PERRY/A man's car is his castle
Wednesday, December 8, 2010 12:00 PM
The Mississippi Supreme Court last week handed down its first review of the meaning and application of the "Castle Doctrine" passed by the Legislature in 2006.
Mississippians have never had a "duty to retreat." In writing for the Court in this case, Newell v State, Chief Justice Bill Waller, Jr. footnoted "it has always been the law in this state that one has no duty to retreat from an attack if he is in a place where he has a right to be and is not the initial aggressor or provoker" citing cases from 1876, 1882 and 1901.
The Castle Doctrine codified the use of defensive force if a person, "reasonably feared imminent death or great bodily harm, or the commission of a felony upon him or another or upon his dwelling, or against a vehicle which he was occupying, or against his business or place of employment or the immediate premises of such" if the assailant "was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered" that location "or was attempting to unlawfully remove another against the other person's will from that" place.
Newell vs. State also addressed contentions regarding spousal privilege and the cross-examination of a witness, but the Castle Doctrine issue was the Court's review of "Whether the trial court erred...refusing to grant a separate jury instruction defining the elements of necessary self-defense and the statutory protections of the 'Castle Doctrine.'" On this matter the Court ruled without dissent.
The case stems from an encounter in the parking lot of the Slab House bar in Lowndes County. James Newell was there to confront his wife whom he suspected of having an affair. Neither she nor the alleged boyfriend were on the premises. Instead, Newell had words with two guys in the parking lot: Adrian Boyette and Jason Colby Hollis. Neither man seemed to have any connection to the marital conflict.
The state High Court ruled a man's car is his castle, even if he has to step onto the
According to testimony, Boyette and Newell exchanged some harsh words. Newell claimed Boyette followed him back to his truck and as he got inside, Boyette beat on the truck, shouted at him and threatened him with what I presume was colorful language. As Newell got into the truck, Boyette shut the door on Newell's leg. Newell claimed Boyette threatened to pull him out of the truck. Newell tried to leave but said Boyette grabbed the door. Newell pushed on the door and got out and claimed Boyette said, "I'm fixing to cut you up" and reached into his pocket where he had a knife. Newell grabbed a gun from under his seat and fired one shot, killing Boyette.
The story continues but that is the meat the Court digested on whether the Castle Doctrine could be used as a defense to be noted in jury instructions.
Newell had a right to be in the Slab House parking lot and in his truck. He had no "duty to retreat from Boyette's alleged aggression by leaving his truck or fleeing the parking lot." But the trial court rejected the request for Castle Doctrine jury instructions because Newell got out of his truck and shot Boyette, rather than shooting from inside the truck. The Supreme Court applying "the unique facts of this case" disagreed.
The Court explained the Castle Doctrine required the defendant to have been occupying his vehicle and any defensive force would need to have been against someone trying to "unlawfully and forcibly" enter that vehicle or "attempting to unlawfully remove another against the other person's will from that...occupied vehicle." The Court wrote that to interpret the statue to require the person to occupy the vehicle "at the moment he uses defensive force" (as the trial court did) would require "vehicle occupants to wait for the attacker to gain entry to the vehicle before defending themselves or to open the door or window to do so, which would provide easier access for the assailant." The Court instead interpreted the legislative intent to mean "the person who uses defensive force must be occupying his vehicle when the person against whom defensive force is used takes the actions that result in it use."
The Court wrote, "We do not believe that the Legislature intended for persons threatened by physical violence in their own automobiles to remain inside the vehicle at all costs to be entitled to the presumption [of the Castle Doctrine]. If the occupant is still in danger after exiting the vehicle, and he is still 'in the immediate premises thereof' he should be allowed to use reasonable force to defend against the danger and still be presumed to have acted in reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm."
In other words, the Court ruled a man's car is his castle, even if he has to step onto the drawbridge.
Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at email@example.com.