Last week I tried an aggravated assault with deadly weapon (AR15) case that resulted in those two beautiful words: NOT GUILTY. The case involved a former military service member accused of using his firearm to threaten ten neighborhood folks who had gone to his home on the 4th of July to “get an explanation” for his having run over their fireworks bucket. The case sounded more like an angry mob than friendly neighborhood dispute. Tempers had flared and in the end, our client responded with his gun, standing between the crowd of 10 or more adults and our client’s young wife. Theory here – defense of himself and his wife.
The trial testimony featured 10 angry witnesses, each of whom had seen the gun, insisted it was pointed in their direction and said he or she was afraid. One witness testified he had told our client’s wife he did not want to live in a neighborhood with her husband. I am sure this case escalated and people were afraid, but the jury considered all the evidence and acquitted our client.
Here’s what I learned or confirmed from prior trials like this one:
First, self-defense and defense of another is still alive and well. We had the benefit of our jury instructions that use the term “stand your ground” and focus the attention of the jurors on what a reasonable person “may” have believed about the situation he or she faced. Our client and his wife insisted that the gun was never pointed at anyone. The state’s witnesses said the opposite. In the end, the proof never established this beyond a reasonable doubt, but even if it had, self-defense or defense of another “justifies” or “legalizes” the assault. The jurors favored the defense, likely because they understood the requirements as instructed by the judge.
Second, self-defense cases are still very difficult to win as a defendant. The state argued that use or display of a firearm was not necessary and was unreasonable. That argument can be appealing, but it misses the point. Instead of looking back with 20-20 hindsight, the law requires analysis of the situation from the view of the defendant at the time of the incident. Viewed from his perspective, the decision to get the gun seemed reasonable, no shots were fired, and the folks dispursed to call the police.
Third, cases are won, or at least influenced greatly, by the impressions created in the trial. Sure, facts are important, but equally important in my view is the story told by the players and witnesses. The story creates impressions of the players. Jurors remember their impressions as they decide guilt or innocence. So, when a witness says that he or she went to “keep the peace” or “prevent a fight” from breaking out, the impression created is that the angry neighbors could reasonably be viewed as an “angry mob” by the defendant. One witness actually testified on behalf of the state using the term “mob mentality.” Far from reasonable, the impression created by the witnesses and testimony was that the neighbors had themselves crossed from reason to threat.
Just my thoughts after the fact for your consideration. Facing a trial? Liberty on the line? Think about the impressions you need to make to win your case.