In Commonwealth v. Abubardar, the Supreme Judicial Court reversed the defendant’s conviction of assault and battery (as a lesser included offense of attempted murder), because the judge failed to instruct the jury on the use of non-deadly force in self-defense.
The background was as follows. On the basis of an altercation between the defendant and the complainant inside a parked van, the defendant was charged with attempted murder. At the trial, “[t]he defendant testified that the complainant instigated the events by hitting and scratching him, and he was ‘just sitting there,’ ‘trying to hold [the complainant] and contain her … so [he] could get away.’ The complainant testified that the defendant threatened and choked her; the defendant claimed he only pushed her away. When a passerby saw the altercation and knocked on the van window, the defendant pushed the complainant and she opened the door and fled. At the defendant’s request and over the Commonwealth’s objection, the judge gave an instruction on self-defense. Although the instruction was in its essence a deadly force instruction, it was not identified in that way: the jury was instructed on ‘proper self-defense’ as a general concept. Based on the instruction, the jury would have understood that ‘the defendant did not act in proper self-defense if [the Commonwealth] prove[d] … that the defendant did not actually believe that he was in immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm.’ On the evidence at trial, to be sure, the jury could have concluded that the defendant did not believe he was in ‘immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm’ during the altercation, and so,” in accordance with the instruction that was given, “the defendant could not have acted in ‘proper self-defense.’” The defendant did not object to the judge’s instruction. He was convicted of assault and battery as a lesser included offense. On appeal, the defendant contended “that he used only nondeadly force rather than deadly force to defend himself against the complainant,” such that the judge should have instructed the jury on the use of nondeadly force in self-defense.