People v. Riddle, Docket No. 118181, Calendar No. 1.

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Citation467 Mich. 116,649 N.W.2d 30
Docket NumberDocket No. 118181, Calendar No. 1.
PartiesPEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Marcel R. RIDDLE, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date31 July 2002

649 N.W.2d 30
467 Mich. 116

PEOPLE of the State of Michigan, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Marcel R. RIDDLE, Defendant-Appellant

Docket No. 118181, Calendar No. 1.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued April 9, 2002.

Decided July 31, 2002.

649 N.W.2d 34
Jennifer M. Granholm, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, Michael E. Duggan, Prosecuting Attorney, and Timothy A. Baughman, Chief, Research, Training and Appeals, Detroit, MI, for the people

State Appellate Defender (by Douglas W. Baker), Detroit, MI, for the defendant-appellant.

649 N.W.2d 31
649 N.W.2d 32

649 N.W.2d 33

We granted leave in this case to consider whether defendant is entitled to the reversal of his convictions of second-degree murder1 and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felonyfirearm)2 on the ground that the trial court denied his request for a jury instruction that he was not required to retreat before exercising deadly force in self-defense while in his yard. We affirm.


The prosecution contends that Michigan law generally imposes a "duty to retreat" upon a person who would exercise deadly force in self-defense, and that the so-called "castle doctrine"—providing an exception to this duty to retreat when a person is attacked within his dwelling—does not extend to the area outside the dwelling. Defendant, on the other hand, contends that the castle doctrine should be extended to the curtilage and that he was not required to retreat when he was assaulted in his backyard.

Because Michigan's case law has become somewhat confused with respect to the concepts of retreat and the castle doctrine, we take this opportunity to clarify these principles as they apply to a claim of self-defense. We reaffirm today the following, according to the common-law principles that existed in Michigan when our murder statute was codified.

As a general rule, the killing of another person in self-defense by one who is free from fault is justifiable homicide if, under all the circumstances, he honestly and reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that it is necessary for him to exercise deadly force.3 The necessity element of self-defense normally requires that the actor try to avoid the use of deadly force if he can safely and reasonably do so, for example by applying nondeadly force or by utilizing an obvious and safe avenue of retreat.4

649 N.W.2d 35
There are, however, three intertwined concepts that provide further guidance in applying this general rule in certain fact-specific situations. First, a person is never required to retreat from a sudden, fierce, and violent attack; nor is he required to retreat from an attacker who he reasonably believes is about to use a deadly weapon.5 In these circumstances, as long as he honestly and reasonably believes that it is necessary to exercise deadly force in self-defense, the actor's failure to retreat is never a consideration when determining if the necessity element of self-defense is satisfied; instead, he may stand his ground and meet force with force.6 That is, where it is uncontested that the defendant was the victim of a sudden and violent attack, the Court should not instruct the jury to consider whether retreat was safe, reasonable, or even possible, because, in such circumstances, the law does not require that the defendant engage in such considerations.7

Second, Michigan law imposes an affirmative obligation to retreat upon a nonaggressor8 only in one narrow set of circumstances: A participant in voluntary mutual combat will not be justified in taking the life of another until he is deemed to have retreated as far as safely possible.9 One who is involved in a physical altercation in which he is a willing participant— referred to at common law as a "sudden affray" or a "chance medley"—is required to take advantage of any reasonable and safe avenue of retreat before using deadly force against his adversary, should the altercation escalate into a deadly encounter.

Third, regardless of the circumstances, one who is attacked in his dwelling is never required to retreat where it is otherwise necessary to exercise deadly force in self-defense. When a person is in his "castle,"there is no safer place to retreat; the obligation to retreat that would otherwise exist in such circumstances is no longer present, and the homicide will be deemed justifiable. This is true even where one is a voluntary participant in mutual combat.10 Because there is no indication that this "castle doctrine" extended to outlying areas within the curtilage of the home at the time of the

649 N.W.2d 36
codification of our murder statute, however, we decline defendant's invitation to extend the doctrine in this manner; we hold instead that the doctrine is limited in application to the home and its attached appurtenances.11


On the evening of August 15, 1997, defendant and two friends, Robin Carter and James Billingsley, convened at defendant's home. The three men were in the backyard just outside defendant's house, in the driveway near a detached garage, when defendant shot Carter in the legs eleven times with an automatic carbine rifle. After shooting Carter, defendant immediately drove to the Detroit River, where he disposed of the rifle. Carter, who did not have a weapon in his possession, was resuscitated at the scene but died as a result of the gunshot wounds three days later.

Although the facts in the preceding recitation are undisputed, at defendant's trial on charges of first degree murder12 and felony-firearm the prosecution and the defense presented different versions of the events leading to the shooting. Billingsley testified for the prosecution that after Carter made a disparaging comment about defendant's fiancee, defendant went into the house, came back outside armed with a rifle, and began firing at Carter. Billingsley stated that Carter was not armed and did not approach defendant when he came out of the house with the weapon. Defendant, on the other hand, testified that he intervened in an argument between Carter and Billingsley and that he told Carter, whom he considered to be "the more aggressive one," to leave. Seeing a "dark object" in Carter's hand and believing it to be a gun, defendant immediately reached for his rifle, which he testified was in his detached garage. Defendant stated that he aimed the rifle at Carter's legs and pulled the trigger, intending only to scare him.

Defendant requested that the jury be instructed, pursuant to CJI2d 7.17, that there is no duty to retreat in one's own home before exercising self-defense.13 The prosecution objected, contending that the instruction was not appropriate because the shooting took place outside the home, in the curtilage. Although defendant attempted to withdraw his request for CJI2d 7.17, the trial court proceeded to rule that the instruction was not appropriate under the circumstances of the case.14 The trial court instead instructed the jury, in accordance with CJI2d 7.16, as follows:

By law, a person must avoid using deadly force if he can safely do so. If the defendant could have safely retreated but did not do so, you can consider

649 N.W.2d 37
that fact along with all the other circumstances when you decide whether he went farther in protecting himself than he should have.
However, if the defendant honestly and reasonably believed that it was immediately necessary to use deadly force to protect himself from an [imminent] threat of death or serious injury, the law does not require him to retreat. He may stand his ground and use the amount of force he believes necessary to protect himself.15

The jury returned a verdict of guilty of the lesser offense of second-degree murder and guilty as charged of felony-firearm.

In his appeal before the Court of Appeals, defendant argued that the trial court improperly denied his request for a "no duty to retreat" instruction. The Court of Appeals panel examined this Court's decisions in Pond v. People, 8 Mich. 150 (1860), and People v. Lilly, 38 Mich. 270 (1878), and held that defendant had a duty to retreat if safely possible before exercising deadly force to repel an attack unless he was inside his dwelling or an inhabited outbuilding within the curtilage. Because the shooting occurred within the curtilage but not in an inhabited outbuilding, the panel opined, the trial court properly refused to instruct the jury that defendant had no duty to retreat. Unpublished opinion per curiam, issued October 13, 2000 (Docket No. 212111), 2000 WL 33405938.

We granted leave to appeal, limited to the issue whether the trial court committed error requiring reversal in denying defendant's request to instruct the jury concerning the lack of a duty to retreat. 465 Mich. 884, 636 N.W.2d 137 (2001). Because we conclude that the trial court did not err, we affirm defendant's convictions.


We are required in this case to determine under what circumstances a defendant must retreat before exercising deadly force in self-defense. This presents a question of law, which we review de novo. People v. Hamilton, 465 Mich. 526, 529, 638 N.W.2d 92 (2002); People v. Layher, 464 Mich. 756, 761, 631 N.W.2d 281 (2001).

A criminal defendant is entitled to have a properly instructed jury consider the evidence against him. People v. Rodriguez, 463 Mich. 466, 472, 620 N.W.2d 13 (2000); People v. Mills, 450 Mich. 61, 80-81, 537 N.W.2d 909 (1995). When a defendant requests a jury instruction on a theory or defense that is supported by the evidence, the trial court must give the instruction. Rodriguez, supra at 472-473, 620 N.W.2d 13; Mills, supraat 81, 537 N.W.2d 909. However, if an applicable instruction was not given, the defendant bears the burden of establishing that the trial court's failure to give the requested instruction resulted in a miscarriage of justice. MCL 769.26; R...

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