Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Montana's "castle" doctrine attracts controversy following a death in Flathead County

Dan Healy reports in today's New York Times about a September 22 death in Kalispell, Montana that has generated new controversy there regarding the trend to enhance self-defense rights further with what is sometimes called the "castle doctrine"--the long-held Anglo-American idea that a man's home is his castle.  The Flathead County Attorney is declining to press charges against the shooter  because the man he shot and killed was in the shooter's garage--albeit unarmed--at the time.  Here's an excerpt from Healy's front-page story that explains the legal backdrop:
In 2009, Montana joined more than 20 other states in passing broad self-defense measures backed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups. Under the law, a person can brandish a gun to ward off a threat. An individual does not have to flee or call the police before engaging in self-defense. 
For criminal trials in which a defendant claims self-defense, the legislation flips the burden of proof, putting the onus on prosecutors to discredit those claims. 
“It changed things here in Montana,” said Leo Gallagher, president of the Montana County Attorneys Association, which joined associations of sheriffs and police chiefs to oppose the law. “For any sort of personal affront, you’re permitted to threaten the person with a gun.”
The Flathead County Attorney recently explained his decision not to prosecute with a four-page letter that included this statement, which referred to the two men by their first names:
Given his reasonable belief that he was about to be assaulted, Brice's use of deadly force against Dan was justified.
Healy's story does not specify what facts the attorney cited to support the conclusion that the shooter's belief was reasonable, though we are told that the decedent had gone to the shooter's house looking for the decedent's wife, who was romantically involved with the shooter.  To me, that alone does not establish the shooter's reasonable belief that an unarmed man is a threat to him.  

The local newspaper, The Daily Inter-Lake, opined in a recent editorial that the "community has not been well-served by either the law or the legal process in this case."  It calls on Montana's legislature to re-consider the state's stand-your-ground law.  As for the reference to "legal process," it criticizes the County Attorney's delay in releasing its statement, and the need to better explain the law to a "curious public."  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dan Fredenberg did NOT know that Brice Harper had a gun. After going inside the home to retrieve the gun, Brice stood in the open door of his laundry room inside the OPEN garage door and just waited for Dan to walk in. During the investigation it was revealed that Brice told several people that he had a gun, wasn't afraid of Dan and intended to use it. No one took him seriously. So if someone is mouthing off that they are going to kill someone and they do, in Montana it isn't premeditated it is 'self defense'.