The Alfalfa Field Doctrine

Turley, who is obviously far more attuned to news arising out of Montana than I am, posts about the Castle Doctrine, sans Castle.  After noting how well expanded Castle Doctrine laws have been received, morphing into Make My Day laws, and then Make My Day Better laws, Montana has found itself staring at the natural offshoot :

Daniel Lira, 32, was working inside Wal-Mart’s loading dock area when he got into an argument with co-worker Craig Schmidt, 49. He ended up hitting Schmidt in the face. Schmidt responded by pulling out a .25-caliber semiautomatic Beretta handgun and shooting Lira in the head from as little as 10 feet away. Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos, however, released Schmidt in light of Montana’s “castle doctrine law” which allows citizens to use potentially lethal force in self-defense — despite the escalation in the level of force by Schmidt from a fist fight to a shooting.

The bullet did not kill Lira but grazed his head.

In Montana, you see, one need only fear bodily injury to whip out the gun.  Fortunately for Lira, Schmidt was a lousy shot.

The means by which self-defense in the homes slips down the slope to shoot anyone who might hurt you in church isn’t all that hard to follow.

As State Representative Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel) explained in one news report, “The ‘castle doctrine’ only applied to an occupied structure, one tiny little place, (but) what if you’re not in an occupied structure? What if you’re out in an alfalfa field? What if you’re walking down the street with your wife, your kids and your dog? It’s too restrictive to have it just be the ‘castle doctrine’. You are the castle. Wherever you go, your right to self defense goes with you.”
Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  After all, if it’s about defending oneself, should it matter where the threat occurs?  Are we less interested in self-defense in the alfalfa field than the bedroom?  Does the attack hurt any less?

The problem, of course, is twofold.  First, who is attacking whom is often a subjective matter, if we assume good faith on the part of the shooter to begin with.  Rarely does anyone say, “well, yeah, I attacked him and he defended himself by punching me back, so I pulled out my Beretta and killed him.”  On the other hand, someone inclined toward shooting someone who really pisses them off when there’s no one else around could rather easily say that the victim attacked and he merely defended himself.  Dishonest, perhaps, but certainly not inconceivable.

I can already hear the choir in the background, in a slow, Texas drawl, chanting, “better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.”  But fellas, you don’t know which end of the Beretta you’re going to end up on.  If you’re in your own home, then at least we have a way to measure who gets to shoot whom.  We’re all equal in the alfalfa field. 

Lawyers test arguments by taking them to their logical extreme and seeing whether the theory underlying them holds up or produces absurd results.  Unfortunately, the logical extreme often involves a Wal-Mart, which can’t be good for business. 

The controversy over whether killing a person who enters (or comes close to) your home (or an unoccupied neighbors home) has yet to be resolved.  The straight-out Castle Doctrine hasn’t proven to be as simple to execute in a rational manner, consistent with the notion that we just don’t kill people for lack of a decent show on TV, as hoped.  Nonetheless, the machismo of cheap life and self-righteousness has greased the slope to the point of landing on the loading dock of Wal-Mart.

The really crazy part of this is that there will be many who will argue that this return to the wild west is what America is all about.  Of course, that’s as long as the other guy doesn’t draw first.

6 comments on “The Alfalfa Field Doctrine

  1. NTK

    Isn’t this exactly the reason people carried guns openly in the ‘wild west’?

    Police presences was non-existent or minimal, people moved constantly in search of gold or some other livelihood, and you basically carried everything you owned on your person or on some wagon to protect yourself from the natives and thieves.

    If this is the law then everyone will have an obligation (not just a right) to carry a gun because the law will not require anyone to justify their action. Without it you are a victim.

  2. Jdog

    The legal stuff is interesting, at least from my POV. The nomenclature, though, would quickly getting stupid if it hadn’t already.

    “Castle Doctrine,” historically, refers to the notion that a guy’s home is his castle, and he doesn’t have to accept folks busting in to do all sorts of mischief there, and he should be cut some slack. (Not being a lawyer, that’s about the best I can do; sorry.) Outside of the home, the usual issue in the reform movement around this is that of the legal option to retreat, and what happens when, as the guest of honor in the attack, you decide to “Stand Your Ground,” which is the term that some of us prefer.

    As to the dishonest killer, sure. Most of the cops I do the HR218 thing for have been around shootings where the shooter claimed it was self-defense; that’s apparently about as common per shooting as “it isn’t mine!” is per baggie of weed. It’s not impossible that a few of both kinds of folks were fibbing, at least just a little.

  3. JKB

    That is one strange “Castle Doctrine”. In Tennessee, the Castle Doctrine only permits deadly force against someone in your home who has no right to be and has not been invited into your home. It doesn’t apply if you get in a fight with a guest or family member or if the invader is law enforcement.

    From the article is sound like Montana has a new “stand your ground” provision as part of the new “Castle Doctrine”. That is good as you shouldn’t have to leave somewhere you have a right to be just because someone becomes threatening. Still the progression from argument to punch to shooting seems a bit quick. Although the article is really about the County Attorney complaining that the new law requires investigation into actual circumstances of the claimed self-defense shooting.

    “the current law causes us some pause to do a much more thorough investigation to determine if we can charge anyone”

    A more thorough investigation, God forbid.

  4. John R.

    Don’t forget, a .25 is a pistol for wussies. Even if he hit the guy in the head it prally would have bounced off his skull. Real men use .40’s and above.

    I’m kidding. I’m just kidding. A .357 is a man sized weapon, too.

    Wait. What I meant was, shouldn’t you have to pass an IQ test to get a gun? Maybe that’s the answer. Forget the background checks, if you’re stupid enough to escalate a bar fight into a potentially fatal shootout, you shouldn’t have a gun even if your background is clear.


  5. Ross

    Whether or not deadly force is reasonable depends on the situation. If the person doing the punching is 6 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than the other participant, then deadly force might be a reasonable way to stop the threat. The first Texas CHL holder to kill someone was taking a beating while sitting in the seat of his pickup, with seatbelt fastened, and no where to go. His killing of the assailant was deemed justifiable, ie he didn’t have to take a beating.

    Anyone who uses deadly force has to be prepared for the consequences. It’s likely to be an expensive decision – my lawyer friends here in Texas tell me to count on starting at $10,000.

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