9/21/2011Mississippi Appeals Court Backs Castle Doctrine in Automobiles
The Mississippi Court of Appeals ordered a new trial after a man shot into a mob from his car.
A Mississippi man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for shooting a teenager who had tried to pull him out of his automobile. Justin Vanques Thomas believes the state's "Castle Doctrine" law applies to a man's automobile as well as his home, and he should have been allowed to present that defense to the jury. On August 30, the Mississippi Court of Appeals sided with Thomas.
At around 10pm on March 8, 2008, a fist fight broke out during a Spring Break party at the Performing Arts Building in Southaven, Mississippi. A youth outreach program had rented the facility for the night, but the festivities soured when a dispute over the disc jockey equipment became a brawl well beyond the control of the four security guards on duty.
Thomas, then a 20-year-old student at Northwest Mississippi Community College, saw Justin "Tac Head" Buckner knocked to the ground, being beaten by a gang known as "TNT." Thomas fired three shots into the air, breaking up the fight. That gave security guards Grady Green and Quintarous Robinson time to take Buckner into the building to perform first aid.
"They didn't stop until the shots were fired," Buckner testified. "I was relieved when the shots were fired. I was happy."
The attacking group of about a dozen youths turned on Thomas who had run to his car to get away. Once inside, he locked the doors. The mob pounded on the vehicle's windows and beat his trunk. Someone threw a cell phone in an attempt to break the car's back window. Thomas fired two shots from his car, which struck Dexter Harris, 16, in the chest and leg, killing him.
Testimony differed over whether Thomas had been able to drive away or whether he was blocked in. Thomas was convicted of manslaughter after a judge refused to allow the jury to consider a Castle Doctrine defense. The three-judge appellate panel believed the lower court judge erred and that the law and the facts were on the side of Thomas.
"Thomas was entitled to a jury instruction that properly covered his theory of defense under the Castle Doctrine," Chief Judge L. Joseph Lee wrote. "Although the self-defense instruction is similar, it does not specifically address the commission of a felony against Thomas in his vehicle or whether the crowd was attempting to remove Thomas unlawfully from the vehicle against his will to cause him harm."
The court believed a jury was best equipped to decide whether this specific defense applied in this particular case. The judges overturned the conviction and ordered a brand new trial.
A copy of the decision is available in a 70k PDF file at the source link below.