Sunday, June 23, 2019

Trespassers Will be Shot! Survivors Will be Shot Again!

19 April 2019. St. Paul, MN police were chasing a car thief when he crashed the car and took off running. Moments later, police heard gunfire and found Jalik Combs lying wounded in Vincent Trotter’s yard. Police identified Combs as the driver of the stolen car.

Combs apparently was not armed and allegedly said that Trotter told him to leave his property. Combs said he told Trotter he was leaving and started to depart when Trotter shot him. Combs was shot in the buttocks, forearm, and legs and received medical treatment for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital before police booked him into the Ramsey County jail.

Trotter had a sign in his home’s front window that said, “Warning” “No Trespassing, Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again!” Police questioned Trotter and eventually charged him with second degree assault with a deadly weapon.

Police likely charged Trotter because Combs was unarmed and the apparent locations of his wounds may indicate that he was leaving Trotter’s property. Although the sign in Trotter’s window probably didn’t affect the police decision to charge him, prosecutors will no doubt use it against him if he eventually faces trial.

Although Minnesota law does accept the use of force (not deadly force however) when the person using the force reasonably believes it is necessary in resisting a trespass, clearly Trotter’s use of deadly force is excessive absent other potentially mitigating factors that may exist and have not yet come to light.*

Minnesota Statute 609.065 outlines the use of deadly force as follows: “The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode.” Place of abode refers to the actual dwelling and does not include land, detached garage, storage shed, etc.

Minnesota law, like that of most states requires that a person using deadly force must have done so in the belief that it was necessary to avert death or great bodily harm. That the person’s judgment concerning the severity of the danger must have been reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. And that the person’s decision must have been such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger perceived and the existence of any alternative way to avoid and (in Minnesota’s case) retreat from the danger.

Were Trotter’s actions in using deadly force reasonable? Probably not. There is no information indicating that Combs was presenting a deadly threat to Trotter nor that Combs was inside or attempting to enter Trotter’s home.

The law typically applies three criteria in determining whether an act is or is not reasonable:

    1. What would a reasonable and prudent person have done?

    2. In the exact same situation?

    3. Knowing what the actor knew at that time within the mainstream of convention and best practice?

Or phrased another way: Knowing what the actor knew within the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under the totality of the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.

It will be interesting to see if Trotter claims self-defense. Remember, self-defense is an affirmative defense and can be a 2-edged sword. To present an affirmative defense, you must admit that you did the act; however, you affirm that your actions were reasonable and that you were legally justified in taking such actions. The prosecution obviously disagrees and will be attempting to demonstrate that your actions were not reasonable nor legally justifiable and that you in fact committed a crime. If the prosecution is successful, your life has just dramatically changed.

As I have written in other articles, anything you post on social media, signs, or other communications can be detrimental to a claim of self-defense and have implications you would rather not have your defense lawyer try to defend at your trial. It is not hard to imagine Trotter's lawyer trying to defend against the following scenario:

    “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present "exhibit A," a sign the defendant placed in the window of his home. According to the defendant, he shoots trespassers just like he shot his victim Jalik Combs. Since Mr Combs survived, did the defendant shoot him again? The defendant who, by his own warning sign planned to shoot trespassers used DEADLY HOLLOW POINT KILLER BULLETS from his AUTOMATIC ASSAULT PISTOL (liberal prosecutors always use incorrect nomenclature like clip and assault pistol) to shoot Jalik Combs innocently on Mr Trotter’s lawn. Was Jalik Combs trespasser that should have been shot? Killed?

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* 2018 Minnesota Statutes, 609.06 Authorized Use of Force, Subdivision 1.

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