Supreme Court Overturns Manslaughter Conviction for Gargarita

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Carl Gargarita was convicted of manslaughter, but found not guilty of murder in September 2014 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Guam – Once convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison, Carl Gargarita will now be getting a second chance at proving his innocence. The Supreme Court of Guam overturned his conviction and sent the case back to the trial court.

It was a 2 to 1 decision to reverse the guilty verdict of manslaughter against Carl Gargarita. The issue surrounds jury instructions given during his trial in August of last year, but the case stems from June of 2013 when, as Gargarita himself admits, the defendant choked Anthony Giralao to death at a Tumon parking lot. Gargarita said he was acting in self-defense when he put Giralao in a choke-hold that night.

He also pointed out that Giralao was the first to throw the punch. The two were fighting over Giralao’s ex-wife, who had spent the evening with Gargarita.

Because Gargarita had invoked a defense of self-defense, the prosecution needed to disprove Gargarita’s theory of self-defense. The prosecution, in other words, had the burden of proof to show that Gargarita was not acting in self-defense at the time he choked Giralao to death.

This is where the Supreme Court panel disagrees. In his dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Phillip Carbullido believes the trial court’s jury instruction on self-defense was adequate, while Chief Justice Robert Torres and Associate Justice Katherine Maraman disagree.

The concurring opinion states that because the trial judge did not explicitly make clear, under the definition of self-defense, that the prosecution had the burden of disproving Gargarita’s defense theory beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was erroneous to the point that it was confusing for the jury.

Justice Carbullido, however, believes the jury understood the instructions—that the prosecution needed to prove that it wasn’t self-defense and not the other way around. In other words, it wasn’t on Gargarita to prove that he was acting in self-defense.

Carbullido believes the jury understood, given the fact that the jury found Gargarita not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.

However, Torres and Maraman note that it is more likely that the jury acquitted Gargarita of murder because they believed that he was indeed acting in self-defense, but “did not understand that such a finding required an acquittal on the charge of manslaughter as well.”

Further, Torres and Maraman point out that there was evidence that Giralao was the aggressor and that although Gargarita held the choke for at least three minutes, “a layperson cannot be assumed to know the amount of time that choking a person will lead to death or to know with certainty the amount of time that has passed when in the midst of a violent struggle.”

During trial, a female witness had testified that Gargarita had continued to choke Giralao even after it was apparent that he was lifeless and therefore no longer a threat.