A jury that convicted a man of chasing another man with a knife correctly discarded his arguments of self-defense, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.
Justices unanimously rejected the appeal of Jorge Mendoza of his conviction on a charge of aggravated assault and battery and the resulting 7- to 10-year charge.
Mendoza argued his conviction and sentence should be overturned because the prosecutor in his case made improper comments about his self-defense claim, but justices disagreed.
“Give his self-defense argument was weak, at best, and the record lacks any evidence to support self-defense, we are confident there is no reasonable probability the jury would have decided differently on the issue of self-defense had the prosecutor not made the challenged statements at trial,” said the court’s opinion, written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden.
According to the opinion, Mendoza, carrying a knife, chased another man into a Rawlins restaurant in September 2019. The opinion said Mendoza stood outside of the restaurant “running his thumb across his throat with a knife in his hand, ‘imitating a person’s throat being cut.’”
The opinion said Mendoza and the other man, Angel Roldan, had been at a mutual friend’s house earlier in the evening and Roldan was “play fighting” with another man when Mendoza kicked him in the face. The opinion said Roldan “might have punched” Mendoza, who then pulled out a knife and chased the second man out of the house, into the street and into the restaurant.
Mendoza claimed he acted in self-defense, but said that claim was improperly minimized by the prosecutor, who said at one point during the trial “you can’t bring a gun to a knife fight” and at another point “you also can’t bring a gun to a fistfight.”
“Mr. Mendoza argues that this series of statements inaccurately represented to the jury that a defendant could never claim self-defense if he was armed with a drawn deadly weapon and his opponent was not,” the opinion said.
But justices said the prosecutor properly explained that a person making a self-defense claim cannot have used more force than what was reasonably necessary to prevent himself from being harmed.
In addition, the opinion said, Mendoza’s claim of self-defense was not supported by the evidence.
“Mr. Mendoza did not refute this evidence or, in response to the state’s evidence, demonstrate that his actions were in any way reasonably necessary to defend his person, property, or abode, to prevent serious bodily injury to another,” the opinion said.