search
top

Another “Castle Doctrine” Case That Isn’t

If there’s anything that the European media likes to do, it’s make Americans look like violent whack jobs with our crazy gun laws. Such is the case with a German student killed in what the BBC is calling a castle doctrine case:

Mr Kaarma, a 29-year-old firefighter, has told investigators his home had twice been hit by burglars, and he told a hair stylist he had waited up at night to shoot intruders, prosecutors said.

On the night of the shooting, Mr Kaarma and his partner Janelle Pflager left their garage door open, and Ms Pflager left her purse in the garage in order to bait intruders, she told police.

They set up motion sensors and a video monitor, prosecutors said.

When the sensors went off just after midnight and they saw a man on the monitor screen, Mr Kaarma went outside and fired a shotgun into the garage without warning several times.

The law in Montana still requires that you be in reasonable fear of death or grave bodily injury. “Castle doctrine,” simply means that you have no duty to retreat from your home. In most states, there’s either a statutory or common law presumption that someone unlawfully entering your home amounts to that reasonable fear. But setting up in ambush? That looks an awful lot like this case to me. I think prosecutors in this case probably feel the same way, or they wouldn’t have charged him. So this is another incident that really is not a “castle doctrine” case. This is going to hinge on whether or not the homeowner was in reasonable fear of life and limb, which given the circumstances, it seems pretty obvious he was not, and his planning the ambush establishes a very different frame of mind than the one required to claim self-defense.

This is a pretty run-of-the-mill murder case where the defendant is claiming self-defense. It’s baffling to me the media’s reaction. How do they handle self-defense claims in Europe? Do they just give them a “go straight to jail” card if a homeowner shoots an intruder? No trial? Are people not permitted to defend themselves against murder charges in Europe?

19 Responses to “Another “Castle Doctrine” Case That Isn’t”

  1. MattW says:

    It’s always nice to be reminded that the US media aren’t the only ones who love to write misleading articles (or sometimes outright lies) to increase revenue and/or further a pet political cause.

  2. Sigivald says:

    Yeah, that reads like straight, premeditated murder to me.

    (Montana law allows lethal force in the defense of property if there’s reasonable belief that a “forcible felony” is being prevented, by my reading.

    And I see no possible element of reasonable fear of personal harm.

    I don’t think “grabbing a purse after walking in an open garage door” is going to cut it for the judge or jury, with good reason.)

  3. rd says:

    We had a similar case in MN finish this week. Byron Smith killed two kids who broke into his house last year. Two life sentences for first degree murder.

    • Archer says:

      And I’ll just bet Joan Peterson is still complaining that without SYG laws, those two kids would still be alive today.

  4. LC Scotty says:

    Isn’t this sort of like hunting over bait?

  5. Roger says:

    The homeowner may be guilty of murder and his actions were probably illegal, for which he will pay. But that burglar will never steal another persons property.

    • Brian says:

      They didn’t shoot a burglar and he didn’t steal any property, they shot a foreign exchange student. Why the kid went in the garage, we’ll never know because he was murdered. I’m sure he didn’t know there were crazy nutjobs in the US that would shoot him for coming on his property.

  6. Shawn says:

    As far as I know self-defense is blanket totally illegal in most of Europe. So they would just treat self-defense like a murder case even if they were defending their life reasonably.

    • Archer says:

      From what I can tell from the news reports (so take this with a grain of salt – and a slice of lime and shot of tequila), by the letter of the law, no, self-defense isn’t illegal. However, a person arrested for defending themselves will a) carry the burden of proof for their legal defense; and b) be questioned, examined, nit-picked, and armchair-quarterbacked (IOW, railroaded) into a guilty verdict.

      If not guilty of the “wrongful death,” then guilty of something. Bear in mind that owning a firearm/weapon for self-defense is not allowed, so using one for self-defense is largely considered pre-meditation, which destroys a self-defense plea; even if the death is ruled justified, it’s still an unlawful use of a weapon, and you’re still going to jail. Also, “duty to retreat” ad infinitum, also with the burden on the defendant to prove he/she could not possibly retreat further.

      Self-defense may be legal in theory, but we all know the old saw about the difference between theory and practice, right?

      • Brian says:

        In the US, self-defense is an affirmative defense also, meaning that the defense has the burden of proof.

  7. Other Steve says:

    “and he told a hair stylist he had waited up at night to shoot intruders”

    All the rest of this case withstanding (probably quite guilty) there is something interesting about this quote which came out either the same or next day after the shooting.

    I’m guessing he had a close relationship with the hair cutter. I mean otherwise, how would the police/press have found them and gotten a statement/quote so soon? It’s a small town, but not THAT small, 60,000 people in the city limits, 100k in the county). Am I to believe the police in Montana are so thorough they immediately go to your hair cutter for a character statement after any incident?

    Just an interesting tidbit I found as a cautionary tale. Be careful of what you say to people – always. Esp on topics like shootings and defense. In one moment of macho tough guy barber shop talk (Ok, I know it says Stylist, but whatever) this guy gave a prosecution a phrase to repeat over and over to a jury – for no reason.

    From all the details we have, it doesn’t sound like a righteous shoot. Although there was a second kid that ran from the scene, it’s possible he could have been armed. This guy could have had better chances without that statement. Not that he likely deserves it but still.

  8. Read the charging document. The killer’s girlfiend [spelling error, but I think it fits) admitted to investigators that they baited the garage.

  9. thatturahguy says:

    What’s missed in most reports is that a second juvenille was present, and ran away at the first shots. “Police have talked” with this person. So there’s still more to this story. The Castle Doctrine is not a license to ambush. This homeowner is going down. Too bad other honest gun owners, and Montanans in particular, have to get splattered because of one idiot’s actions.

  10. Chris Mallory says:

    “How do they handle self-defense claims in Europe? Do they just give them a “go straight to jail” card if a homeowner shoots an intruder? No trial? Are people not permitted to defend themselves against murder charges in Europe?”

    In the UK, there is no such thing as self defense. I have talked to a number of Brits, including a Metro London police officer. They were all horrified at the thought of a “subject” actually taking it on themselves to defend their own lives.

    • Brian says:

      You’re an idiot. The UK has self defense in both common law and the Criminal Law Act 1967. Where did you think self defense in the US originated? Like all common law in the US, it was based on England’s common law.

  11. Will Brown says:

    It would appear that Montanma statute disagrees with you.

    Montana statute seems to specifically say it is a “no duty to retreat” case. See Montana Code Annotated Sections 45-3-102 Use of force in defense of person, 45-3-102 Use of force in defense of occupied structure, 45-3-110 No duty to summon help or flee.*

    The first statute says in pertinent part, “A person is justified in the use of force … to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

    The second section says in pertinent part, “A person is justified in the use of force … only if:

    (a) the entry is made or attempted and the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent an assault on the person or another then in the occupied structure; or

    (b) the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony in the occupied structure.”

    And thirdly, 45-3-110 reads in pertinent part: “… a person who is lawfully in a place or location and who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement assistence prior to using force.”

    Kaarma and Pflegger were in the structure lawfully. Dede (the dead criminal) was apparently in the commission of a home invasion when Kaarma shot him. Kaarma went outside the still-occupied (by Ms.Pflegger) structure and engaged Dede with a firearm, resulting in Dede’s death.

    Montana law would seem to support a legitimate claim of self-defense with the added justification of no duty to retreat from a lawfully occupied “location or place”. I don’t find any requirement in Montana statute that property must be secured in order for the above to have force of law (those arguing that Kaarma and Pflegger “set a trap” must equally believe that cattle ranchers are also guilty because they don’t secure their livestock from tresspassers).

    If that isn’t a reasonable (and actually word-for-word explicit) description of SYG and the so-called “castle doctrine” (verbiage which never appears in any state’s pertinent legal code that I have discovered so far) both, then I think we will just have to agree that we disagree on the definition of “reasonable”.

    As to anyone’s guilt or innocence in this matter, that’s what trials are for, aren’t they? I also have to say that the defense declaring this to be a SYG/CD case seems quite reasonable to me given the statutes that apparently address this type of action in Montana. We’ll see.

    * Source: Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States.

    • Brian says:

      Wow are you WAY off and seem to not have a clue about the facts in this case. There was no forcible felony here and the exchange student wasn’t in the process of committing a home invasion. The garage was left open intentionally and the exchange student simply walked into the garage, at which point the guy executed the exchange student.

      • Sebastian says:

        Yep. We have no idea why he was in the garage. Maybe he was looking to tell the owner his garage door was open? It’s also pretty clear from testimony his frame of mine was one of murder, not self-defense. That hair dresser’s testimony is going to be devastating to his self-defense claim.

        • Will Brown says:

          You’re both lawyers, aren’t you? :)

          Way to argue what I didn’t say. Sebastian said: ““Castle doctrine,” simply means that you have no duty to retreat from your home. In most states, there’s either a statutory or common law presumption that someone unlawfully entering your home amounts to that reasonable fear.” Then immediately observed: “So this is another incident that really is not a “castle doctrine” case.” Dede’s action seems to have created the necessary climate for the presumption of reasonable fear standard to apply, which means that this case doesn’t really involve that standard? That’s your argument? And, while I believe the statute I mentioned does explicitly make the counter-point, Dede had no lawful reason to be inside the garage regardless of any other consideration he might have assumed. Whatever he might have been thinking, the Montana statute makes pretty plain that Kaarma has a legitimate appearing self-defense claim; we’ll see what the trial reveals.

          I noted what the Montana statutes actually said in support of my position that the defense indeed appeared to have legitimate reason to argue that SYG/CD was a pertinent factor. In fact, I never tried to argue the merits of such a defense claim, particularly as all participating on the comment thread share equal ignorance of the actual evidence collected post-shooting.

          Did Kaarma’s violent reaction to the reported burglar alarm triggered by Dede unlawfully entering the occupied residence rise to the level of a “trap”? Agreed, the BBC seems to believe so; I suggest the rest of us would do better to wait on the trial before we start measuring the rope.

          The point being, you are issuing judgement absent any direct evidence based upon – what exactly? My reading of the Montana statutes may well be entirely wrong, but I confine myself to discussing what can be corroborated independent from the crime and with as little acceptance of other’s bias and assumption as I am able. Fault me for that all you wish.

top