If a defendant properly raises a claim of self-defense, the state must disprove that defense. The jury will be instructed as follows:
- A person is justified in using physical force on another person to defend herself from what she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force. In defending, a person may only use that degree of force which she reasonably believes to be necessary. The burden of proof is on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defense does not apply.
But what if a person believes they are acting in self-defense but their belief is unreasonable? The state will argue the defense does not apply. But is someone who intentionally kills someone no more morally culpable than someone who kills out of an unreasonable misapprehension of the need to defend themselves? Should the law recognize a difference between the two?
Arguably, the law already does so, albeit indirectly. You might be able to get there by applying a mental state to the element of self-defense. All material elements for crimes in the criminal code have mental states barring express language from the legislature. "Not acting in self-defense" is an element (i.e., something the state must prove in order to obtain a conviction.)
For more on this argument, please e-mail me directly.