State v. Cardilli, Self-Defense with a Gun — It’s Complicated and Dangerous.
Posted by Edmund R. Folsom, Esq., June 2, 2021.
The law of self-defense is complicated. State v. Cardilli, 2021 ME 31 demonstrates some of that complexity. It also makes clear that, for a person faced with whether to resort to self-defense, and if so how much force to use, the decision is more dicey than it was before a little-noticed 2008 Legislative change to the statute governing justification defenses generally.
The Facts of Cardilli
The facts of Cardilli are ugly — it’s a homicide case, so of course the facts are ugly. According to the trial court’s findings, as recited by the Law Court, it all shook out something like the following.
On March 4, 2019, Mark Cardilli, Jr., moved back into his parents’ home, in Portland, after serving 5 years in the U.S. Army. His 17-year-old sister also lived there. She was on bail conditions that prohibited her from having contact with her 22-year-old boyfriend, Isahak Muse. The no-contact condition was imposed after police found her riding in a stolen vehicle with Muse, but Cardilli’s sister completely ignored the condition. Although her father tried to limit her contact with Muse, both her father and her mother allowed Muse to visit their home fairly often.
On March 15, 2019, Cardilli’s parents turned down the sister’s request to let Muse come to their home. The sister invited Muse to visit anyway. Muse arrived around 10:00 p.m. Cardilli’s parents agreed to let him stay until 1:00 p.m. and asked Cardilli to check to be sure he was gone at that time. At 1:00 a.m., Muse was still there, so Cardilli and his mother confronted him in the sister’s room and told him he had to go. Muse had been drinking alcohol all day and had continued to drink with Cardilli’s sister at the Cardilli home. Rather than leave, Muse pleaded with Cardilli’s mother to let him stay. After 10-15 minutes of this, Cardilli’s father joined the effort to get Muse to leave.
Cardilli and his father walked Muse to the door and opened it, but Muse would not go. At this point, Cardilli’s mother shouted that her daughter had hit her, which prompted Muse to push Cardilli and his father out of the way and head back to the kitchen. Cardilli tried grabbing Muse but was unable to control him. Cardilli went to his bedroom to get his gun, but once there he changed his mind and returned to the kitchen without it. At that point, Muse and Cardilli’s father were grabbing onto each other. Cardilli pushed Muse against the counter and told him to leave. Cardilli’s sister joined the fray and started hitting Cardilli and her parents.
Cardilli returned to his bedroom and got his gun. Back in the kitchen, he told his father to stand behind him. He pulled his gun from his pocket and told Muse to get out. Muse started hollering for a phone, so he could call for a ride home. Cardilli’s sister ran at Cardilli and started hitting him. Cardilli pushed her away and then Muse started punching Cardilli. Cardilli’s father managed to push Muse away from Cardilli and throw him into the sister’s room and onto her bed. When Muse got up off the bed, he punched Cardilli in the face at least 4 or 5 times. As Muse was about to throw another punch, Cardilli shot him, grazing his finger and eyebrow. As Muse twisted away, Cardilli shot him twice more, on the right back side of his torso. Muse died from the gunshot wounds.
Cardilli was charged with murder, alleging that he intentionally or knowingly caused Muse’s death. He waived a jury and proceeded to trial before a Superior Court Justice, arguing that he was justified in shooting Muse as a matter of self-defense. Cardilli also argued that he was justified in using deadly force in defense of premises. He was found not guilty of murder but guilty of the lesser offense of manslaughter. Because the pertinent portions of the self-defense and defense of premises statutes have nearly identical requirements, the Law Court conducted its analysis focusing on the requirements of the self-defense statute alone.
How Is Self-Defense Determined by a Fact Finder?
In all criminal prosecutions, the State bears the burden of proving each element of each charged crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The State also bears the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified under any justification defense generated by the evidence. In Cardilli, self-defense was generated by the evidence. In other words, the evidence presented at trial made self-defense a reasonable hypothesis for the fact finder — the judge — to entertain, so the State bore the burden of disproving it beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of this, the judge was left to answer the following questions:
— Did the State prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cardilli intentionally or knowingly caused Muse’s death? If not, the State failed to prove Cardilli guilty of murder – end of case. On the other hand, if the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Cardilli caused Muse’s death intentionally or knowingly, that raised the next question;
— Did the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cardilli was not justified by self-defense? This, in turn, raises another question: What did the State need to prove in order to prove that Cardilli was not justified by self-defense?
To be justified in using deadly force against Muse, Cardilli had to have reasonably believed that: (1) Muse entered or surreptitiously remained within the home without license or privilege; and (2) deadly force was necessary to prevent Muse from inflicting bodily injury on Cardilli or another person present there. Justified self-defense in this context required that: (1) Cardilli must have actually, subjectively believed both of these things, and (2) Cardilli’s belief in each of these things must have been objectively reasonable. But it was the State’s burden to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt once it was generated by the evidence, not Cardilli’s burden to prove it. Given the allocation of the burden of proof, the fact-finder had to answer the following questions:
— Did the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Cardilli either: (1) did not actually, subjectively believe that Muse entered or surreptitiously remained within the home without license or privilege; or (2) did not actually, subjectively believe deadly force was necessary to prevent Muse from inflicting bodily injury on himself or others present there. Because Cardilli had to have believed both things for the self-defense of justification to apply, if the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not believe believe either one, the State disproved self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt and Cardilli is guilty of murder. On the other hand, if the State failed to prove the absence of both beliefs beyond a reasonable a reasonable doubt, the fact finder must move to the next question.
— Did the State prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was objectively unreasonable for Cardilli to believe Muse entered or surreptitiously remained within the home without license or privilege or that deadly force was necessary to prevent Muse from inflicting bodily injury on Cardilli or other’s present there? There are 2 possible answers:
— The State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one of these beliefs was objectively unreasonable. In this case, self-defense applies to justify Cardilli’s conduct, he must be acquitted, and the inquiry is finished; or
— The State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one of these beliefs was objectively unreasonable in the circumstances. This presents what is referred-to as a case of “imperfect self-defense.” In these circumstances, Maine law says Cardilli may not be found guilty of any crime that has the culpable mental state of intentionally or knowingly. Instead, he can only be convicted of a crime for which recklessness or criminal negligence suffices. Because murder requires that the prohibited act must be committed intentionally or knowingly, Cardilli cannot be convicted of murder. However, because the included offense of manslaughter only requires causation of human death recklessly or with criminal negligence, Cardilli can be found guilty of manslaughter if the fact finder finds that he caused Muse’s death acting recklessly or with criminal negligence. Again, this is what the Cardilli Court actially found – Cardilli was guilty of manslaughter.
It’s Complicated Enough to Give you a Headache, and Dangerous to Make the Wrong Call.
Isn’t this incredibly confusing and complicated stuff for a jury to sort through in a case decided by a jury instead of a judge? The complexity of the self-defense issues is probably a chief reason that his lawyers chose to waive the jury and proceed before a judge alone. But not only is the law of self-defense incredibly complicated for a fact-finder to sort out at a trial, it’s also incredibly complicated for an individual to sort out in the moment the person is confronted with whether to engage in self-defense and, if so, how much force to use. In this regard, Cardilli makes clear that, in 2008, the Legislature made the law of self-defense less favorable to anyone who makes the wrong decision in that fateful moment.
Until the 2008 change, the general rules for defenses and affirmative defenses provided:
“If a defense provided under this chapter is precluded solely because the requirement that the person’s belief be reasonable has not been met, the person may be convicted only of a crime for which recklessness or criminal negligence suffices, and then, only if holding the belief, when viewed in light of the nature and purpose of the person’s conduct and the circumstances known to the person, is grossly deviant from what a reasonable and prudent person would believe in the same situation [emphasis added].”
This made sense, because Maine law then provided, and still provides, that when the state of mind of “recklessly” (involving conscious disregard of a risk) or with “criminal negligence” (involving a failure to be aware of a risk) is at issue, the disregard or failure to be aware of the risk, “when viewed in light of the nature and purpose of the person’s conduct and the circumstances known to the person, must involve a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable and prudent person would observe in the same situation.” Since the State must prove that the criminal conduct itself was committed with a reckless or criminally negligent state of mind, it makes sense that any erroneously- held belief as to the existence of conditions justifying self-defense or the reasonableness of the degree of force to use in pursuit of it must also be proven reckless or criminally negligent. But regardless whether this made sense, it is no longer the case.
In 2008, the Legislature struck that portion of the general rule on defenses italicized and quoted above. Now, if the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the person’s beliefs, regarding the existence of circumstances justifying self-defense or the reasonableness of the degree of force to be used, were objectively unreasonable, the inquiry stops there. The State is no longer required, in order to defeat a generated claim of self-defense, to additionally prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s beliefs were grossly deviant from what a reasonable and prudent person would have believed in the same situation. Although subtle, this works a significant change in Maine law and requires an extra measure of caution on the part of anyone making a snap decision whether self-defense is justified and, if so, how much force is reasonable.
When it comes to self-defense or defense of premises, the use of deadly force has a serious potential to result in a deadly consequence (and failure to use it when justified might result in a deadly consequence for the person who makes that decision, too). Hindsight is 20-20, but if the Cardillis had called the cops instead of trying to eject Muse from their house themselves, little sister would have gotten in trouble for her bail violation but Muse would probably still be alive and Cardilli would definitely not be serving the 7 ½ years he is now serving in prison for killing him.
Maine’s law of self-defense is complicated, and it’s not particularly friendly to those who use a gun, other than in very narrowly-drawn circumstances, especially when the person who gets shot did not use or threaten to use deadly force. And although the Legislature’s 2008 change to the law governing self-defense went unnoticed for a long time, that change makes it easier than it used to be for the State to lock up a person who makes the wrong judgment call.
Disclaimer: The above is not legal advice and is not to be taken as legal advice. It is for informational purposes only. The reader does not have an attorney/client relationship with the author by virtue of having read the above.