People V. Jerome Fosselman (1983) 33 Cal. 3d 572

In the case of People v. Jerome Fosselman the California Supreme Court was presented with the issue of reasonable force, self-defense, justification for actions and a right to defend oneself. In Fosselman the defendant Mr. Jerome Fosselman followed a young woman at approximately 6:35 a.m. as she walked to board a bus. Mr. Fosselman followed the woman for about a block and he then approached her and put a knife to her back. The young woman felt the knife at her back and he also slightly cut her finger. The defendant lost his balance as he attempted to grab the woman.

The woman was able to run away and stop a car that was approaching. There were four individuals in the vehicle. One individual brought the young woman to a phone to call the police. Two other women in the car chased the defendant in their vehicle and a fourth individual, a male by the name of Robert Lasco, chased defendant on foot through a parking lot and into a street. The individuals were able to stop the defendant. The defendant stated he had done nothing wrong and began to walk away. Robert Lasco at this point turned the defendant around, grabbed him by the shoulders and attempted to knee the defendant in the groin. The defendant then struck Robert Lasco and fractured his jaw. The women were able to wrestle the defendant to the ground where they held him until a gas station attendant arrived and tied the defendant up with jumper cables.

This sequence of events presents a factual scenario wherein private individuals made an arrest and detained an individual. The individual fought back causing injury to one of the arresting citizens. Furthermore, the private citizens engaged in physical conduct with the defendant whom they were placing under arrest.

Defendant was charged with attempted burglary, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and battery causing serious bodily injury. At the time of trial Fosselman argued the act of striking Lasco which was the basis for the battery charge, was justified on the ground of self-defense.

In analyzing this issue, the Court first found that there was no right to defend against a valid arrest. The Court cited the case of People v. Score (1941) 48 Cal.App.2d 495. However, the arrest must be a valid arrest. In this situation as Lasco properly attempted to arrest defendant, defendant did not have a right to defend against this valid arrest.

Citing the general rules set forth in Penal Code § 837, the Court stated, “A citizen may arrest another if a felony has in fact been committed and he has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested committed it.” Id. at p. 579. The Court analyzed the situation to the general rule finding that the defendant had committed a felony and Lasco had reasonable cause to believe defendant was the person who had committed the felony. Note: Lasco did not observe the defendant commit any felonious act but was nevertheless able to perform a valid arrest as Lasco had reasonable cause to believe the defendant had committed the felony and the felony had actually been committed. Consequently, when Lasco first attempted to restrain the defendant the defendant should not have resisted Lasco’s actions. Lasco was entitled to use reasonable force to detain the defendant.