Introduction to Jodi Arias and Self Defense
In 2008, Travis Alexander was murdered in his home in Mesa Arizona.[i] Evidence showed that Travis Alexander was stabbed nearly 30 times, was shot in the head, and had his throat slit from ear to ear.[ii] Despite how gruesome this murder was, Jodi Arias claimed that all of her actions were in self-defense.[iii] Unfortunately for Jodi Arias and her self-defense claim, the jury still convicted her of first-degree murder and sentenced her to life in prison.
Individuals have the right to defend themselves from harm, but the law will only recognize a criminal defense of self-defense to a certain extent. Both the state and federal government permit self-defense as a criminal defense, but each jurisdiction has specific guidelines for what will constitute as self-defense.[iv] Self-defense is broadly defined as the right to prevent suffering force or violence through the use of sufficient level of counteracting force or violence.[v] This seems like an easy definition, but it gives more questions than answers for how to evaluate self-defense. Each jurisdiction must provide guidelines to help a jury determine when self-defense is appropriate to use and where is the line that the person defending themselves should not go past. These guidelines should also provide a way for the jury to determine whether or not the victim (or defendant in the court case) should have retreated instead of defending themselves. Like all criminal defenses, the guidelines only provide so much for the jury to use in their determinations. The jury will need to evaluate the case based on the facts presented and determine if self-defense was appropriate.
Self-defense is commonly used by those who were involved with crimes of violence, such as battery, assault with a deadly weapon, or even murder.[vi] Here, the accused will admit that they used violence toward the other party but had a valid reason to do so. Now, neither the court nor the jury will just take that with confidence and find the defendant innocent. The accused will need to prove that the violence was necessary. The guidelines that are provided to the court will help make this determination easier for the jury.
The core pieces to evaluating a self-defense case include looking at who was the aggressor, who started the fight or the argument between the parties.[vii] If Bill walks up to a man in a bar and punches him in the face, so over an argument the two had another day or for no reason at all, Bill is the aggressor. If the man punches Bill back in the face, and then Bill punches the man again, but now is claiming self-defense – that is not going to work. Bill was the initial aggressor and started the fight. Self-defense cannot be involved by the aggressor for the defense to be valid. Now, if Bill walked up and pushed a man in the bar and that man pulled a gun on Bill, there might be a scenario where Bill’s actions after the gun was pulled may constitute self-defense, but that would depend heavily on the facts and be up to the jury to decide.
Self-defense must be a necessary and reasonable reaction to a situation – and the defendant must have had that belief at the time of the incident.[viii] So, the next factor to consider is whether or not the defendant’s belief self-defense was necessary and reasonable.[ix] The jury is left to determine if the self-defense was necessary and reasonable if it would have been objectively and subjectively. So – the person using self-defense must have believed it was necessary and reasonable to carry out the actions that they did. It must also be objectively true; meaning a person outside of the situation would have likely done the same thing based on the same facts. If everything checks out, it is likely that the fact finder will determine self-defense was appropriately used.
Who is Jodi Arias and What Exactly Happened with Travis Alexander?
Jodi Arias was born in 1980 in Salinas California.[x] Jodi Arias was charged with murdering her ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander in 2008. Jodi and Travis met at a conference in Las Vegas, Nevada in 2006 and were in a committed relationship by the next year.[xi] It was revealed during trial that the couple had been on and off in a relationship but parted ways in June of 2007.[xii] Despite the break up, Jodi and Travis remained in a sexual relationship up until the time of his death in 2008.[xiii]
The body of Travis Alexander was found on June 9, 2008, which was approximately five days after he was murdered.[xiv] Travis was found in his home after his friends and family became worried about not hearing from him for nearly a week.[xv] Jodi Arias become the central focus of his murder investigation almost immediately.[xvi] Jodi Arias was arrested on suspicion of the murder but she denied any involvement.[xvii] Once police discovered her DNA at the crime scene, Jodi Arias changed her story and stated that she was there on the day that he died but that two masked intruders were the cause of his death.[xviii] Jodi Arias stuck to this story until the beginning of trial in 2013.[xix]
The Murder Trial
The trial for the murder of Travis Alexander was highly publicized for a number of reasons. First of foremost was because of the manner in which Travis Alexander was murdered.[xx] As previously stated, Travis Alexander was stabbed nearly 30 times, shot in the head, and had his throat slit.[xxi] He was found in a pool of his own blood five days after this heinous murder.[xxii] The next reason why this trial was so publicized and highly memorable was because Jodi Arias insisted on taking the stand and testified for 18 days straight.[xxiii] This is not a typical amount of time for a defendant to sit on the stand; in fact, the majority of defendants do not even take the stand. While many people believe that if the defendant does not take the stand it is because they are guilty or have something to hide, but there are a lot of other reasons why a criminal defendant would chose to not take the stand.
For starters, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution.[xxiv] The prosecution has the duty to prove to the jury that the defendant is guilty. The defendant and his defense counsel do not need to prove he did not do anything. If the prosecution fails to prove that the defendant is guilty, that is on the prosecution.[xxv] In a case where self-defense is being asserted, it may be necessary for the defendant to testify but it is not required.[xxvi] Another reason why a defendant may chose to not testify is simply because cross-examination is brutal.[xxvii] No matter how much a defendant practices with his defense team about what kind of questions the prosecution may ask him, there is no certainty to what will happen on the stand. The defendant could become overwhelmed and reveal information that discredits his character, or even just confess on the stand because he cannot handle the pressure. There are a dozen reasons why a defendant would chose to avoid testifying, it is just all up to the defendant.
Jodi Arias on the other hand, felt like she had something to prove to the jury. She took the stand and stayed up there for 18 days, during which time she provided testify regarding her childhood abuse and her alleged abusive relationship with Travis Alexander.[xxviii] Some of the jurors who found Jodi Arias guilty of first-degree murder explained that even though they believed her that she was emotionally and physically abused, that they did not believe that abuse was an excuse for the murder of Travis Alexander.[xxix] Other jurors stated that her long testimony had many contradicting stories, which greatly hurt her character.[xxx] Being on the stand for such an extended period of time worked against Jodi Arias because it painted a specific picture of her that was damaging in the eyes of jury members – which is exactly what should be avoided.
Conviction and Sentencing
Jodi Arias was convicted of first-degree murder of Travis Alexander on May 8, 2013.[xxxi]Despite the first-degree murder conviction, the jury was deadlocked when it came to sentencing.[xxxii] Because of this a new trial began in October of 2014 with a new jury.[xxxiii]Unfortunately this jury was deadlocked on sentencing as well. Since two separate juries were unable to reach a decision about sentencing, the sentencing was left to Judge Sherry Stephens.[xxxiv] Jude Stephens sentenced Jodi Arias to life in prison without the possibility of parole after 25 years.[xxxv]
Conclusion to Jodi Arias and Self Defense
Even though the jury believed that Travis Alexander abused Jodi Arias both emotionally and physically, the jury did not believe that murdered Travis was a justified event.[xxxvi]In order to claim self-defense, the act must be necessary and reasonable for the circumstances.[xxxvii]The act must be necessary and reasonable in the eyes of the defendant/victim AND it must be necessary and reasonable to an outside person.[xxxviii]So even though Jodi Arias told the jury that she subjectively believed she needed to kill Travis Alexander, the jury did not believe that objectively her actions were necessary and reasonable for the situation. Any number of factors could have changed whether or not the jury believed objectively that self-defense was necessary. For instance, if Travis Alexander was only shot once in the head then maybe that would have made a difference. Call to speak directly with a a at Ariano & Associates.
[i] See David Lohr Jodi Arias Sentenced to Life for Travis Alexander’s Murder Huffington Post (Published April 13, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/13/jodi-arias-sentenced_n_7054582.html
[iv] See Self Defense Overview Find Law (Accessed August 7, 2016) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-law-basics/self-defense-overview.html
[vi] See Defenses to Criminal Charges NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed July 19, 2016) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/defenses-criminal-charges-30275.html
[x] See Jodi Arias Biography Biography (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.biography.com/people/jodi-arias-21221959
[xix] See Jodi Arias Biography Biography (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.biography.com/people/jodi-arias-21221959
[xx] See David Lohr Jodi Arias Sentenced to Life for Travis Alexander’s Murder Huffington Post (Published April 13, 2015) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/13/jodi-arias-sentenced_n_7054582.html
[xxiii] See Katie Kindelan Jodi Arias Jury Foreman “18 days of testimony hurt her” (Published May 24, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/US/jodi-arias-jury-foreman-18-days-testimony-hurt/story?id=19248546
[xxiv] See Brett Snider 5 Reasons Defendants Chose Not to Testify Find Law (July 11, 2013) http://blogs.findlaw.com/blotter/2013/07/5-reasons-defendants-choose-not-to-testify.html
[xxviii] See Katie Kindelan Jodi Arias Jury Foreman “18 days of testimony hurt her” (Published May 24, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/US/jodi-arias-jury-foreman-18-days-testimony-hurt/story?id=19248546
[xxxi] See Jodi Arias Biography Biography (Accessed August 12, 2016) http://www.biography.com/people/jodi-arias-21221959
[xxxvi] See Katie Kindelan Jodi Arias Jury Foreman “18 days of testimony hurt her” (Published May 24, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/US/jodi-arias-jury-foreman-18-days-testimony-hurt/story?id=19248546
[xxxvii] See Defenses to Criminal Charges NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed July 19, 2016) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/defenses-criminal-charges-30275.html