Rep. Tony Cornish’s “Stand Your Ground” bill – which must be either signed or vetoed by midnight tonight (as this is written, neither has happened, although that may change; I write these posts between 5:30 and 7AM, because, well, I work during the day and can’t always follow the news in real time like some puling Sorosblogger), has come in for the most amazing avalanche of slander over its four years of consideration at various levels.
I’ve pointed out that most of the bill’s detractors – whether politicians, cops or the DFL-promoting media – are lying when they say (and say, and say) that the bill would “legalize murder”, and that the bill merely changes the presumption of guilt to a presumption of innocence when one is attempting self-defense on ones own property – in the home, yard, garage, or in the car or at a business one owns.
But some people learn better from seeing examples.
So let’s go through some compare and contrast exercises to look at the differences between current law and the Cornish bill.
A really stupid 10 year old boy enters a homeowner’s property to steal apples. The boy is unarmed, by the way, and that’s above and beyond the fact that he’s a ten year old boy. The homeowner comes out of his house with a handgun and shoots the boy, who dies on the scene. The homeowner claims self-defense.
- Current Law: The homeowner can not prove that the boy was a reasonable threat of death or great bodily harm. She’s convicted of manslaughter or 2nd degree murder.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: The police investigation shows no evidence the boy was a threat to anyone. The county attorney charges the homeowner with manslaughter or 2nd degree murder, and proves it to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury convicts her.
- Current Law: The homeowner’s claim that “stink-eye” was a threat of death or great bodily harm, his failure to even attempt to retreat from said “stink-eye”, and the unreasonableness of the use of lethal force against an unarmed man (“stink-eye” notwithstanding) is rejected by the jury, who convict him of second-degree murder.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: The police investigation shows that the homeowner was not under threat of death or great bodily harm from the alleged perception of “stink-eye”. The County Attorney, noting that there is no reasonable doubt that a jury will find “stink eye” not to be a lethal threat, and that using lethal force is not a reasonable response to “stink-eye”, takes the case to trial. Based on the lack of lethal threat and the unreasonableness of lethal force, the jury finds him guilty of second degree murder; “duty to retreat” is no longer an issue, obviously. The homeowner, breaking into a curious German accent as his lawyer buries his face in his hands during the verdict, yells “But ze law zayz I don’t have to retreat to ze house, and zat I can kill for ze ztink-eye!” as the judge pounds the bench, and then the defendant, with his gavel.
- Current Law: Are you kidding? Dozens of witnesses testified that B was a willing participant (you can’t jump into a fistfight and then claim “self-defense” when it goes out of control), so the jury didn’t buy that. They also rejected the claim that he legitimately feared death or great bodily harm from the mace, or that shooting was a reasonable use of lethal force (even if you leave out the four shots to finish him off, which, naturally, the county attorney did not). Finally, B did not retreat, although that was the least of his legal problems.
- With “Stand Your Ground” – While Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom had claimed that this was the sort of case that would have allowed “B” to walk free – apparently lacking confidence that the cops or his staff could successfully prove wrongdoing – the cops successfully interview the dozens of witnesses who noted that both parties were flailing away with aplomb, not to mention having been involved in a miles-long road rage incident – thus making “B” a willing participant. The cops also noted that B was faced with mace, not a knife or gun. They noted from the spatter and four bullets embedded in the pavement below “A”‘s body that at least four of the shots were against an unarmed, incapacitated and probably dying man, meaning lethal force was, at least for those four shots, not justified. Even though his boss, JIm Backstrom, went on WCCO and “Almanac” claiming that “B” would likely go free because the “Stand your Ground” law meant the incompetent boobs who worked for him probably couldn’t win the case, his beleaguered assistant easily won a conviction, and a reprimand from Backstrom for making him look like an even bigger idiot than those pesky bloggers had done.
- Current Law: The woman is in her home, so she has no “duty to retreat” under current law. But the jury rejects her self-defense claim, as there is no evidence of a lethal threat (the men were unarmed) and the lethal force was unreasonable. She quickly pleads down to one count of manslaughter and one of aggravated assault.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: The investigating cops find no sign of weapons, no evidence of a threat. The county attorney gets the conviction.
- Current Law: Deputy County Attorney Jon Hesch – an up and comer who wants to be elected County Attorney someday – sitting in his office surrounded by metal detectors and deputies – notes that the woman was not in her house, so she had the ability to run away; being in shape, she could certainly have outrun a 300 pound man. He also notes that the men were unarmed, and so the woman had no fear of death or great bodily harm. Furthermore, “Mark” states from his hospital bed that he had been drinking, and was pulling down his zipper because he wanted to urinate, and that in fact they really really really did actually want to go to a party, not to try to rape her (and Hesch notes that there’s no way she could have known about Mark’s violent crime convictions), putting a “rape” claim in some doubt. Hesch decides to prosecute for attempted murder. The woman – and her husband – are not wealthy. They can’t afford an attorney with the oomph to fight back against Hesch and the entire Ramsey County Attorney’s office; to avoid putting the family in the poorhouse, the woman pleads guilty to a lesser charge – felony aggravated assault – putting a felony on her record and a “conviction” and a “gun off the street” for ambitious young weasel Hesch, who duly files it away in the “win” column in time to make it to a cocktail party with Keri Miller and Alita Messinger.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: Assistant County Attorney Hesch notes that the police investigation turned up no evidence that’d give him a shot of even insinuating, much less proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that the woman was a willing participant, or that her fear or her use of force was unreasonable. Trying to try the case would be a lot of work with almost no chance of a conviction. As an ambitious up-and-comer, he decides to curry favor with the Asian community, declines to press charges, calls her a hero for getting a thug off the street, and makes his 5PM squash date with his supervisor.
- Under Current Law: Good question. If the “amusement park” is in Clay County, the cops probably shake his hand and offer to buy him coffee if they see him; the county attorney thanks his lucky stars there’s another scumbag off the street. In Henco, of course, the County Attorney must appease the DFL, so the cops arrest the man; he’s charged with manslaughter. He posts bail, cashes in his retirement account, and lawyers up. The County Attorney could opt to pursue him using any number of approaches; he should have retreated, it wasn’t he who was under direct threat, and really, the cops were only 15 minutes away. The man’s fate is in the hands of a Henco jury. What would you do?
- With “Stand Your Ground”: What, do I have to explain everything? He’s not on his property. Nothing really changes. More’s the pity.
- Under Current Law: The crime scene investigator is called to a wooded area in Maplewood to investigate an apparent homicide. In addition to ligature marks around the neck and signs of sexual assault, the woman’s face shows signs of having been hit by mace. Back in her apartment parking lot, her car shows signs of that same mace; under the car lies an un-used handgun, traced to the woman, a law student who’d apparently just left night class.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: The crime scene investigator is called to the scene of a shooting in an apartment parking lot. One man with a long history of sexual assault convictions lies on the pavement, shot twice in the chest. His accomplice fled, and is found, pantsless, in a nearby park. The young woman’s inner monologue, not muddled by having to second-guess a county attorney, resolved itself in time to kill the mace-armed rapist. His accomplice claimed he removed his pants in self-defense as he was bundled off to jail. The Strib’s Matt McKinney writes a touching portrait of the dead man’s family, highlighting his sister’s claim that the “victim” was so close to turning his life around, this time…
- Current Law: Assistant County Attorney Hedda Blatz-Grehnbehlt notes that while the threat of death or great bodily harm was definitely present, and that the use of lethal force against lethal force meets the letter and spirit of the law, and there was no way to show that Marty was a willing participant, she did believe that Marty had the option of telling the kids to climb out the left door and dragging his wife over the transmission hump and out the driver’s side door, rather than shooting. She informs Marty’s lawyer – as he charges $250 an hour to listen – that she’s going to take the case to court, with a bevy of witnesses to show that there wasn’t clear convincing evidence that Marty couldn’t have evacuated his kids from the car rather than shooting. Marty’s attorney tells Marty “We should be able to win this one – but we’ll need expert witnesses to rebut the county’s contention, plus there’ll likely be a long, nasty trial against a team of county attorneys. it’s gonna cost ya a minimum of $50K, maybe $100K, and that’s win or lose, and there are no guarantees. Wanna roll the dice? Or take the deal to plead guilty to aggravated assault, serve a year, maybe suspended, plus ten years probation, and get your life back?” It’s a tough call for the guy, a working-class stiff who doesn’t have “a lawyer” of his own to call.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: Assistant County Attorney Blatz-Grehnbehlt shakes her head, declines to press charges, and leaves work early to go to a “Take Action Minnesota” rally.
- Current Law: Knife? Threat? Reasonable? Sure – but could the homeowner have tried to run away? That’s up to the county attorney – and if the county attorney has seen too many kung fu movies, the homeowner will have to spend his life’s savings and then some to prove he couldn’t have – to prove his innocence – beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s a crap shoot.
- With “Stand Your Ground”: Did the man do anything wrong? The burden of proof is on the prosecutor. Where it should be.