Assault, Criminal Possession of a Weapon, and Self-Defense
Following a lengthy trial, a Westchester County jury unanimously acquitted Barry Sheehan, Sr. of two felony counts involving Assault in the First Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree.
It was alleged that the 67-year-old Mr. Sheehan shot his 30-year-old son with a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun during a family dispute and altercation at their home in Yonkers, NY. Mr. Sheehan’s wife, the mother of the victim, was also present in the house at the time. The son, Barry Sheehan, Jr. was initially struck in the shoulder by a single bullet. However, the bullet fragmented causing injury to his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
The Westchester County indictment also accused the father of possessing a handgun with the intent of using it unlawfully against his son and intending to cause him serious physical injury.
From inception, the case was defended by a White Plains criminal defense attorney Stephen Riebling.
During the two week trial, which took place in the County Courthouse in White Plains, NY, jurors heard from various witnesses called on behalf of the prosecution and the defense. The prosecution witnesses included a number of police detectives, ballistic experts, and medical professionals, in addition to the alleged victim.
The most emotional and sometimes heated testimony occurred when defense attorney Stephen Riebling cross-examined the son and alleged victim, Barry Sheehan, Jr. Mr. Riebling’s relentless approach and cross-examination exposed numerous inconsistencies in the son’s testimony and revealed that the physical evidence did not corroborate his version of events.
In defense of his client, Mr. Riebling consistently attacked the evidence and asserted a justification defense (commonly referred to as “self-defense”).
Witnesses for the defense painted a much different picture of the circumstances which led up to the shooting. The evidence showed that the older Mr. Sheehan had been threatened and had suffered periodic physical attacks throughout the day at the hands of his son. Immediately before the incident occurred, Mr. Sheehan, Sr. grabbed the gun from a dresser in response to his son knocking down the bedroom door. The shooting occurred as the son charged at his father while brandishing an object in this right hand. Mr. Sheehan, Sr. reasonably believed that his son was about to carry through on his threats and “kill him” when he fired his weapon.
The Unique Use of Self-Defense in this Case
Normally, Self-Defense or “Justification” is used to defend against assault charges. However, it is not typically utilized as a defense in cases alleging the criminal possession of a weapon. In fact, New York’s highest court, The Court of Appeals established the rule preventing the use of justification in such cases and explained that it would not allow a person who “otherwise possesses an illegal weapon from retroactively converting such illegal possession to a legal act merely because he uses it in a justified manner at a particular moment in the future.”
Under New York State Law (Penal Law 35.15), self-defense involves situations when a person is justified in the use of “deadly physical force upon another individual when that person reasonably believes it to be necessary to defend himself/herself from what he/she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force by the other individual.”
In defending Mr. Sheehan against the weapons charge, Mr. Riebling successfully argued that Mr. Sheehan was “Not Guilty” of criminal possession of the handgun because he did not possess it with “intent to use it unlawfully against” his son.
Under New York Penal Law 265.03 (Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree), the prosecution is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant not only possessed a loaded and operable firearm, but he did so with “intent to use it unlawfully against another.” Mr. Riebling convinced the jury that Mr. Sheehan, Sr. acted in Self-Defense and as a result, he could not be guilty of having the intent to use the handgun unlawfully against his son.
The jury returned a unanimous verdict of “Not Guilty”, acquitting Mr. Sheehan, Sr. of both counts of Assault in the First Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree after only three hours of deliberation.
Mr. Riebling, on behalf of his client, thanked the jurors for their attention and service. “This was a difficult case, both emotionally and legally. But, thankfully, the jury followed the law, put aside any feelings which may have arisen during the trial, and saw this case for what it truly was, an instance of justified self-defense.”
Following the verdict, Mr. Sheehan, Sr. expressed his gratitude to the jury, relief that the unfortunate circumstance was finally behind him and his family, and specifically thanked his defense attorney, Stephen Riebling, stating “[Mr. Riebling] stood by me and believed in my innocence from the beginning. I’m a free man today because of his overwhelming efforts.”
Stephen Riebling is a partner and criminal defense attorney at Riebling & Payton, PLLC, with offices in Mount Kisco, NY and White Plains, NY. They are available to assist anyone accused of crimes throughout Westchester County, NY, New York City and the surrounding areas. You can contact them at (914) 712-6878.