What Is the ''Flannel Defense'' ?

In People v. Flannel (1979) 25 Cal.3d 668, the court held that it is a partial defense to a charge of murder that the defendant killed the victim while under the honest but mistaken belief that his conduct was necessary in self-defense. The basic rationale of the doctrine is that a genuine belief in the need to defend oneself, even if unreasonable, negates the 'malice aforethought' which is required for a conviction of murder." (People v. Hayes (2004) 120 Cal.App.4th 796, 801.) The Supreme Court explained that "an individual cannot genuinely perceive the need to repel imminent peril or bodily injury and simultaneously be aware that society expects conformity to a different standard." (Flannel, supra, 25 Cal.3d at p. 679.) "In other words, malice aforethought reflects or embodies a realization by the actor that his or her conduct violates social expectations. It is this realization that cannot be reconciled with an actor's belief that he or she is acting in self-defense, because society approves the reasonable use of force to that end." (Hayes, supra, at p. 803.) Other mental states are not irreconcilable with the actor's realization that his or her conduct violates social expectations. In Hayes, the court found that the intent to vex, injure, or annoy required to commit the crime of mayhem "may be present when one acts in reasonable self-defense." (Hayes, supra, 120 Cal.App.4th at p. 803.) The court explained, "Whereas 'malice aforethought' betokens a willingness to violate social standards of conduct, 'malice' under section 7, subdivision (4) requires only an intent to injure, vex, or annoy. One who believes his or her conduct is necessary for self-defense does not manifest a willingness to violate social norms, but may very well manifest a desire to injure. It follows that the Flannel defense has no application to a charge of mayhem." (Id. at p. 804.) In People v. King (1991) 1 Cal.App.4th 288, the Court refused to extend Flannel's logic to specific intent. The defendant argued the trial court erred by failing to instruct sua sponte that an honest but unreasonable belief as to duress may negate the specific intent necessary for robbery and felony murder. We found simultaneous mental states are not necessarily incompatible. One may perceive the need to defend himself and at the same time understand that he can negate the threat to himself only by performing an unlawful act. "There is no inconsistency here but a concurrence of act and intent." (Id. at p. 298.)