Tag Archive for 'self defense'

Hate Crime Laws: Helpful or Harmful?

The first hate crime laws were enacted in 1969, and this area of law has grown exponentially over the years. A hate crime occurs when the perpetrator of a crime selects their victim based on membership or affiliation with a group, religious belief, creed, lifestyle or immutable characteristics such as race and gender. Whether a crime is designated a hate crime or not is important for sentencing, because if a criminal act is classified as a hate-crime the accused will face an enhanced sentence. For example, if someone punches someone on the street for no reason, they will be charged with battery.Hate Crime

However, if someone punches someone on the street because they are Jewish, the attacker will be charged with battery and face a hate crime enhancement. This is significant, because a battery charge may only carry a sentence of 6 months, but the actions are classified as a hate-crime the sentence could be two years.

Hate crime laws are enacted with the best of intentions, because when situations like Matthew Shepard are brought to light, communities are infuriated. The tragic incident of Matthew Shepard, being tortured and murdered for no other reason than his sexual orientation, was a heart wrenching story. As details of what horrible people the murderers were, the nation became even more infuriated with the story.   These horrific acts eventually resulted in President Obama signing The Matthew Sheppard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law in 2009. This legislation increased the number of what groups protected by hate-crime laws, which include the addition of sexual orientation as a protected class.

Pros and Cons of Hate Crimes

Although, this legislation was passed with the best of intentions, there is controversy surrounding it. Three primary points of contention are:

1. Do hate crime laws prefer different groups of victims over others? Critics of hate-crime laws argue that the purpose of legislation is to treat everyone equally. Therefore, when someone is victimized by a crime they suffer harm, i.e. if someone is stabbed and robbed they have been injured and lost money. This harm is the same whether a white male robs a white male, a white male robs a black male, or a white gay male robs a black straight male, so on and so on. In summary, being the victim of a robbery is a horrific event in any victim’s life, and critics of the law ask why one victim is entitled to sympathy and protection than another?

The counterargument is that if an individual was victimized for nothing other than their race, the perpetrators conduct is even more reprehensible and should be punished more harshly. The controversy however, has been clearly decided by the legislature and hate-crime laws are in effect across the United States.

2. What groups are entitled to more protection under hate crime laws? If it is applied too liberally, will unfair sentences occur? The original hate-crime laws enacted in 1969 only applied to federally protected activity, such as voting. Furthermore, these laws were primarily enacted to protect African-Americans discrimination. However, as time progressed, more groups were included and protection applied to non-federally protected activity. The controversial aspect with these enactments are twofold:

(A) By identifying certain groups, others are excluded. Clearly, individuals belonging to the major religions such as Islam, Judaism and the like are protected. However, what about a Scientologist? Do these laws promote favoritism towards certain beliefs over others?

(B) Criminal activity happens and often involves people with different beliefs, but should all these be classified as hate-crimes?

Furthermore, something innocuous may be turned into a life-changing event, depending on whether it is labeled as a hate-crime or not. A hypothetical could be two college kids fighting over a girl at a bar. This would not be a good decision, but many college-aged kids make poor decisions. However, in that hypothetical if one of the parties is a Black-Christian and the other a Muslim, both could be charged with a hate-crime. Fighting over a girl at a bar is not a federally protected activity, which was the original intent of the law, but should that incident be considered a hate crime?

3. Do hate crime laws impact a Defendant’s right to fair trial? Does allowing the prosecution to introduce the inflammatory topics of race, religion and sexual orientation allow a criminal defendant to receive a fair trial? Another argument is that a prosecutor can impact an accused’s right to a fair trial. It is up to the prosecutor whether to charge someone with a hate-crime or not, and brining up difficult topics like race, religion, and sexual orientation would not typically be relevant to a whether someone committed a crime. However, hate-crime legislation allows these topics to be discussed at trial. Therefore, in the hypothetical bar fight between the Black Christian and Muslim, the incident could be a routine battery and self-defense case. Or it could be classified as a hate crime, resulting in the discussion of racial and religious biases. This could result in a number of unnecessary stones being overturned and impacting both parties right to a fair trial. However, proponents of hate-crime law can argue that if someone is vandalizing mosques based on an ignorant fear of Muslims, they might only be charged with vandalism. The sentence for vandalism may only be a few months. However, the prosecutor can add a Hate-Crime enhancement, which could result in a more appropriate sentence for that perpetrator.

Hate-crime laws present difficult questions, which have strong arguments on both sides. For now the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act have been enacted, which has resulted in the legislature indicating a desire to increase the prosecution of hate-crimes. For now only time can answer the question of whether hate-crime laws are helpful or harmful.

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Police Use Deadly Force in a Brawl with Christian Musicians

A family of traveling Christian musicians brawled with four cops in a Walmart parking lot on March 21st.  The fight resulted in an officer shooting and killing one of the brothers.

Arizona Walmart Brawl Deadly ForceThe brutal 9-minute long fight was caught on the cop car’s dashboard camera. The fight started when a female employee tried to use the restroom at the Walmart and was shoved by two of the brothers because their mom was using the restroom.

The family immediately started to assault the cops as soon as they arrived at the scene. Punches were thrown and the cops attempted to subdue them by pepper spray and a Taser. The family kept fighting even after pepper sprayed and hit with a Taser, prompting the officers to call for back up.

A struggle for one of the officer’s guns left Enoch Gaver dead, and David Gaver shot in the stomach.

Peter Gaver, Ruth Gaver, Nathan Gaver, and Jeramiah Gaver were all arrested and are facing charges for aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and hindering prosecution.

Was the Police Use of Deadly Force Legal?

Police officers can use deadly force in self-defense. If an officer feels there is imminent threat to his or the public’s safety, he is allowed to and is legally protected if he deems it necessary to use deadly force.

Enoch Gaver reached for and struggled to grab the officer’s gun. Therefore, the “reasonable choice” the officer had in the situation was to immediately kill him. Deadly force may be used when no other action is believed to succeed. In this case, the officer either needed to kill, or be killed. The shooting was completely justified.

Philadelphia Detective Becomes a Suspect in Homicide Case

A Philadelphia police homicide detective has been indicted for obstruction of justice, flight to avoid apprehension, and conspiracy. Ron Dove, a 16-year veteran of the Philadelphia police department, helped his girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, flee across state lines after she murdered her ex-husband, Cesar Vera.

philadelphia detectiveImmediately after the murder, a blood-soaked Sanchez called detective Dove, begging for help. Dove soon after picked up Sanchez, drove her to Rochester, NY, and gave her a new phone that could not be traced. He also hid her car in a garage and spent time cleaning her vehicle and apartment of possible evidence.

Dove disclosed to colleagues at the police department that he might know someone who has committed a murder. He did not reveal the identity of his girlfriend, but the conversation was clearly about Sanchez. Dove continued to press his colleagues for details about the case, while keeping his girlfriend in hiding. Eventually, Dove admitted to knowing Sanchez, but denied any involvement in her escape. He also stated that the alleged murder was done in self-defense of her ex-husband. Vera was arrested twice in the past for domestic violence, both times involving Sanchez.

Dove was fired a month after the murder in November 2013 for lying to investigators.

Sanchez turned herself in October 16, 2013, and was charged with hindering apprehension and the murder of Cesar Vera. She is currently awaiting trial. Dove turned himself in to authorities Thursday, January 22. He eventually was released that night on a $2,500 bail. His lawyer, Brian McMonagle, argued that Dove “didn’t believe he was helping a criminal” and was instead “protecting a victim of domestic violence who had acted in self-defense.”

Was the murder of Vera an act of self-defense? Or was it an ex-lover’s final revenge? The general legal rule is that force used in self-defense is only justifiable if there is an imminent threat. The threat may by physical or verbal, but it must make the victim feel immediately physically threatened.

Even though Vera was arrested for domestic violence involving Sanchez in the past, his murder is only justifiable if Sanchez felt threatened in that moment. It is a high possibility that Sanchez went to Vera’s home seeking revenge for years of abuse, and killed him with no immediate threat. If this is the case, Sanchez will be found guilty of murder.

In addition to an ongoing investigation, the district attorney’s office is investigating all cases Dove was involved in while employed as a homicide detective. One case, involving the murder of Leslie Delzingaro, was led by Dove. Family members have expressed their distrust in Dove, claiming he withheld evidence from fellow investigators. Delzingaro was murdered at a bar owned by Sanchez’s father.

Disturbing Implications of No-Knock Raids by Police

The Emergence of No-Knock Raids

The Fourth Amendment was founded on the premise that citizens have an inherent right against unreasonable search and seizures as well as an expectation of privacy. The police are required to obtain a warrant before entering a private home. Additionally, prior to the 1970’s and before the “war on drugs,” they were expected to knock, announce themselves, and wait a reasonable amount of time to give the person a chance to respond.

no-knock raid by policeThe police argued that some situations were dangerous enough to allow no-knock raids. Consequently, in the 1980’s, the federal government began to allow such raids and gave the police unfettered discretion. The police began to abuse the law and it was struck down a couple years later. Since then, the courts have slowly allowed the practice to resume, but have supposedly added extra precautions that the police must follow when conducting a no-knock raid, including:

  • A determination that the situation is too dangerous to knock and announce their presence.
  • The suspect would have more time to dispose of a weapon or evidence of a crime.

However, it is not often that a judge denies a no-knock warrant (only about 3% of the time) and 10% of the time judges will issue a no-knock warrant, even if the police asked for a standard warrant. It is important to note that the police are not always required to obtain a special warrant. If they “reasonably believe” there is justification to enter the home without knocking, they are entitle to do so. Consequently, the line has blurred between a justified and unjustified no-knock raid. As such, many critics believe the practice continues to be abused, and again subject only to subjective police discretion.

How No-Knock Raids Have Changed 4th Amendment Protections

Most states have provisions in their laws allowing a homeowner to kill an intruder if they reasonably believe the intruder intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death upon an occupant of the home. There are currently 26 states that go even further and allow “Stand-Your-Ground” laws, which permits a person to shoot outside the home if they feel threatened. An example that is widely known is the George Zimmerman case.

As controversial as these laws are, when an intruder breaks into a home, dressed in black, holding a weapon and screaming, many people will choose to shoot, with the intent to kill and will not be prosecuted. However, these laws will not protect a person if they mistakenly shoot a police officer who is breaking into a house as part of a SWAT operation, even if the homeowner reasonably believes the police officer is an armed intruder (especially if the homeowner has a record). Recently there have been instances of this scenario in the media, with over 20,000 no-knock raids in America each year. However, the outcome of attempted prosecution has varied, many blaming a bias based on race. Below are two such examples that are ripe with controversy.

Texas Cases with Drastically Different Outcomes

In 2013, in the pre-dawn hours, a SWAT team entered Henry Magee’s home through the door, without announcing their presence. Henry had previous arrests on possession of marijuana, as well as a DUI. It is important to note that the police did discover marijuana plants in the home. Magee shot and killed one of the officers and was charged with capital murder. However, he argued that he believed the intruders were entering his home and, in order to protect his pregnant girlfriend, he was entitled to shoot. Consequently, the charges never made it past a grand jury indictment and were dropped. Magee is Caucasian.

Five months later, Marvin Guy, who is black, also killed an officer in a no-knock raid, in almost the exact same circumstances. Although Guy had been convicted of more serious crimes than Magee (robbery and weapons charges), the police entered Guy’s home through a window and found nothing that suggested a crime had taken place. In fact, an ACLU study found that 36% of raids fail to produce evidence of a crime and, in 2003, 10% of 450 raids were wrong-door raids. This variation in circumstances from Magee seems to suggest that Guy was more justified in the shooting. However, the grand jury chose to indict and he now faces the death penalty.

Many argue that these raids, targeted to those suspected of a crime, actually endangers innocent persons within the home. Additionally, statistics show that there has been significant differences involving people of color.

The Consequences of No-Knock Raids

Unfortunately, there often times are no consequences for the police or the subsequent prosecution. The exclusionary rule is supposed to be designed to prevent police from using evidence that was obtained illegally. However, recently the courts have not applied this rule to evidence obtained in an unjustified no-knock raid, if that evidence could have been obtained with a standard warrant.

However, there are certainly consequences for the subject of a no-knock raid. Civilian deaths greatly outweigh police deaths in no-knock raids and, even if a police officer is killed, the suspect is very likely to face a charge of murder, despite a valid claim of self-defense.

Additionally, if an innocent civilian is killed in the raid, it is rare that the police are charged with murder, or even civilly liable. In 2010, a Detroit SWAT team killed 7 year old Aiyana Stanley-Jones as she was sleeping as the bullet pierced her brain. In another case, police in Georgia, killed a 19-month-year-old when they threw a grenade into his crib. Neither officer was convicted of the deaths, mostly due to the argument that there was insufficient evidence the police knew the children were in this house. Compare this with Guy’s argument that he did not know that the police were the intruders.

Overall, no-knock raids are a concern across party lines, eliciting outrage from conservatives, libertarians and liberals alike. SWAT raids affect people of color at a staggering 71%. However, studies have shown that Caucasians are often involved in crimes that are more serious, such as hostage situations. Inevitably, the debate will continue to dominate the media when considering constitutional rights, racial bias and the abuse of police power.

 

Why Stand Your Ground Laws Are Bad for America

Stand your ground” laws have been controversial since Trayvon Martin’s death. With stand your ground laws in twenty-three states, the unfortunate case of Trayvon Martin was only the beginning. In a recent case, 17-year-old Diren Dede, a German exchange student, was killed when he was shot four times by Markus Kaarma in Montana.

stand your ground laws and Diren DedeMarkus Kaarma was arrested and charged with homicide. Teens “garage hop” in Montana—a game that involves sneaking into random garages to steal beer. Kaarma’s home had been the target of two recent burglaries. In response, Kaarma, father of an infant, installed motion sensors and video cameras to monitor his home. A witness told police that Kaarma had been waiting three nights with his shotgun “to shoot some kid.”

It’s not clear whether Dede entered Kaarma’s home to steal alcohol or the marijuana Kaarma had on his property. Nevertheless, Germany is calling for justice for Dede’s death.

Dede’s death is comparable to Trayvon Martin. In both cases, the state removed requirements for self-defense arguments. In Florida, the state removed the duty to retreat from public places if the person was lawfully there as long as the person didn’t start the conflict. In Montana, lawmakers lowered resident use of deadly force from belief that assailants would use violence to a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary. The underlying logic is the same: the gun owner’s right to self-defense is paramount.

The problem with this change in self-defense laws is that it undermines the rule of law. If Dede had been captured by the police, he probably would have had a few years in prison for burglary.  Instead, he received the death penalty at the discretion of one man. Dede was put to death for a crime which would have warranted at most a few years of jail. And Dede was put to death without trial. Compare that to the murderers and rapists, real vicious criminals, who spend decades on death row with years of appeals before they are executed. Under stand your ground law, young people like Trayvor and Dede are given fewer rights than serial killers.

Politically, this case trades the explosive internal racial tension of Trayvon Martin for international hypocrisy. It’s difficult to sell political rights in countries like China when foreign citizens are being killed for burglary without trial in our own backyard. In 1994, Singapore wanted to cane Michael Fay for vandalism. President Clinton convinced Singapore to commute the sentence from six strokes of a cane to four, even though Singapore canes its own citizens six times for vandalism. Since Dede is dead, Germany cannot ask for clemency for a punishment that Germans feel is barbaric. It’s impossible, given that Dede’s “punishment” is not given to American citizens for the same crime. Somehow, Singapore has more social equality than we do.