Com. v. Pike

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore WILKINS; FRIED
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. Richard C. PIKE.
Decision Date19 November 1998

Page 951

701 N.E.2d 951
428 Mass. 393
COMMONWEALTH

v.
Richard C. PIKE.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Hampden.
Argued Oct. 5, 1998.
Decided Nov. 19, 1998.

Page 954

Kenneth I. Seiger, Holyoke, for defendant.

Marcia B. Julian, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Before WILKINS, C.J., and ABRAMS, LYNCH, GREANEY, FRIED, MARSHALL and IRELAND, JJ.

FRIED, Justice.

The defendant, Richard C. Pike, was convicted of the lesser offense of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle on an indictment charging armed carjacking, and assault and battery [428 Mass. 394] by means of a dangerous weapon. 1 He was sentenced to a prison term of from six to eight years for the assault and battery conviction as well as a term of two years in a house of correction for the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. The two-year sentence was suspended, and a probation condition barring the defendant from entering the Commonwealth at any time was imposed. The defendant appeals from his convictions and challenges the constitutionality of the special condition of probation. We transferred his appeal to this court on our own motion. We uphold the defendant's convictions but conclude the probation condition is invalid.

I

In October, 1996, Frederick Holmes, an off-duty Massachusetts State trooper, was driving his automobile on the Massachusetts Turnpike when he noticed traffic in front of him veering into the passing lane to avoid hitting two men, the defendant and Thomas Cutter, who were hitchhiking along the roadway. According to the defendant, he and Cutter, both residents of New Hampshire, had been traveling on the turnpike when their pickup truck broke down. They removed the truck's radio to prevent it from being stolen, left the truck where it had broken down, and walked along the highway, hoping someone would stop to pick them up.

Because he believed the hitchhikers were a hazard to traffic, Trooper Holmes stopped his car in the breakdown lane and approached the two men on foot. The testimony of Holmes and of the defendant differ sharply regarding what happened next. 2 The evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant suggests the following sequence of events. When Holmes left his car, he approached the two men rapidly, shouting angrily. He came close to the defendant and Cutter, using obscenities and telling them they should not be hitchhiking on the turnpike. The defendant testified that he was scared at this point because Holmes was very close to the defendant, with "spit coming out of his mouth," and because the defendant did not know what Holmes was about to do. According to the defendant, Holmes [428 Mass. 395] wore civilian clothing and neither identified himself as a police officer nor displayed a badge.

The defendant testified that Holmes then reached back, as if to grab an object or to hit the defendant, so the defendant dropped the truck's radio on the ground and grabbed Holmes by the arms. In the ensuing scuffle, described in more detail below, Holmes flipped the defendant over the guardrail along side the highway and attempted to hold him there. The defendant, however, was able to come back over the guardrail, at which point he picked up the radio and threw it at Holmes, hitting Holmes in the side of the head. Holmes suffered a cut and scrapes on his head and neck resulting from the impact of the radio. The defendant and Cutter then got into Holmes's automobile, which was parked in the breakdown lane with the keys still in the ignition, and drove down the turnpike before abandoning the automobile

Page 955

in a restaurant parking lot and boarding a bus back to New Hampshire.
II

The defendant claims that the trial judge erred in refusing to instruct the jury on self-defense. A defendant is entitled to a self-defense instruction if any view of the evidence would support a reasonable doubt as to whether the prerequisites of self-defense were present. See Commonwealth v. Harrington, 379 Mass. 446, 450, 399 N.E.2d 475 (1980); Commonwealth v. Monico, 373 Mass. 298, 299, 366 N.E.2d 1241 (1977). If, however, the evidence was insufficient to allow a reasonable doubt to be raised, no self-defense instruction would be necessary. See Commonwealth v. Maguire, 375 Mass. 768, 772, 378 N.E.2d 445 (1978). In determining whether sufficient evidence of self-defense exists, all reasonable inferences should be resolved in favor of the defendant, and, no matter how incredible his testimony, that testimony must be treated as true. See Commonwealth v. Vanderpool, 367 Mass. 743, 746, 328 N.E.2d 833 (1975).

The proper standard for determining whether a defendant's particular actions were justifiably undertaken in self-defense depends on the level of force he used on his victim and the circumstances that prompted those actions. The right to use nondeadly force arises at a "somewhat lower level of danger" than the right to use deadly force. Commonwealth v. Baseler, 419 Mass. 500, 502-503, 645 N.E.2d 1179 (1995), quoting Commonwealth v. Bastarache, 382 Mass. 86, 105, 414 N.E.2d 984 (1980). In this case, the defendant was charged with assault and battery by means of a [428 Mass. 396] dangerous weapon. Whatever the judgment might be about the reasonableness of the defendant's initial grabbing of Holmes, it is the later throwing of the radio at Holmes that is the basis of this charge. The standard for self-defense by deadly force should be applied, even though death did not result. 3 See Baseler, supra at 502-503, 645 N.E.2d 1179; Bastarache, supra at 105 & n. 15, 414 N.E.2d 984; Commonwealth v. Houston, 332 Mass. 687, 690, 127 N.E.2d 294 (1955) ("In order to create a right to defend oneself with a dangerous weapon likely to cause serious injury or death, it must appear that the person using the weapon had a reasonable apprehension of great bodily harm and a reasonable belief that no other means would suffice to prevent such harm").

Given this standard, it follows that a self-defense instruction must be given when deadly force was used only if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant, permits at least a reasonable doubt that the defendant reasonably and actually believed that he was in "imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, from which he could save himself only by using deadly force." Commonwealth v. Harrington, 379 Mass. 446, 450, 399 N.E.2d 475 (1980). See Commonwealth v. Reed, 427 Mass. 100, 103, 691 N.E.2d 560 (1998) (merely being afraid is not sufficient); Commonwealth v. Barros, 425 Mass. 572, 576, 682 N.E.2d 849 (1997); Houston, supra at 690, 127 N.E.2d 294. For such a belief to be reasonable, the victim must have committed some overt act against the defendant. If an assault includes the threat of an action that would cause the defendant serious bodily injury, this is sufficient to require such an instruction. Self-defense using deadly force is not justified in the absence of such a threat. See Commonwealth v. Taylor, 32 Mass.App.Ct. 570, 578, 591 N.E.2d 1108 (1992) (victim's possession of gun did not justify defendant's actions, claimed to be done in self-defense, in absence of evidence that victim overtly threatened defendant with gun). See also Commonwealth v. Glass, 401 Mass. 799, 808, 519 N.E.2d 1311 (1988); Commonwealth v. Doucette, 391 Mass. 443, 453-454, 462 N.E.2d 1084 (1984).

If the defendant's apprehension of grievous bodily harm or death, though mistaken, was reasonable, his actions in self-defense may be justifiable. See Glass, supra

Page 956

at 808, 519 N.E.2d 1311; Commonwealth[428 Mass. 397] v. Barber, 394 Mass. 1013, 1013, 477 N.E.2d 587 (1985). Cf. Commonwealth v. Naylor, 407 Mass. 333, 553 N.E.2d 542 (1990) (Commonwealth conceded that the defendant's belief that he was in danger, although mistaken, was reasonable). Thus, although there is no evidence that Holmes intended to injure the defendant, and although the evidence suggests that Holmes, a law enforcement officer, approached the defendant not intending to cause him serious bodily harm, the defendant may have been entitled to a self-defense instruction if he reasonably believed that Holmes meant to injure him seriously.

According to the defendant's testimony, the scuffle between the defendant and Holmes progressed in two stages. In the first, the two men wrestled in the breakdown lane, Holmes eventually flipping the defendant over the guardrail along side the highway. Holmes held the defendant to the ground on the other side of the guardrail, tearing the defendant's shirt and pulling his hair. After a few moments, Holmes let go of the defendant and retreated "a little way away" from the defendant. The second stage of the altercation involved the defendant's use of the radio as a weapon. The defendant testified that, after Holmes let go of him, the defendant "came back over the guardrail." He saw Holmes "coming towards" him, and he picked up the radio from the pavement and threw it at Holmes, striking Holmes in the head.

The evidence suggests that the defendant initially assaulted Holmes because the defendant saw Holmes reach behind his back and that the defendant grabbed Holmes's arms to prevent Holmes from attacking him. Whether the defendant's fear of attack was reasonable is a factual question, depending upon a number of circumstances, such as whether the victim was armed and the physical size of the victim, see Commonwealth v. Rubin, 318 Mass. 587, 590, 63 N.E.2d 344 (1945), and is ordinarily to be determined by the jury. We need not reach that question here. Because the defendant was convicted of assault by means of a dangerous weapon, the crucial inquiry is not whether the defendant was justified in grabbing or striking Holmes in the first stage of the fight, but whether he was justified in later throwing the radio at Holmes. The evidence does not support the defendant's self-defense theory in this regard.

With respect to the beginning of the second part of the...

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173 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. GOODWIN, SJC-10647.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 17, 2010
    ...The two principal goals of probation are rehabilitation of the defendant and protection of the public. See Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 403, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998); Mariano v. Judge of Dist. Court of Cent. Berkshire, 243 Mass. 90, 93, 137 N.E. 369 (1922) (“purpose [of probation] ... ......
  • Com. v. Espada, SJC-09381.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • February 20, 2008
    ...in self-defense. Evidence pertinent to self-defense is viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant. See Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 395, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998); and cases The defendant was a good friend of Bass. On the night of the incident, Bass asked him to bring some mari......
  • Commonwealth v. Shipps, Nos. 18-P-944 & 18-P-945
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • February 7, 2020
    ...or sexual conduct; applying "rational basis" test, statutory condition did not violate due process). Contrast Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 393-394, 404-405, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998) (invalidating probation condition banning defendant from Commonwealth following conviction of unauthoriz......
  • Commonwealth v. Guzman, SJC–11483.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 25, 2014
    ...goals of sentencing and probation.” Commonwealth v. Lapointe, 435 Mass. 455, 459, 759 N.E.2d 294 (2001), quoting Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 403, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998). See Commonwealth v. Goodwin, 458 Mass. 11, 17, 933 N.E.2d 925 (2010). The defendant urges that we employ this “re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
173 cases
  • Commonwealth v. GOODWIN, SJC-10647.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 17, 2010
    ...The two principal goals of probation are rehabilitation of the defendant and protection of the public. See Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 403, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998); Mariano v. Judge of Dist. Court of Cent. Berkshire, 243 Mass. 90, 93, 137 N.E. 369 (1922) (“purpose [of probation] ... ......
  • Com. v. Espada, SJC-09381.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • February 20, 2008
    ...in self-defense. Evidence pertinent to self-defense is viewed in the light most favorable to the defendant. See Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 395, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998); and cases The defendant was a good friend of Bass. On the night of the incident, Bass asked him to bring some mari......
  • Commonwealth v. Shipps, Nos. 18-P-944 & 18-P-945
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • February 7, 2020
    ...or sexual conduct; applying "rational basis" test, statutory condition did not violate due process). Contrast Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 393-394, 404-405, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998) (invalidating probation condition banning defendant from Commonwealth following conviction of unauthoriz......
  • Commonwealth v. Guzman, SJC–11483.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 25, 2014
    ...goals of sentencing and probation.” Commonwealth v. Lapointe, 435 Mass. 455, 459, 759 N.E.2d 294 (2001), quoting Commonwealth v. Pike, 428 Mass. 393, 403, 701 N.E.2d 951 (1998). See Commonwealth v. Goodwin, 458 Mass. 11, 17, 933 N.E.2d 925 (2010). The defendant urges that we employ this “re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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