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The latest on the Castle Doctrine

AK-47.jpgThe 3rd District's decision in State v. Hadley doesn't tell us directly what Daniel Hadley's politics are, but we can pretty much guess:   when Donald Ayars, a census worker, showed up on Hadley's porch, Hadley hit him with a baseball bat.  Not badly enough to do much damage; Ayars managed to escape to a neighbor, and called 911, while Hadley was calling the same number to give his side of the story.  Felonious assault comes in two flavors -- causing serious physical harm and using a deadly weapon -- and while the evidence wasn't sufficient to establish the former, the State chose to try to drag Hadley through Door B.  He did not go gently, kicking and screaming all the way that he acted in self-defense, and trying to avail himself of Ohio's Castle Doctrine.

The Castle Doctrine, codified under RC 2901.05(B), establishes a rebuttable presumption that a homeowner who uses deadly force against an intruder is acting in self-defense.   The actual story of what had transpired at the Hadley household was murky, as is often the situation in criminal cases.  According to Ayars, Hadley answered the front door and became "vulgar" when Ayars identified himself as a census worker.  Ayars tried to leave, but Hadley grabbed an aluminum bat and hit Ayars on the forearm as the latter retreated from the porch.  Hadley's story was that he told Ayars to leave, but that Ayars instead tried to follow him into the house, at which point Hadley, feeling threatened, grabbed the bat. 

So how does the Castle Doctrine factor into this?  In a classic self-defense scenario, a defendant has to prove that he was not at fault in creating the situation, that he was in fear of death or great bodily harm, and that he didn't violate a duty to retreat.   Like I said, the defendant has to show that:  it's an affirmative defense.  What the Castle Doctrine does is shift the burden to the state, if the defendant is in his home or car -- and a porch counts as part of the home-- and he's repelling an intruder.

Hadley had asked for a charge on the Castle Doctrine, but the trial judge refused, finding that Ayars wasn't an intruder; under the statute, that's somebody who is "without privilege" to be on the premises, and the judge found that Ayars' status as a census worker gave him the privilege to be on the porch.  The appellate panel found this to be wrong -- Ayars lost his privilege to be there once Hadley revoked it by telling him to get off the porch.

A majority still finds that it wasn't error not to instruct the jury on self-defense, but it takes an unnecessarily circuitous route to that result.  The simple holding would be that Hadley was not entitled to any instruction on self-defense:  he acknowledged that it never entered his mind that Ayars might have a weapon, and hitting somebody with a bat because they won't get off your porch is so disproportionate a response that it takes it out of any potential claim of self-defense.  The majority says that much, but then goes on to claim that the jury obviously rejected Hadley's claim of self-defense for that reason.  As the dissent points out, once you bring in what the jury considered, you run into a huge problem:  whatever they considered, they considered under the wrong set of jury instructions.  The jury might not have rejected Hadley's self-defense claim if they'd been told that the State, and not Hadley, bore the burden of proof on that issue.  The problem with the jury instructions is heightened because the trial judge erroneously told the jury that Hadley had a duty to retreat, which he didn't have, Castle Doctrine or no; one doesn't have a duty to retreat in his own home.

Hadley does clear up one point.  The statute provides that the presumption that the defendant acted in self-defense does not apply if the person against whom the force is used has a right to be in, or is a lawful resident, of the home or vehicle, or if the defendant "is unlawfully, and without privilege to be, in that residence or vehicle."  Hadley argued that the only way the State could rebut the presumption was to show one of those two things, and since they couldn't, he was entitled to be acquitted.  The court found that this misconstrued the statute:  those two sections simply stated the circumstances under which the presumption did not apply at all, but if it did apply, the State was free to rebut it with other evidence.

What Hadley mainly accomplishes, though, is to prove that I had one of my few lucid moments back when I first examined the statute four years ago, a few months after its passage, and wondered whether this trip was really necessary; as I said then, "it's not as though the nightly news regularly bombards us with scenes of homeowners being perp-walked out of their houses for shooting a burglar."  Although reviewing appellate decisions to determine the significance of the defense involves some selection bias -- obviously, cases where it had been successfully employed at trial aren't going to show up on appeal -- it's difficult to find a case where the statute would have mattered.  There have been only 22 appellate decisions involving the statute so far, and in most of them, the defendant tried to invoke it under circumstances where it was clearly not applicable, like State v. Lampley, where the defendant shot someone who was just walking toward his car, or State v. Darby, where the defendant shot the victim from his porch while the victim was standing on the sidewalk, or State v. Miller, where the defendant had gotten out of his vehicle when the fight occurred.  (Actually, Miller was prosecuted for beating up the victim after he'd entered the latter's car.)

And there's a downside to the statute, because as I explained here, the jury instructions are a mess:  the judge has to explain the elements of self-defense, explain when the presumption doesn't apply, explain that the State can rebut the presumption by disproving one of the elements, and then explain that the defendant is still entitled to claim self-defense, he just doesn't get the benefit of the presumption.  How the defendant could prove all the elements of self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence if the State had just disproved at least one by a preponderance of the evidence is anyone's guess.

But hey, every legislator who voted for it got points from the NRA, so that's all that matters. 

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