Last week, police charged an East Harlem man with second-degree murder and two charges of assault after he allegedly beat a man to death who had made sexual comments about his 14-year old daughter.
Luis Ortiz lived in the apartment building next door to the beaten man, Ariel Alvarado. An argument allegedly broke out between the men after Ortiz discovered that Alvarado had been leering at and making comments about his daughter “over an extended period of time.”
Ortiz allegedly beat Alvarado, finally throwing him down a set of stairs. Alvardo was found unconscious at the bottom of the stairs and transported to the hospital where he later died of his injuries.
When is a Father Justified in Using Physical Force?
Although in this matter, Ortiz may not be justified in his use of force, there are times when a father may be justified in using force against someone in defense of his child.
Under New York Penal Law § 35.15, someone can lawfully use deadly physical force against another person if he believes it is necessary to defend himself or someone else from deadly physical force by that person. But even in such a situation, the person must retreat before using deadly force if they can do so safely.
It also must be tested against whether the defendant truly believed that deadly force was about to be used on him or the other party and whether a “reasonable person” in the same position and knowing what they knew would have felt the same way.
What is Reasonable?
When it comes to self defense and justification, the term “reasonable” is referred to several times but is not defined anywhere in New York Law. So then, what does it mean to act reasonably? And who decides this?
A standard of reasonableness has been agreed upon by the New York Court of Appeals. This standard requires that a jury consider what is reasonable, given all the circumstances that the accused person was in and was aware of, including consideration of their past life experiences and belief system that may have colored their belief of another’s intentions.
Was Ortiz Justified in Using Deadly Force?
In this case, did Ortiz reasonably believe his daughter was in imminent danger of deadly physical force? We don’t know the full facts surrounding the matter, and we don’t know what type of threat Alvarado posed and what comments and behavior led to the incident. It was suggested by some who knew him that Alvarado may have had a drinking problem as well as a disability.
Did Ortiz believe Alvarado was an imminent physical threat to his daughter, or was it a case of a father just losing his cool against someone who was inappropriately referring to and behaving toward her?
Self Defense and Justification
Because a jury is asked to step into the shoes of a defendant in self defense and justification matters, it can make it an extremely complex area of the law. Getting it wrong can result in serious consequences for the defendant.
As New York City criminal defense lawyers, we will be interested to see what the defense will use in this matter.