Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Wilk: Self defense not available when defendant had reason to know law enforcement was entering his home

In U.S. v. Wilk, No. 07-14176 (June 29, 2009), the Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of a defendant charged with killing a state law enforcement officer assisting in a federal investigation.
Law enforcement officers, suspecting Wilk of possession of impeding a federal investigation, forcibly entered Wilk’s home. Wilk shot and killed one officer. His defense at trial was that he feared being attacked because he previously been a victim of anti-gay vandalism, suffered from neurological disorders, and he acted in self-defense.
The Court rejected Wilk’s challenge to the exclusion of evidence that the victim was on steroids at the time of the shooting. The Court agreed with the district court that this fact was ultimately irrelevant. The Court reached the same conclusion with respect to the exclusion of evidence that the police failed to follow proper police procedure during entry into Wilk’s residence, noting that the self-defense claim rested on Wilk’s state of mind, not the officer’s procedures.
The Court also rejected the argument that Wilk’s medical records should have been excluded, pointing out that Wilk relied on his mental status in his defense, and that the confidentiality of his records was limited if release was "required by law" – as it was here, when the grand jury subpoenaed the records.
The Court also found no error in the self-defense jury instruction. The instruction stated that, to overcome a self-defense claim, the government need oly show that the defendant "had reason to know" that the victims were law enforcement officers engaged in the performance of their duties. Wilk argued that this weakened the self-defense claim in relation to Circuit precedent. The Court rejected this argument, noting that only in "extraordinary" cases would the government be required to prove that the defendant "knew of" the victim’s status.