Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Monday Morning Quarterback: My Take On The Taylor Garage Shooting Case

The Monday Morning Quarterback: The Taylor Garage Shooting Case
Yesterday, in the wee hours of the morning several local southeastern Michigan media outlets published info on a man being shot in a Taylor, Michigan residential detached garage. Reportedly, an unnamed male resident of the associated home was alerted by his alarm monitoring system that his garage had been compromised.

Accordingly, it was reported that the homeowner grabbed a lawfully possessed firearm and went outside to investigate. He noticed a footprint on the garage door and heard rattling sounds emanating from the inside of the garage. After a 10 minute stand-off he reportedly yelled to his fiancee - who was still in the home watching the events unfold from a window - to call the police for assistance.

Shortly thereafter, the intruder bolted from the garage with his hands over his head and was consequently shot by the homeowner in the leg. The garage invader was conveyed to a local hospital for treatment. Much of the aforementioned details and information about the incident was attributed to the fiancee of the shooter. Apparently, after enduring a 14 hour interrogation by the local Taylor Police Department, the shooter was not in the mood to speak with the media upon arriving home but his betrothed did not have any qualms about talking.

The local media wasted no time speculating that the homeowner could face potential charges. It should be noted that after most shootings the media always make this declaration. The real test is to examine the applicable law and see if any charges are warranted.

Does The Castle Doctrine Apply?

The state of Michigan has the Castle Doctrine on the books. MCL 780.951 which states that:

Sec. 1.
(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), it is a rebuttable presumption in a civil or criminal case that an individual who uses deadly force or force other than deadly force under section 2 of the self-defense act has an honest and reasonable belief that imminent death of, sexual assault of, or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another individual will occur if both of the following apply:
(a) The individual against whom deadly force or force other than deadly force is used is in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling or business premises or committing home invasion or has broken and entered a dwelling or business premises or committed home invasion and is still present in the dwelling or business premises, or is unlawfully attempting to remove another individual from a dwelling, business premises, or occupied vehicle against his or her will.
(b) The individual using deadly force or force other than deadly force honestly and reasonably believes that the individual is engaging in conduct described in subdivision (a).
From published media accounts, we know that a man had broken into a garage and that the home-owner had reason to believe that the invader was still present. Furthermore, the term "Dwelling" is also defined in the same section as "a structure or shelter that is used permanently or temporarily as a place of abode, including an appurtenant structure attached to that structure or shelter."

So far, it appears that the home owner may not have protection under the Castle Doctrine because the aforementioned definition of dwelling in this section is not congruent with a detached garage that is not being used as either an abode or a temporary abode.

Does The Self Defense Act Apply?

The Self Defense Act as recorded in MCL 780.792 states the following:

Sec. 2.
(1) An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses deadly force may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if either of the following applies:
(a) The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.
(b) The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent sexual assault of himself or herself or of another individual.
(2) An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses force other than deadly force may use force other than deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if he or she honestly and reasonably believes that the use of that force is necessary to defend himself or herself or another individual from the imminent unlawful use of force by another individual.

The usage of lethal force under the Self Defense Act is justified if the shooter can prove that he reasonably and honestly believed that he faced a threat of great bodily harm, sexual assault, or death. The Taylor Police Department is currently conducting an investigation to see if in fact that was the case at the time of the shooting. The shooter was allegedly interrogated for 14 hours at the station and his fiancee made published comments about the incident in the media. Additionally, the person who broke into the garage will also be making a statement to the police with respect to his version of the story. Furthermore, any other physical evidence present at the scene will also be documented and assessed.

If the evidence does not support a valid claim under the Self Defense Act, there is another potential defense that can be used.

Use of Force By individual in Own Dwelling

MCL 769.21c specifies a defense for a person using lethal force in his own dwelling:


Sec. 21c.
(1) In cases in which section 2 of the self-defense act does not apply, the common law of this state applies except that the duty to retreat before using deadly force is not required if an individual is in his or her own dwelling or within the curtilage of that dwelling.
(2) As used in this section, "dwelling" means a structure or shelter that is used permanently or temporarily as a place of abode, including an appurtenant structure attached to that structure or shelter.

In this statute please note there is another definition of "dwelling" which differs significantly from the one specified under the Castle Doctrine. It seems clear that the shooter's detached garage was not being used as either a permanent or temporary abode. The only possible defense here is whether his garage falls under the definition of "within the curtilage." So, what exactly is it?

People v Taylor 2 MI 250, 251 - 252 (1851)

Under Michigan case law, the definition of curtilage was described as the following:

“courtyard, back-side, or piece of ground lying near and belonging to a dwellinghouse,” and as “a space of ground within a common enclosure, belonging to a dwelling house”

As such, a credible argument can be made that a detached garage falls within the area or curtilage of his residence. Accordingly, the homeowner would be justified in using lethal force in his own detached garage.

Prediction on Whether Home Owner Will Be Charged

Personally, I think that there are too many wild-cards in play to make a call on this case. I think his best defense would fall under a theory in accordance with the Self Defense Act. However, God only knows what the home owner disclosed during a 14 hour interview with the police. Presumably, he did not have an attorney present. Furthermore, the statements made by his fiancee in the media probably did not help his cause. Moreover, the garage invader might have an interesting story to tell. If a good case can't be made under the Self Defense Act, then the case could very well hinge on whether the garage falls within the curtilage of the residence. 

Much online discussion I have read about the case from other persons also following this incident centers around the home owner's motivations for going into the garage in the first place. In my opinion, there is nothing illegal or wrong about investigating a disturbance in your own detached garage. Whether or not I would have taken the same action as he did is not germane. The only point that should be weighed is whether his usage of force was justified. Under the right circumstances, the usage of lethal force can be justified.

Alternatively, I can also sympathize with folks who think that he should have stayed in his house while calling the local police department. The Taylor Police Department might have actually made it to the garage within the aforementioned 10 minute stand-off. However, that is not to say that an incident could not have unfolded in which an officer might have used deadly force against the invader given that the requisite circumstances merited it.

There are going to be so many things going on in the aftermath of this incident that the home owner might be second guessing himself now. I think that the home owner did not have a post shooting plan. Would an attorney have allowed his client to be questioned for 14 hours? I don't think so. Accordingly, I don't think that he had a lawyer. With low priced legal protection plans available in the marketplace it is unwise to own a self defense firearm but not have a plan for representation.

If the home owner had a lawyer and his fiancee did not talk to the media, I think that he would have an excellent chance of not being charged. I am going to go out on a limb and say the said something that was damaging to his case in the marathon interrogation session that he had at the police station and will be charged.

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. The aforementioned analysis is my own personal theory on the details of the case that have been published in the media that I have seen. If you find yourself in an incident in which you have used lethal force, you are strongly encouraged to seek out both the counsel and representation of a credible attorney who has skill, experience, and expertise in this area of law.

About The Author
Rick Ector is a National Rifle Association credentialed Firearms Trainer, who provides Michigan CCW Class training in Detroit for students at his firearms school - Rick's Firearm Academy of Detroit.

Ector is a recognized expert in firearm safety and has been featured extensively in the national and local media: Associated Press, UPI, Fox news, New York Times, USA Today, Bearing Arms, NRAnews, Guns Digest, Tactical-Life, The Truth About Guns, The Politics Daily, Fox News Detroit, The Detroit News, The Detroit Examiner, WJLB, WGPR, and the UrbanShooterPodcast.

For more info about free shooting lessons for women and Michigan CCW Classes, please contact:

Rick's Firearm Academy of Detroit
Web: http://www.detroitccw.com.
Email: detroitccw@gmail.com
Phone: 313.733.7404

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