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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Does Castle Doctrine Allow You to Shoot Someone in Your Front Yard at Night?

I been following the murder trial in San Antonio where homeowner Ray Lemes was on trial for shooting Tracy Glass, a 19 year old college kid, who allegedly broke into Lemes' home at night. The judge declared a mistrial yesterday because a juror looked up the definitions of the terms murder and manslaughter (online apparently) and shared his or her new knowledge with the other jurors. This is verboten and the judge was right to declare a mistrial.

If the homeowner is to be believed, he and his wife were awakened in the middle of the night when their dog alerted to an intruder in the house. The news articles have not reported whether there was any sign of forced entry - jimmied lock, broken window, or a burglar alarm going off. What we do know is that Lemes went outside and shot the alleged intruder multiple times, once in the back. State witnesses testified, based on the location of the body and shell casings that the deceased was shot in the cul de sac.

The "Castle Doctrine" is the legal principle that lets a homeowner use deadly force against an intruder inside his home, especially at night. A man's home is his castle and all that. Another Texas statute allows deadly force outside the home to stop someone from fleeing with your property. I've always thought that was a little broad - it made sense in the old days when losing your horse or mule or cattle could be a matter of life and death.

Anyway, once you're outside the law gets really murky. It turned out that the young man who was killed was possibly drunk, visiting his sister who lived in the same neighborhood and may have gotten confused and gone to the wrong house. He had no criminal record and no weapon. The prosecutors say they will retry the case. So, Mr. Lemes faces the prospect of life in prison. If he beats the rap, he will still pay thousands of dollars in legal fees. And he and his wife have to live with the guilt of killing young Mr. Glass. 

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