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Third District Reverses Conviction: Man Justifiably Stabbed Another in Defense of His Dwelling
Last month, the Third District reversed a second-degree murder conviction following a bench trial and held the defendant properly asserted the “defense of a dwelling” claim. People v. Yanez, 2022 IL App (3d) 200007.
During the late evening hours of December 15 into the early morning hours of December 16, 2018, Jose Yanez went with his girlfriend, Candice Rangel, and his 14-year-old nephew, Julian, to watch a fight at Rangel’s cousin’s house. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶4. After the fight, Julian returned to Yanez’s and Rangel’s shared home, while they met a group of friends at a bar. Id. Sometime after 3 a.m., Yanez and Rangel got into an argument that turned physical — Yanez struck Rangel, causing her nose to bleed. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶5.
After being struck, Rangel went to her brother Antonio Ortiz’s house. When Ortiz saw Rangel bleeding, he concluded Yanez hit her and went to Yanez’s house to confront him. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶6. Once at Yanez’s house, Ortiz entered the porch and began banging on the front door. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶8. Without getting up from the couch, Yanez yelled for Ortiz to go home. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶11.
After some time, Ortiz left, only to return. This time, Ortiz pounded harder and more aggressively than the first. While he pounded, Ortiz yelled, “[I]’m going to fuck you up.” Id.
Approximately 10 or 20 minutes later, Ortiz began pounding on the door a third time. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶12. This time, the knocking was even harder than the first two times, and Ortiz broke the door’s glass. Id. When the glass began breaking, Julian crawled away from the door. Yanez told Julian to call the police, but Julian was too frightened to do so. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶14. Ortiz kept pounding, fully broke the glass, and reached into the home. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶15. In response, Yanez grabbed a knife, went toward the door, and stabbed Ortiz in the chest once, killing him. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶¶15, 20.
Following the close of the evidence, the court found Yanez guilty of second-degree murder. Explaining its ruling, the trial court opined that Yanez “had all kinds of time.” 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶23. The surveillance video showed that Ortiz stepped back after reaching into the home and did not have anything in his hands when Yanez approached the front door. Such facts, the trial court ruled, did not show self-defense, but that Yanez was “lying in wait.” Id.
Reversing the trial court’s decision, the appellate court began by setting forth the proper legal standard. Under the defense of dwelling claim, “[a] man’s habitation is one place where he may rest secure in the knowledge that he will not be disturbed by persons coming within, without proper invitation or warrant, and that he may use all of the force apparently necessary to repel any invasion of his home.” 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶28, quoting People v. Eatman, 405 Ill. 491, 91 N.E.2d 387, 390 (1950). Illinois law further provides that a person justifiably uses “force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other’s unlawful entry into or attack upon a dwelling.” 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶28, quoting 720 ILCS 5/7-2(a). The use of force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury is justified only if “(1) [t]he entry is made or attempted in a violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner, and he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent an assault upon, or offer of personal violence to, him or another then in the dwelling, or (2) [h]e reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling.” Id.
These standards make clear, the court stressed, that unlike self-defense, defense of a dwelling “does not require danger to life or great bodily harm in order to invoke the right to kill.” 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶29, quoting Eatman, supra, 91 N.E.2d at 390. Rather, deadly force “is justified when the victim’s entry is made in a ‘violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner,’ and the defendant subjectively and reasonably believes that deadly force ‘is necessary to prevent an assault upon, or offer of personal violence to, him or another then in the dwelling.’ ” [Emphasis added by Yanez court.] 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶29, quoting 720 ILCS 5/7-2(a)(1) and citing People v. Sawyer, 115 Ill.2d 184, 503 N.E.2d 331, 335, 104 Ill.Dec. 774 (1986).
Applying the facts to the above standards, the court asserted that even taking the evidence in the light most favorable to the state, “there [wa]s grave doubt as to Yanez’s guilt.” 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶31. The facts left no question that Ortiz tried to enter Yanez’s home in a violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner. Accordingly, the only question was whether Yanez reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent Ortiz from assaulting him and/or his nephew. Id.
The evidence showed just that. Yanez was not the initial aggressor; Ortiz reached into Yanez’s home after breaking the home’s door’s window; Ortiz said, “I’m going to fuck your ass up,” while attempting to break into the home; and Yanez’s nephew was scared throughout Ortiz’s attempted break-in. Id. The court further stressed that Ortiz, who was over six feet tall and weighed 280 pounds, was significantly larger than Yanez, who was only five feet, seven inches tall. Ortiz was intoxicated and returned to the home on three occasions, pounding more aggressively each time. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at 32.
Such facts, the court held, showed Yanez was justifiably alarmed and failed to support the trial court’s assessment that Yanez was “lying in wait” and had “all kinds of time” to address the situation without resorting to deadly force. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at ¶35. The court again stressed that Ortiz was intoxicated and enraged, threatened to assault Yanez, broke the home’s glass door, and reached through the window. At that point, Yanez “was cornered inside his own home with his 14-year-old nephew.” 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at 37. The conclusion that these facts showed Yanez to be “lying in wait,” the court asserted, “defie[d] both common sense and the trial court’s finding that Yanez was not the aggressor.” Id.
The court accordingly ruled that even in the light most favorable to the state, “no rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Yanez’s use of force was not justified” and reversed Yanez’s conviction. 2022 IL App (3d) 200007 at 39.
For more information about criminal law, see DEFENDING CRIMINAL CASES: TRIALS, SENTENCING, APPEALS, AND POSTTRIAL ISSUES (IICLE®, 2022). Online Library subscribers can view it for free by clicking here. If you don’t currently subscribe to the Online Library, visit www.iicle.com/subscriptions.