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Old March 16, 2013, 10:56 PM   #1
Law of Self Defense
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When trial courts go stupid on self defense law (aka, know the law)

I recently came across a 2011 self defense case in which the prosecution, the defense, and the judge all got the law completely backwards on the reading of a brief and rather straightforward self defense statute.

The result was that the defendant, who might well have been acquitted on the basis of self defense without this error, was instead convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Somehow, every expertly trained legal professional in the court room managed to make a mistake I wouldn’t have expected from a first year law student. And, of course, it was the defendant who paid the price.

Although this particular case is out of Kentucky, trust me, mistakes like this happen in every state, and far too often. All the more reason why it is essential that all armed citizens have at least a basic working competence in the self defense laws of their jurisdiction (or anywhere they might go). Just because you're paying your defense lawyer a lot of money doesn't mean he's not going to make a stupid mistake--and if he does, it's you who pays the price. Know the law.

If you're interested in more details on how something like this occurs, the case citation is Barker v. Commonwealth, 341 S.W.3d 112 (KY Supreme Court 2011). Alternatively, you can read my analysis/narrative about the case on my blog page at: http://bit.ly/WIjqLk .

Andrew
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Old March 16, 2013, 11:07 PM   #2
ScottRiqui
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That's actually pretty incredible, in a horrifying sort of way. I can't believe no one caught that, especially since the misinterpretation doesn't make any sense.
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Old March 16, 2013, 11:24 PM   #3
Al Norris
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Welcome to TFL, Mr. Branca.

A rather interesting case, Mr. Branca. Also interesting in how a State Supreme Court corrected a very glaring error by the trial court and overlooked by all involved!

This defendant is very, very lucky (even if he is the jerk the Supreme Court alluded to).
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Old March 16, 2013, 11:28 PM   #4
Law of Self Defense
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Indeed, it's rather like finding yourself in the dentist chair, novocaine injected, funny-gas running, and you realize that it's actually your dead-beat BIL Fred playing the role of dentist--the guy who took off his own foot with a Sawz-all when he tried to build a birdhouse for his daughter--so you simply have to take the drill and fix your own cavity.

No way, right? You'd hurl yourself out of that chair, right NOW.

But what if you didn't know enough to realize it was Fred, the crazy Sawz-all BIL?

What if you just put all your faith in your lawyer, and just presumed he knew what he was talking about? And when you got convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to 20 years, and had time to spend in the prison law library, and you realized how bad he . . . well, failed, you, I guess is the "F" word I should use . . . . how bad he "failed" you . . .

Well, it's too bad, as far as the criminal justice system is concerned. It's done. Your ex-lawyer is off playing golf, and you're . . . well, playing with Bubba. Wink, wink.

Don't get taken. KNOW THE LAW. If you're the defendant, you are the ONLY person in that court room with his liberty in a noose. No one in that room has a higher stake in the outcome than you do--not your lawyer, not the prosecution, and certainly not the judge or jury.

Know the law. Please. For your sake. For your family's sake.

And, less important, to make sure that prosecutors know that armed citizens who act in lawful self defense aren't all easy prey for prosecution and a life behind bars.

Andrew
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Old March 17, 2013, 12:17 AM   #5
KyJim
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Yep, lots of blame to be passed around in the courtroom that day. The trial judge is not the sharpest crayon in the box. I don't know who the trial level prosecutor and defense attorney were. The defendant's primary appellate attorney has a reputation for fighting esoteric battles and sometimes overlooking the mundane. Jury instructions are mundane but critical.

In Kentucky, as in most states, there is one appellate judge or justice who is primarily assigned the task of reviewing the record and at least putting out a draft opinion/memo for discussion. The defendant was fortunate it was assigned to Justice Cunningham. He was a well respected trial judge for many years and has a good deal of common sense.

One small, nit-picky point on the OP's comment on his website. The Kentucky Constitution allows a direct appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court where a defendant is sentenced to twenty years or more so it did not go through an intermediate appellate court.

Almost forgot -- welcome to the forum!
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Old March 17, 2013, 08:44 AM   #6
Law of Self Defense
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KyJim writes: "One small, nit-picky point on the OP's comment on his website. The Kentucky Constitution allows a direct appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court where a defendant is sentenced to twenty years or more so it did not go through an intermediate appellate court."

Ah, that explains why I couldn't find the appellate court action in this case. I learn something new every day! I'll edit my blog post appropriately, with credit to you. [EDIT: Done.]

Thanks for that insight to the Kentucky judicial system, KyJim, it's much appreciated.

Andrew
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Last edited by Law of Self Defense; March 17, 2013 at 08:50 AM.
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Old March 17, 2013, 08:35 PM   #7
ltc444
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Unfortunately, such things happen. I wonder if the conviction was contrived to punish the defendant for other issues.

There are indicators in some cases I have followed were deals were struck by the Attorneys to the detriment of one defendant for the benefit of another.
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Old March 17, 2013, 08:41 PM   #8
Law of Self Defense
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It would be shockingly unethical for a defense attorney to cut any deal inimicable to their client.

I wouldn't swear it's never happened, but I've not personally seen it.

In any case, with this particular defendant, it would hardly be worth the effort, as he was a die-hard . . . . well, I'm not sure about the language restrictions on this forum. Dirt-bag is probably OK, right?

Shortly after this case, the same defendant picked up a 40-year sentence for a different murder.

So, they had plenty of ways to nail this guy down without having to go through the contortions of reading a statute backwards only to be humiliated by the state supreme court.

But, really, I guess we'll never know.

The lesson is the same, though. Know the law.

Andrew
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This message does NOT constitute legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship/confidentiality.
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Old March 17, 2013, 08:44 PM   #9
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Yes, "dirt-bag" is acceptable.

Welcome to TFL.
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Old March 17, 2013, 08:54 PM   #10
Law of Self Defense
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Thanks, very happy to be here.

Andrew
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This message does NOT constitute legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship/confidentiality.
If you have an immediate need for legal advice, consult a competent attorney in your jurisdiction.
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