NM Court of Appeals: Man who shot friend through front door entitled to self-defense instruction

Requildo Cardenas was jolted awake at 1:30 a.m. by someone banging on his front door. He grabbed a gun and demanded to know who was there, but received no answer. Instead, the unknown person continued banging on the door. Cardenas fired a shot through the door. Tragically, the man at the door was one of Cardenas’ friends, and Cardenas’ bullet killed him.

Cardenas was tried for voluntary manslaughter, and asked for an instruction on the defense of habitation, which is “virtually identical” to a self-defense instruction. The trial court denied the instruction because Cardenas had not shown that his friend intended to commit a violent felony. The jury convicted Cardenas of voluntary manslaughter.

In State v. Cardenas, Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial. In Judge Kennedy’s opinion, the Court explained that “the relevant inquiry lies in the defendant’s own subjective perception of the intruder’s intentions, rather than interpreting the intruder’s intent itself.” The evidence supported giving the instruction because Cardenas could reasonably have believed that someone banging heavily on his front door in the middle of the night, while refusing to identify himself, could be intent on committing a violent felony.

It’s hard to disagree with that analysis. One has a right to feel safe in one’s home, and to defend oneself and one’s family.

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