harm.
      • That would be a subjective standard.
    • However, under North Carolina law, in order to prevail on a self-defense claim, the belief must be reasonable.
      • That's an objective standard.
    • The Court found that a reasonable person would not have felt that shooting a sleeping person was the only way to save themselves from imminent harm. Therefore, the self-defense claim fails.
    • However, the Court noted that there is an imperfect right of self-defense. That's when a person unreasonably believes that ­self-defense is justified.
      • Imperfect self-defense doesn't remove all culpability, it simply reduces the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter because the defendant is acting negligently, not intentionally and therefore lacks malice.
    • The Court found the lack of a jury instruction about imperfect self-defense was harmless error, because they only convicted Norman of voluntary manslaughter anyway.
  • Under Model Penal Code 3.04(1), the standard for 'imminent' has been relaxed a bit. In order to qualify for self-defense, a defendant just needs to show that the use of defensive force was "immediately necessary."