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Situation Makes the Case for Castle Doctrine

There’s a lot of lessons to learn in this case here.

IT WAS just after midnight. Brian Westberry and a woman friend sat frozen in his bedroom, hoping the persistent pounding on the front door of his Northeast Philly home would stop. It didn’t.

Westberry, 24, slipped his licensed .38-caliber revolver into his pants pocket and crept downstairs to open the door.

There stood Gregory Cujdik, 32, who demanded to see “Jen,” his girlfriend. Westberry told him “Jen” didn’t want to see him, and repeatedly ordered Cujdik to leave. When Cujdik refused, Westberry threatened to call police.

” ‘Do it. My family are cops,’ ” Cujdik said, according to Westberry.

What Westberry didn’t know at that early-morning hour of Palm Sunday, April 5, was that Cujdik’s father, Louis, is a retired police veteran and that his two brothers, Jeffrey and Richard, are narcotics officers.

Before Westberry could finish dialing 9-1-1 on his cell phone, Cujdik stepped through the doorway and punched him in the throat, Westberry said.

That’s when Westberry pulled out his gun and Cujdik fled, Westberry told the Daily News.

Before we get into the crux of my argument, I think that Westberry made a critical mistake of confronting Cujdik. he would have been wise to just call the police, and let the police deal with him. Even if the police didn’t charge him, they would at least get him away from the house. There’s no good reason to create a situation where deadly force might come into play if that situation doesn’t need to be created. If he breaks down the door, that’s another ball game.

But Westberry was brought up on a host of charges, which were, as the Daily News reports, “felony aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, terroristic threats, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person.” Several of these are bogus, but technically, there is a legal argument that could be made that Westberry wasn’t justified in drawing his firearm. In order to defend against drawing a gun on fists, you’re going to have a claim a force disparity. If you’re an 80 year old woman, and the guy attacking you is a 21 year old man, that’s not going to be difficult. It’s much harder when the situation is two healthy young males.

But yet if a person stepped through my door and punched me in the throat, I have to admit if a gun was all I had in reach, I probably would have shot the guy, which would have left prosecutors open to charging me under PA law. In this case, they ended up doing the right thing and dropping the charges, but I have to wonder how much of that was knowledge they’d not find a jury that would have convicted Westberry. Castle Doctrine would give homeowners more leeway in defending their homes. I think Westberry exercised poor judgement in answering the door, but he was still the victim. He shouldn’t be victimized twice, one by a criminal, and twice by an overzealous legal system.

20 Responses to “Situation Makes the Case for Castle Doctrine”

  1. Caleb says:

    Wait, seriously? In PA they’re charging the guy that was punched with crimes?

  2. Crotalus says:

    Hence, the Doctrine of the Three S’s

  3. AK says:

    The point everyone on gun-blogs is missing in this story is that the “My family are cops” line. It turned out to be true, which is why this guy is charged. This has nothing to do with defensive use of force; this is an article about pervasive corruption.

  4. BC says:

    I have to disagree with our host.

    The value of the Castle Doctrine is that, for a category of self-defense incidents, it conclusively resolves the question of reasonableness with which American jurisdictions distinguish between use of force that is legally justified, and use of force that is not. And it does, as Sebastian says, protect people from being victimized by overzealous law enforcement seeking to second-guess what are, typically, split-second decisions.

    Here, though, law enforcement was not merely overzealous, but thoroughly corrupt. These guys weren’t trying to split hairs about whether a homeowner’s use of force was reasonable; you had local police and the prosecutor’s office turning a blind eye to the undisputed facts of the case in order to railroad somebody whose only sin was that he attracted the ire of a retired cop’s ne’er-do-well kid.

    The Castle Doctrine doesn’t help with that.

  5. Sean Sorrentino says:

    “Here, though, law enforcement was not merely overzealous, but thoroughly corrupt.”

    this is the issue here. I can understand that reasonable people may differ on what you should or shouldn’t do in response to a jerk pounding on your door. but in this case, this was simply the corrupt police screwing with someone.

    in PA, you have the right to use the force necessary to terminate a trespass. see Title 18, §507. Use of Force for the Protection of Property.

    http://www.acslpa.org/pa_uniform_firearms_act.htm

    sure, you could call the cops and hope that this wackjob doesn’t firebomb your house while you wait. It is your right to wait until the police arrive if you so choose. you may also defend your own property if you choose. pay particular attention to the section i referenced that says that you may use deadly force against a tresspasser inside your house if you believe that it is necessary. you are absolutely justified in drawing your weapon in response to a person forcibly and unlawfully entering your home and striking you. you are also legally justified in using deadly force if you believe that it is necessary. you do not have to play the “force disparity” in your own house. see the little line where it says

    “ii) If the conditions of justification provided in sub­paragraph (i) have not been met, the use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that:

    (B) such force is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling.”

    i think that having just been attacked Mr Westbury could reasonably believe that if his attacker got past him, he would commit at least a felony against his girlfriend.

    the only thing that the current Castle bill (HB-40) would add to this situation is that it would remove the duty to retreat if the incident had occurred out on the porch. since Mr. Westbury was physically inside the door, this would have made no difference here.

    we should not make the mistake of believing that the simplist solution, non-confrontation, will be perfectly safe. we should not judge this guy for his actions without having full understanding of what his situation was. we don’t know if he believed that he was safer confronting than avoiding.

    that being said, in the same situation, i would wait on the cops while i watched him carefully to make sure that he wasn’t armed and planning to shoot into my house or attempting to burn my house down. if i perceived that he was attempting to harm me in some way, i would shoot him without a second thought.

  6. “In this case, they ended up doing the right thing and dropping the charges, but I have to wonder how much of that was knowledge they’d not find a jury that would have convicted Westberry.”

    I believe it was actually that they presented charges to a grand jury who laughed them out of court. And the cop’s drug-dealing son also had two brothers on the force as narcotics officers…

  7. Pete says:

    “And the cop’s drug-dealing son also had two brothers on the force as narcotics officers…”

    Who are currently under investigation by the FBI for massive corruption, theft, and civil rights abuses. Radley Balko has been following those guys for awhile. What a connection between those two and this thug.

    Radley’s stuff on the corrupt cops:
    http://reason.com/blog/2009/12/17/strange-new-twist-in-scandal-i

  8. Sebastian says:

    I believe it was actually that they presented charges to a grand jury who laughed them out of court. And the cop’s drug-dealing son also had two brothers on the force as narcotics officers…

    Pennsylvania does not routinely use grand juries. Charges are brought by the District Attorney.

  9. “Charges are brought by the District Attorney.”

    Ah, you are correct. It seems the that the charges against him started to fall apart in a “preliminary hearing” according to the article and where subsequently dismissed by the DA.

  10. mikeb302000 says:

    Doesn’t anyone want to blame the girlfriend? That was a joke.

    I say he shouldn’t have opened the door, as Sebastian said. He did right drawing the gun and no charges should have resulted and it’s good they were dropped. And most of all he did good to not shoot. The fact that the bad guy ran away is proof that after the gun came out the lethal threat, if there ever had been one, ceased. So, shooting the guy would have been wrong.

    I wonder how many of you gun owners have that kind of restraint and decision-making ability.

  11. Bob S. says:

    I would like to point out, to those who claim they don’t happen often, that is a defensive gun use.

    Of course, the press didn’t present it as that. The words were never used in the story.

    But day in and day out, defensive gun uses happen. Had the guy not been charged with crimes, do you think this story would have ever made the papers?

  12. Countertop says:

    The puncher should have shot the puncher.

    He didn’t.

    Now he’s in a mess. But it’s pretty clear this asshole is a violent abusive prick. And the blue wall of silence is behin him.

    There needs to be a public outcry, and real politial pressure to not only charge the puncher, but to expell his brothers from the police force and cancel his fathers retirement.

    Treat them all as one large illegal Woman abusing conspiracy, cause that’s what it sounds like.

  13. Laci the Dog says:

    I have to admit this is a toughie for me. I’ll agree with he shouldn’t have opened the door (peepholes are seriously good security items).

    The problem would be from the Philly cops. Have you been reading the Inquirer story on prosecutions? I know it’s the crims, but the cops can be just as bad. I am tryiing to find the incident where the cops robbed a store and were videotaped. The tape was backed up to a remote location, which meant the incident was saved.

    This guys relatives was part of that incident:
    http://www.streetgangs.com/cops/police-in-philadelphia-staged-raids-to-rob-shops

    So, you have bent cops’ bro knocking at your door.

    I would have kept the door shut. You may have extra legal problems out of this one!

  14. I’m going to respectively disagree with our host as well. In your own home, whether you should have answered the door or not, you do not have to prove “force disparity” as a threat is deemed to exist. Clearly he was justified in deploying his self defense gun as he was faced with a hostile intruder late at night.

    To suggest that the homeowner needs to wait to defend himself, family and home until lethal force is presented is ludicrous in my view. Moreover, why should he presume that “fist on fist” is a fair fight when he has much more to lose than the intruder? What if he loses the fist fight? Then the intruder is armed and he isn’t.

    Lastly, the homeowner showed restraint by not allowing his emotions to get the better of him. He did the right thing by not firing on his assailant or chasing him as often happens.

  15. Sebastian says:

    You’re saying what you would like the law to be, not what it is as written. As a practical matter that might be true, because a jury is generally going to acquit someone criminally attacked in their own home. But a punch is a simple assault, not a felony assault.

  16. Well, if you are addressing me, than no, you have misread my intent. I’m suggesting that tactically he made the right decision to deploy his firearm. A punch may be simple assault but when it happens in my own home, late at night by an agitated assailant than it becomes quite a bit more than that. If I’m disabled by a “punch” then the assailant has my gun and the ability to hurt or kill my family.

    While I’ll concede that he should not have answered the door, the fact that he was attacked in his own home raises the stakes for him much more than the attacker. I’ll say again that he was completely justified in deploying his firearm but showed proper restraint in not shooting him.

  17. Sebastian says:

    Oh, no, I agree with you that it was tactically the right thing to do. I would have done the same and I think most other folks would have as well. What I’m saying is technically, drawing a gun on fists is something they could charge you for.

    You could make a defense, and I think you’d stand a near certain probability of winning, but there would be a legal basis for the charges.

  18. Okay, I’m no lawyer as you know, but it seems like we are on the same wavelength.

  19. Sean Sorrentino says:

    “But a punch is a simple assault, not a felony assault.”

    No Sebastian, it is not. Not when it happens INSIDE your own house after midnight. Deadly force is always authorized in order to stop a violent felony in progress. re-read my previous post and then go an look at the law itself. i gave you the link. I didn’t paraphrase, i copied and pasted.

    It would take no time at all to show that a person who unlawfully entered a residence after midnight and offered violence to the resident while attempting to get ahold of his ex-girlfriend could reasonably be presumed to be ready to commit a felony once he found her. This is assuming that there isn’t a felony involved just in the home invasion part. Had he shot the man dead he would have been able to reasonably claim that he was in fear for his life and also he was stopping a felony in progress.

    there are some really helpful things in HB-40, but this guy didn’t really need them. he was on pretty firm ground as it was. it was the crooked cops that were the problem.

  20. Sebastian says:

    I did read it.

    i think that having just been attacked Mr Westbury could reasonably believe that if his attacker got past him, he would commit at least a felony against his girlfriend.

    I would be willing to buy that. But that’s a matter of fact for a jury to decide if a prosecutor has a beef and decides he thinks it was out of line. You’re allowed to use force to remove a trespasser, but not deadly force. Threatening with a gun is not force, it’s deadly force.

    If we pass castle doctrine, this will no longer be the law. The law will be you have a right to use deadly force on someone who forces his way into your home. Doesn’t matter the circumstances.

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