For the purposes of providing a hypothetical case against which to apply the standards of Articles 35 and 20 of New York’s Penal Law, the following scenario is presented, in short summary: Popeye, in defending the honor of Olive Oyl, and after being encouraged by her to take physical action against Bluto, finds himself being beaten to death by Bluto. Ultimately, Olive Oyl, in an effort to save Popeye’s life, kills Bluto. Therefore, there are several important questions to consider in regard to these laws and actual precedent. With this in mind, this paper will answer these questions in an effort to better understand these laws and how they apply in theoretical, and actual cases.
Olive’s Most Serious Crimes from the Viewpoint of a Juror
From the viewpoint of a New York juror, there are legal implications that must be taken into consideration when evaluating Olive Oyl’s most serious crimes in the incident that led to the death of Bluto. First, in prompting Popeye to physically confront Bluto, Olive has specifically violated Section 20.00 of the New York Penal Code, which states the following:
When one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense, another-person is criminally liab1e for such conduct when, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission thereof, he solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct (State Of New York, n.d.) ”
Given the wording of the Code as stated above, Olive wandered into criminality when compelling Popeye to take action, and in possessing the mental capacity to rationally request such action, has implicated herself. At least in theory, both Olive and Popeye possessed not only the mental faculties to reasonably ignore the rude and provocative comments of Bluto, but were required by the letter of the law to do so. Olive’s suggestion of physical action, and Popeye’s compliance in taking that action, compounded to create a legal and human tragedy.
Availability of Justification Defense Under Article 35 of New York Penal Law
Olive Oyl’s seeming criminality under Article 20 of New York Penal law, while damning, is not the absolute final word in the case; conversely to the accusation of her guilt, there exists a justification defense under the Penal Law’s Article 35.05, which provides the following under the heading “Defense of Justification”:
Unless otherwise limited by the ensuing provisions of this article defining justifiable use of physical force, conduct. which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when:
I. Such conduct is required or authorized by law or by a judicial decree, or is performed by a public servant in the reasonable exercise of his official powers, duties or functions; or 2. Such conduct is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed. through no fault of the actor, and. which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and. morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding such injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue” (State Of New York, n.d.).
In other words, Olive had legal justification in taking action against Bluto because of the overriding interest in saving the life of Popeye, due to the fact that he was in imminent danger of being killed by Bluto, no matter how the physical dispute began. When, in fact, Bluto took physical confrontation to the brink of murder, there existed a dire situation that required swift and decisive action to stop a true tragedy from happening.
Preceding all of the actions that began with Popeye and Bluto’s physical fight and climaxing in the death of Bluto at the hands of Olive, under Code 20, lies the Duty of Retreat, which holds that when there was a possibility for a verbal argument to escalate into physical fight, Popeye had the obligation to remove himself from the situation, as did Olive. When neither elected to do so, however, there was a violation of the New York Penal Code, leading to the consideration of their guilt or innocence.
Implications Under Article 20 of New York Penal Law
While the condemnation of a victim is not a viable defense, the implications for Bluto and his obligations under Article 20 deserves exploration. Just as Duty of Retreat applied to Popeye and Olive, it likewise applied to Bluto, as he had the opportunity, and indeed a legal obligation, to walk away from the dispute, and if he did so, the outcome would have been quite arguably different.
For everyone involved, the obligations of conduct under Article 20 are clear; simply put, the incident should never have been inflated to the point that it ultimately was.
Perhaps the most famous real life legal case in New York history was that of People v. Goetz, which involved the shooting of four New York teens on a subway train by Bernard Goetz, a seemingly innocuous man who happened to be carrying a loaded firearm, which he used in order to shoot his would-be muggers (Fletcher, 1998). This case parallels the “Popeye Case” in several key areas; first, Duty of Retreat was at least theoretically an obligation of Goetz. When he was confronted by the teens on the subway, he had an obligation under the law to try to flee from the aggressors; instead, he made a conscious choice to use deadly force against them. On the other hand, however, Defense of Justification also could have value in the consideration of the Goetz case in that if he did in fact have no other choice but using force as a means of protecting himself and ultimately saving his own life, then he truly had no choice but to defend himself in a violent manner. In regard to the real life case of Bernard Goetz, he was eventually convicted of wrongdoing in the actions that he took on that New York subway, and whether he was right or wrong remains a hot topic of debate even today.
The fictional case of People v. Oyl and the real-life case of People v. Goetz, for all of their similarities and differences, bring about some other quite interesting points to consider. First, while difficult to determine in many cases, when does reasonable force become unreasonable, and criminal action. Admittedly, the right to protect one’s self and others should in fact be preserved, but again, boundaries must exist to ensure that this right is not abused in the pursuit of violence or just harming others. Additionally, when someone intends to prey on someone else, they should have some inkling that their intended victim may very well take some sort of action in response.
For jurors, the challenge lies in whether or not actions are justified or criminal when judging a defendant, and there appears to be no clear answers in these matters. Indeed, each case must be independently evaluated by juries, adding value to the American judicial system, and maybe, that is the point of this evaluation of these portions of the New York Penal Code. Any law must be properly interpreted and judiciously applied by law enforcement as well as the court systems so that law and order can be maintained while still ensuring that victims and defendants alike are afforded every possible consideration for the fulfillment of the burden of due process under law, for any laws are useless if they either compromise the rights of everyone involved or allow everyone to slip by via loopholes that render the laws all but useless. In closing, let it be understood that laws must not only protect, but also promote the best interests of everyone.
State Of New York, Penal Articles 20 and 35. Penal Code of New York State.
Fletcher, G.P. (1998). Basic Concepts of Criminal Law. New York: Oxford University Press.