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CRIMINAL LAW BLOG

CRIMINAL LAW BLOG from #ABKLaw Attorney Michael Jaccarino:

The trial in a road-rage shooting that left former NFL football player and New York Jets running back Joe McKnight dead began with jury selection last week in a New Orleans suburb. Ronald Gasser, 55, is charged with second-degree murder in the Dec. 1, 2016, shooting of the local high school football star.

Road rage incidents are, by their very nature, highly emotional situations, and the law of justification is extremely complicated. If this incident occurred in New York City, our Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins P.C. attorneys would analyze and scrutinize the following:

- Was the use of force justified?
- Was the defendant's perception of the threat reasonable?
- Did the defendant have a duty to retreat?

The outcome of the trial will depend on the answers to those questions and the ability of the lawyers to convince the jurors that the drivers was justified in the shooting.

Police said the confrontation took place as the men were traveling over a Mississippi River bridge in New Orleans and on roads in neighboring Jefferson Parish. Authorities said the shooting happened after both cars had stopped and McKnight approached Gasser's vehicle. Gasser shot McKnight three times.

Defense attorneys said last year that they believe McKnight tried to enter Gasser's car through the passenger window. They noted that Gasser stayed on the scene after the shooting and said he cooperated with police. The case is strikingly similar to the recent trial in Brooklyn of off-duty police officer Wayne Isaacs, who was acquitted last November of murder and manslaughter charges in the off-duty killing of an unarmed man, who the officer said attacked him during a late-night traffic dispute.

The defense lawyers in New Orleans will surely raise the same issues that the lawyers did in the Isaacs case, which in New York, hinges on the legal defense of justification, also known as self-defense. Most people know it is not illegal to defend yourself if attacked. That can be true even if you end up killing your attacker. The law has historically always recognized that it is not a crime to defend yourself.

When a person asserts self-defense, he is essentially saying that he did commit the act, however, he was justified in doing so. In New York, the law of justification is codified in Penal Code Article 35. The key to understanding justification is to recognize that it is all about proportionality and reasonableness. Your response to an attack has to be proportional to the attack that you are defending yourself from. For example, if a person comes up to you and starts to punch you in the face, you may be justified in punching him back to defend yourself. However, in that same hypothetical, you would not be justified in taking out a gun and shooting your attacker dead. However, if your attacker pulled out a knife you may be justified in shooting him. It all depends. The attack or threat of attack must also be imminent. The key issue in determining whether you are legally entitled to defend yourself is whether you subjectively believe that you must use physical force to defend yourself AND whether your belief is objectively reasonable. In other words, not only do you need to actually believe that you need to use physical force, but a neutral and average person looking at the situation from your perspective must have come to the same conclusion.

In New Orleans, the defendant used what New York calls, "deadly physical force," which raises even more questions, like whether or not the driver had the ability to retreat.

Road rage incidents are, by their very nature, highly emotional situations, and the law of justification is extremely complicated. If this incident occurred in New York City, our attorneys would analyze and scrutinize the following:

Was the use of force justified? Was the defendant's perception of the threat reasonable? Did the defendant have a duty to retreat?

The outcome of the trial will depend on the answers to those questions and the ability of the lawyers to convince the jurors that the drivers was justified in the shooting.

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