I (The Civil Rights Lawyer), as someone who practices in the area of #ExcessiveForce #CivilRightsLitigation, give my analysis on the #ChauvinVerdict from yesterday. I’ll take you through the actual jury instructions to explain what the jury decided. And also what they did not decide.
Here’s the recent study data I discuss in the video. Polling data established that the media and irresponsible politicians and social justice warriors have majorly skewed public perception on so-called systematic racism in police shootings. Here’s the data to review for yourself:
So, the respondents, after being asked whether they identify as liberal or conservative, were asked,“If you had to guess, how many unarmed Black men were killed by police in 2019?” Over 22% of people identifying themselves as “very liberal” responded that they believed 10,000 or more unarmed black men were killed by police in 2019. Even 13% of people identifying themselves as “conservative” placed the number at 10,000 or more. Over 40% of conservatives thought the number was at least 100 or more.
In reality, the number is actually between 13 and 27 unarmed black men who were killed by police in 2019.
The Washington Post has created a database of every known deadly police shooting in America since 2015. As of April 14, 2021, 6,211 people have been shot and killed by law enforcement officers. 46% of them—2,883 to be exact—were white, while 24% (1,496 total) were black. Just 6% were unarmed.
One of the most pernicious myths about police shootings is that officers shoot unarmed black men at an alarming rate, when in fact just 2% of the people who were killed by an officer were unarmed and black. Since the beginning of 2015, law enforcement officers across the country have actually killed 33 more unarmed white people than unarmed black people.
The statistics do show that black people are statistically more likely, per capita, to be shot and killed by police. How is this explained? The assumption used by the media and politicians is some sort of implicit or systematic racism, bias or prejudice. But that’s ignoring all other statistics.
Engage in more criminal activity and you have more interactions with police. More interactions with police equals more shootings, both justified and unjustified.
For instance, although blacks comprise just 13% of the US population, they accounted for 53% of the murder and non-negligent manslaughter arrests in 2018 (the most recent year for which FBI crime data is available), 54% of all robbery arrests, and 37% of all violent crime arrests. Whites, on the other hand, comprise 76% of the population but made up just 44% of the murder and non-negligent manslaughter, 43% of the robbery, and 59% of the total violent crime arrests.
In Milwaukee, for instance, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s homicide tracker has recorded 890 total murders in the city since the beginning of 2015. A staggering 79% of the victims are black. In 2021, that percentage has jumped to 91%, as 31 of the 34 people killed in Milwaukee as of this writing were black.
The unfortunate reality is that just as blacks are statistically far more likely to be the victims of homicide or other violent crimes, they are also statistically more likely to commit violent crimes that would bring them into conflict with a law enforcement officer with his or her gun drawn.
The Civil Rights Lawyer’s analysis of the absolutely savage questioning of Andrew McCabe by Sen. Ted Cruz on Tuesday. McCabe is the former deputy director of the FBI, recently fired following an inspector general’s investigation. He completely embarrasses himself and the DOJ. Top men. Top men. Cruz, on the other hand, has a pretty good performance. It’s harder than it looks.
So a few days ago, I represented a guy down in McDowell County, West Virginia, on a misdemeanor charge of driving on a two-lane road in an ATV/UTV/side-by-side. West Virginia law allows you to do this. But apparently there is confusion, or ignorance, in the local sheriff’s department and/or prosecutor’s office. We were forced to have a trial, which resulted in a not guilty verdict. Here’s the actual criminal complaint charging my client with the non-crime of operating an ATV on a two-lane road in West Virginia:
Clearly this police officer was wrong about the law.
W. Va. Code Section 17F-1-1 allows ATVS to:
Operate on any single lane road (most roadways in rural West Virginia).
Operate on a two-lane road for a distance of 10 miles or less, so long as the ATV it is either on the shoulder of the road, or as far to the right on the pavement as possible if there is insufficient shoulder to ride on, and at a speed of 25 mph or less, in order to travel between “a residence or lodging and off-road trails, fields and areas of operation, including stops for food, fuel, supplies and restrooms.” If operated at night, an ATV must be equipped with headlights and taillights, which must be turned on – obviously. Read it for yourself, here: https://www.wvlegislature.gov/WVCODE/Code.cfm?chap=17f&art=1
So, slightly confusing and a few grey areas, but if you’ve been around the Hatfield & McCoy Trails, you know that it’s necessary to use a two-lane road at times to get where you need to go on an ATV. And in other counties, where there are no Hatfield & McCoy Trails, we still need to go down two-lanes at times to get from one place we’re allowed to ride, to another (whether farms/fields/one-lanes/gas stations, etc.)
Unfortunately however, when we arrived to court on this particular case, the prosecutor looked at me in amazement when I told her that the client hadn’t committed a crime, even assuming all the allegations in the criminal complaint are true. She said dismissively that the client could plead guilty and pay the fines. Of course, I said, “no way, Jose.”
So we had a trial. During the trial, the charging police officer testified that no ATVs are ever allowed to be on a two-lane road, and that his supervisor instructed him, in accordance with this, to “clear” ATVs from the roads, because the Hatfield & McCoy system was closed by the Governor due to COVID-19.
But that has nothing to do with the statute. The Governor can’t change the ATV laws by executive order; nor did he attempt to. Accessing the H&M trails isn’t the only reason ATVs are used in West Virginia. The officer cited 17F-1-1 as his legal authority to “clear the roads.” But in reality, the law still says what it says. Therefore, the magistrate judge correctly found my client not guilty.
There had been no allegations of unsafe or improper operation of the ATV – just that he was on a double yellow line. The officer testified that he didn’t know where the client was coming from – nor where he was going. He had no evidence that my client had been illegally operating on the H&M trail system. The complaint itself corroborates this. It didn’t mention anything other than the fact that he caught him on a two-lane.
However, there were facts pertaining to the officer’s conduct. He got angry and took the citation back, after the mayor of the town where this occurred – Northfork – apparently said that ATVs were welcome and allowed in her ATV-friendly town. Muttering the “F word,” the officer left the city hall, confiscated citation in hand. The testimony at trial was that about an hour later, the officer showed up at my client’s residence – the client wasn’t even home at the time – and threw the citation inside the empty, parked ATV in the driveway. That wasn’t the reason for the not guilty verdict, just a bizarre way to re-issue a ticket. But in any event, it was a non-crime, so the verdict was rightly “not guilty.”
Following the trial, I posted on Facebook that my client had been found not guilty, and that the Governor’s tyrannical executive orders had no effect on the state’s ATV laws, and expressed disbelief that the local sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office would hassle ATV riders, when that’s really the only thing the local economy has going for it at this point. Did I bash a county by saying this? No, facts are facts. I said nothing about the county, unless you’re referring to the sheriff’s department and the prosecutor’s office prosecuting an innocent man for a non-crime.
Let’s look at the facts though…..
To argue that McDowell County doesn’t have a crisis economy is to stick your head in the sand. Pointing this out is not bashing, nor exploiting, the county. Anyone who makes such an accusation, is either ignorant, or a willing propagandist. Hell, in 1963 – I’ll repeat: 1963 – President John F. Kennedy said:
I don’t think any American can be satisfied to find in McDowell County, West Virginia, 20 or 25 percent of the people of that county out of work, not for 6 weeks or 12 weeks, but for a year, 2, 3, or 4 years.
The situation has only worsened there. McDowell County has been classified as a “food desert” by the USDA. In 2017, there were two full-sized grocery stores serving the county’s 535 square miles. The only Walmart super center in the county closed in 2016 Coyne, Caity (April 7, 2018). “In McDowell County ‘food desert,’ concerns about the future”. Charleston Gazette-Mail. Retrieved January 19, 2020. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another closed Walmart anywhere in the country.
WELCH — For years, it has been difficult for McDowell County officials to recognize the obvious fact that deserted and dilapidated structures countywide represent a negative image for visitors to the county.
“U.S. Route 52 is the gateway to our county,” Harold McBride, president of the McDowell County Commission said during a press conference Friday morning at the McDowell County Public Library in Welch. “It looks like a Third World country,” he said and added that most of the dilapidated buildings are owned by people who live outside the state and “think they have something.”
There were 100,000 people in McDowell County in 1950. Today, there are about 22,000 residents,” Altizer said.From 2000 to 2010, McDowell County’s population dropped by nearly 20 percent, from 27,329 people to 22,064 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”It is so sad we are losing so much population. Half of our homes are on homestead exemption, which lowers property taxes for people who are over 65 or disabled,” Altizer said during a recent interview in the McDowell County Courthouse.Today, Altizer said, most income to county residents come from coal and natural gas jobs, or from checks retired people receive — Social Security, black lung, the Veterans Administration and United Mine Workers.”The monthly West Virginia Economic Survey prepared by Workforce West Virginia recently reported there were about 6,000 people working in the county, many of them with government jobs or fast-food jobs. We have an older population today. And there are not new jobs here,” Altizer said.”Coal and gas are keeping us going.
Here’s an interesting article, with photos from an actual photographer, rather than the few I snapped with my obsolete iPhone. Take a look for yourself and determine if the few pictures I snapped were somehow misleading about the blight in the county:
This decline in work lead to the creation of modern era food stamps. The Chloe and Alderson Muncy family of Paynesville, McDowell County were the first recipients of modern day food stamps in America. Their household included 15 people. The city of Welch, and crowds of reporters watched as Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman delivered $95 of federal food stamps to Mr. and Mrs. Muncy on May 29, 1961. This was an important moment in history, as it was the first issuance of federal food stamps under the Kennedy Administration. This federal assistance program continued to expand for years to come, and is commonly used across the United States today.
Fortunately for the county, in 2018, the state opened two new trail connections in McDowell County. From a May, 2018 newspaper article:
WELCH — Two new ATV trail connections opening today in McDowell County will give visitors direct access to the city of Welch and the town of Kimball, the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority’s executive director said Tuesday.
“As of in the morning (today), we’ll have the town of Kimball and the city of Welch will be connected to the Hatfield-McCoy Trail in the Indian Ridge system,” Executive Director Jeffrey Lusk said. “This will allow riders of the trails to go into those communities to get food and fuel and to stay. These are two new towns that weren’t on the system. Up until today, the only two towns that were connected were Northfork and Keystone….
The new Warrior Trail will connect with Gary and Welch. ATV riders will be able to travel from the town of Bramwell to the town of War starting on Labor Day, he added. More lodging opportunities are needed to help McDowell County’s communities benefit from the increase ATV tourism traffic.
“We’re opening the Warrior Trail System up on Labor Day Weekend,” Lusk said. “We’re in desperate need of places to stay in War, Gary and Welch come Labor Day Weekend.
Tourism traffic continues to grow on the Hatfield-McCoy Trail’s overall system, Lusk stated. Last year, overall permit sales were up by 15.1 percent, and both Mercer and McDowell Counties had the highest growth in sales.
Being an ATV rider myself, I know first hand how the community benefits from the ATV economy. Local entrepreneurs now have opportunities to open ATV resorts, restaurants, and other businesses, which cater to ATV riders. ATV riders bring money. These new ATVs are 15-30k vehicles, each, when it comes to the side-by-sides, and not far off from that for the individual four wheelers. Watch them drive in. They’re driving 70k trucks, pulling 10k trailers, in many instances. They’ve invested heavily in the hobby. They spend money, not only on their equipment, but on food, lodging, gas, and so on. And they come from all over. I’ve even seen guys who drove all the way from Mexico to ride these trails.
Some of them even invest in local real estate, such as the client I represented in this case, who loved the community so much, he bought his own place. But go on and attack me for daring to “bash” McDowell County…. So let’s continue with some facts, instead of knee-jerk emotion.
What are some of the side effects of the economic problems?
Males in McDowell County lived an average of 63.5 years and females lived an average of 71.5 years compared to the national average for life expectancy of 76.5 for males and 81.2 for females. Moreover, the average life expectancy in McDowell County declined by 3.2 years for males and 4.1 years for females between 1985 and 2013 compared to a national average for the same period of an increased life span of 5.5 years for men and 3.1 years for women…..
Then there’s the drug problem. In 2015, McDowell County had the highest rate of drug-induced deaths of any county in the U.S., with 141 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate for the U.S. as a whole is only 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people. (Same citation).
So back to my original point. There’s 99 problems there, and ATVs ain’t one of them. So why hassle ATV riders when they’re bringing money, jobs and fun into the local economy?
Again, ATVs are allowed on single lane roads in West Virginia, and are also allowed on two-lane roads, to get from one place they’re allowed to operate, to another place they’re allowed to operate, so long as it’s a distance of 10 miles or less, and so long as they operate on the shoulder, or as far as the right as possible, and under the speed of 25 mph. Counties and cities in West Virginia are granted the authority by the legislature to increase ATV freedoms. Other than interstate highways, they can authorize ATVs to use two lanes within their jurisdictions with no restrictions whatsoever. That would be what signage would refer to as being “ATV Friendly.”
That’s the law anyways. Whether or not law enforcement and prosecutors in any particular county care or not…. well that’s a different issue.
Update regarding the new Senate Bill 690:
Senate Bill 690 is now in effect in West Virginia. ATVs, side by sides, UTVs, can now be made “street legal” in West Virginia. They are calling this group of vehicles with confusing names, “Special Purpose Vehicles.”
SPVs can now be turned into “street legal SPVs.” The following requirements must be met:
(1) One or more headlamps;
(2) One or more tail lamps;
(3) One or more brake lamps;
(4) A tail lamp or other lamp constructed and placed to illuminate the registration plate with a white light;
(5) One or more red reflectors on the rear;
(6) Amber electric turn system, one on each side of the front;
(7) Amber or red electric turn signals;
(8) A braking system, other than a parking brake;
(9) A horn or other warning device;
(10) A muffler and, if required by an applicable federal statute or rule, an emission control system;
(11) Rearview mirrors on the right and left side of the driver;
(12) A windshield, unless the operator wears eye protection while operating the vehicle;
(13) A speedometer, illuminated for nighttime operation;
(14) For vehicles designed by the manufacturer for carrying one or more passengers, a seat designed for passengers; and
(15) Tires that have at least 2/32 inches or greater tire tread.
(uu) “Low-speed vehicle” means a four-wheeled motor vehicle whose attainable speed in one mile on a paved level surface is more than twenty miles per hour but not more than twenty-five miles per hour.
WV Code §17A-1-1(uu)
A “Special Purpose Vehicle” is defined as:
“Special purpose vehicle” includes all-terrain vehicles, utility terrain vehicles, mini-trucks, pneumatic-tired military vehicles, and full-size special purpose-built vehicles, including those self-constructed or built by the original equipment manufacturer and those that have been modified.
There is a 20 mile limit on the travel on a two-lane road. Controlled-access highways are excluded. That would be interstates and four lanes where there are dedicated access points (on ramps, off ramps, and the like).
Central to the Reply is newly discovered evidence. The defendant police officers argued to the Court that even though there’s no indication of it from the video, they actually weren’t checking to see if Michael Walker was a person prohibited from possessing a firearm, but rather that he was a potential school shooter, because it was “morning,” and a school some undetermined distance down that road was “in session.”
Well, the video was originally broadcasted on Facebook Live. Somebody was able to go back and screenshot it, and as it turns out – oops – it was actually 6:00 p.m…. I guess that explains the crickets around the 2:50 mark on the video.
So, here’s the response we received from Putnam County in response to our pretrial motion asking the Court to stop the Putnam County deputies from presenting anti-AR-15 propaganda and irrelevant media reports of mass shootings at the jury trial in the Michael Walker Open Carry case.
This response is an outrageous attack on the Second Amendment, which ironically was filed by lawyers for West Virginia’s first so-called “Second Amendment Sanctuary” county – Putnam County. Yesterday we all appeared at the federal courthouse in Huntington, West Virginia, for the pretrial hearing on various motions, including this one.
It was almost surreal to hear the other side argue to the Court that by virtue of the fact that Michael was safely carrying a completely legal AR-15 style rifle, in a non-threatening manner, that police should be able to search and seize him just because the AR is the “preferred weapon of mass shooters,” and so on. Citing news media reports about the Parkland shooting. They actually argued in court, that it would not have been suspicious if he had a shotgun, or a handgun. It was mentioned that AR-15s aren’t used for hunting in West Virginia. Which is of course completely false, and besides the point.
This is a reality check for people who value the Second Amendment, as well as the Fourth Amendment. If you live in the Fourth Circuit: West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, or South Carolina, unless there’s a SCOTUS opinion on point, your constitutional interpretation/law comes from the Fourth Circuit. We’re on the edge….
Right now U.S. v. Black (2013), written by a federal appellate judge who is a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, Judge Gregory, whom I’ve had the honor of arguing in front of, protects citizens who open carry firearms in open carry states. The police cannot harass you, detain you, search you, seize you, just by virtue of the fact you have a firearm. As we know from the past, that was the original purpose of gun control measures in many of the southern states, such as North Carolina (which is where US v. Black came out of).
Black was narrowed by US v. Robinson in 2017, which said that anyone in a vehicle lawfully stopped for whatever traffic violation, or pre textual reason whatsoever, can be disarmed and searched, because firearm possession automatically makes you dangerous. Judge Gregory wrote an amazing dissent in that en banc opinion, which specifically mentions this scenario as it pertains to West-by-God-Virginia. However, that wasn’t extended to open carriers who are not already legitimately subjected to a forced encounter with police. Well, they’re now trying to extend this to open carriers through anti-AR-15 propaganda.
If they succeed, guess what can happen next time thousands of open carriers bring their ARs to the state capitol in peaceful protest and free speech? It’s game on if law enforcement wants to disarm you, run your background checks, search your pockets, etc. As Judge Gregory warned in the Robinson case dissent:
In my view, states have every right to address these pressing safety concerns with generally applicable and evenhanded laws imposing modest burdens on all citizens who choose to arm themselves in public. For instance, many states—though not West Virginia— seek to reconcile police safety and a right to public carry through “duty to inform” laws, requiring any individual carrying a weapon to so inform the police whenever he or she is stopped,4 or in response to police queries.5 And if a person fails to disclose a suspected weapon to the police as required by state law, then that failure itself may give rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, justifying a protective frisk.
West Virginia, however, has taken a different approach, permitting concealed carry without the need for disclosure or temporary disarmament during traffic stops. For the reasons described above, I do not believe we may deem inherently “dangerous” any West Virginia citizen stopped for a routine traffic violation, on the sole ground that he is thought to have availed himself fully of those state-law rights to gun possession. Nor, in my view, does the Fourth Amendment allow for a regime in which the safety risks of a policy like West Virginia’s are mitigated by selective and discretionary police spot-checks and frisks of certain legally armed citizens, by way of pretextual stops or otherwise. Cf. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 661, 99 S.Ct. 1391, 59 L.Ed.2d 660 (1979) (invalidating discretionary spot-checks of drivers for licenses and registrations in furtherance of roadway safety). Absent some “specific, articulable suspicion of danger” in a particular case, seeUnited States v. Sakyi, 160 F.3d 164, 168–69 (4th Cir. 1998), West Virginia’s citizens, including its police officers, must trust their state’s considered judgment that the benefits of its approach to public gun possession outweigh the risks. SeeNorthrup, 785 F.3d at 1133.
. . .
That is particularly so given that West Virginia does not require that people carrying firearms inform the police of their guns during traffic or other stops, even if asked. See supra at 50. Where a state has decided that gun owners have a right to carry concealed weapons without so informing the police, gun owners should not be subjected to frisks because they stand on their rights. Cf. Northrup, 785 F.3d at 1132 (“impropriety” of officer’s demand to see permit for gun being brandished in public is “particularly acute” where state has not only legalized open carry of firearms but also “does not require gun owners to produce or even carry their licenses for inquiring officers”). Under a different legal regime, different inferences could be drawn from a failure to answer an officer’s question about a gun. See supra at 50–11. But I do not think we may presume dangerousness from a failure to waive—quickly enough—a state-conferred right to conceal a weapon during a police encounter.
Again, I recognize that expanded rights to openly carry or conceal guns in public will engender genuine safety concerns on the part of police officers, as well as other citizens, who more often will find themselves confronting individuals who may be armed.
But where a sovereign state has made the judgment that its citizens safely may arm themselves in public, I do not believe we may presume that public gun possession gives rise to a reasonable suspicion of dangerousness, no matter what the neighborhood. And because the rest of the circumstances surrounding this otherwise unremarkable traffic stop do not add appreciably to the reasonable suspicion calculus, I must conclude that the police were without authority to frisk Robinson under Terry’s “armed and dangerous” standard.
Accordingly, I dissent.
United States v. Robinson, 846 F.3d 694, 714, 716 (2017).
Don’t forget that Heller, i.e., the Second Amendment, has not yet been extended outside one’s home. It hasn’t been applied to open carry yet, or anywhere outside the home in the Fourth Circuit – nor by SCOTUS. See United States v. Masciandaro, 638 F.3d 458, 475 (4th Cir. 2011), other courts are divided on the question, compare Moore v. Madigan, 702 F.3d 933, 936 (7th Cir. 2012) (recognizing that the “right to keep and bear arms for personal self-defense … implies a right to carry a loaded gun outside the home”); Palmer v. Dist. of Columbia, 59 F.Supp.3d 173, 181–82 (D.D.C. 2014) (holding that Second Amendment right recognized in Heller extends beyond home), with Peruta v. Cnty. of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919, 940 (9th Cir. 2016) (“[T]he Second Amendment does not protect the right of a member of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.” (emphasis added)); Young v. Hawaii, 911 F.Supp.2d 972, 990 (D. Haw. 2012) (“[L]imitations on carrying weapons in public do[ ] not implicate activity protected by the Second Amendment.”); Williams v. State, 417 Md. 479, 10 A.3d 1167, 1178 (Md. 2011) (holding that regulations on carrying firearms outside the home are “outside of the scope of the Second Amendment, as articulated in Heller and McDonald“).
So, are Montani Semper Liberi, or not? It remains to be seen. Right now, definitely not in Putnam County. And if they get their way, neither here, nor our neighbors in Virginia, and below…..
Check out Episode 1 of the John Bryan PODCAST, where I pontificate on several topics, including impeachment evidence we’ve supposedly been hearing about, some search and seizure issues pertaining to the open carry of firearms, some self defense firearms issues, and a really crazy discovery that generic brand blood glucose meters, used by diabetics, are apparently way, way off……
Somebody sent me a copy of audio which was recorded almost a decade ago at a criminal felony jury trial. It is the audio of my closing argument to the jury in a First Degree Arson Trial in February of 2010. Wow, it brought back memories. Here is the last 11 and a half minutes of it. Listen to how I hand the case over to the jury at the end….. I got that from Gerry Spence.
People ask lawyers all the time: do you ever think your client is guilty? The worst possible scenario as a trial lawyer is to be responsible for defending someone who is actually innocent, and screw something up. This young man was innocent. Yet he was facing 20 years in prison. His family came to me and asked me to save their son. He had done a stupid, ridiculous thing, and had given a false confession to a girl over the telephone, for some reason thinking it would impress her. He bragged that he started a fire which had burned down a big barn, which had been a local mystery up to that point. But he didn’t actually do it. But…. he was caught on a recorded phone conversation stating that he did.
He was charged with first degree arson. I ended up proving to the jury that he had lied about it, and that he was actually innocent. Talk about a difficult task. But I did it. This was the fastest I’ve ever had a jury return a verdict. It took maybe 6 or 7 minutes. This guy/kid could have spent the last decade sitting in prison….
Choosing a lawyer is an important decision. With this audio, you can hear an example of me speaking for somebody in court, in a situation when that individual’s liberty was at stake, and see the end result. Pretty cool.
Case studies are important aspect of learning and evaluating the law. Being a Second Amendment supporting state, most West Virginians have heard one thing or another about the “castle doctrine,” or about what the law is regarding self defense with a firearm in West Virginia.
You can read the statutes, and you can read the case law. You can read advice from anonymous sources on the internet. But perhaps the best method is to go directly to a case-in-point. A true nightmare scenario involving a home invader, a shooting, and a prosecution by overzealous authorities.
This case demonstrates a real life scenario. It shows how the media and law enforcement can shift the narrative very quickly. Most importantly, it shows the actual charge to the jurors who decided the man’s fate. I obtained a copy of the jury charge, including the jury instructions, from the circuit clerk’s office, and have uploaded them to this site. They are linked at the bottom of the page. I also am providing a complete narrative showing some of the media reports, and how they shifted very quickly, turning on the homeowner. It also shows how law enforcement used the media against the homeowner, poisoning the potential jury pool.
In March of 2015, a man intoxicated on various drugs, stripped off his clothes and attempted to forcibly enter the home of a family in Huntington, West Virginia.The homeowner, Micah LeMaster, shot the intruder three times with his handgun.He then followed the intruder outside towards the sidewalk, where he fired three more shots, resulting in the death of the home invader.It was undisputed that this was a home invasion.However, the media and the police quickly turned on the homeowner, resulting in an arrest, charge of first degree murder and a $700,000.00 bond.The trial took place in November of 2016, resulting in a complete acquittal following his assertion of self defense and West Virginia’s “castle doctrine” law.
One particular TV station’s website has their reporting of the incident, which in itself is educational.From oldest to most recent:
The law given to the LeMaster jury contained the following specific instruction on the law pertaining to the West Virginia “Castle Doctrine,” in part:
An intruder is a person who enters, remains on, uses, or touches land or chattels in another’s possession without the possessor’s consent.
Our society recognizes that the home shelters and is a physical refuge for the basic unit of society, the family. A man attacked in his own home by an intruder may invoke the law of self-defense without retreating. The occupant of a dwelling is not limited in using deadly force against an unlawful intruder to the situation where the occupant is threatened with serious bodily injury or death, but he may use deadly force if the unlawful intruder threatens imminent physical violence or the commission of a felony and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary.
The violent and unlawful entry into a dwelling with intent to injury the occupants or commit a felony carries a common sense conclusion that he may be met with deadly force.
The source for this is the fact that West Virginia is a “stand your ground state,” and does not require a person to retreat before using deadly force:
(a) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence is justified in using reasonable and proportionate force, including deadly force, against an intruder or attacker to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence or to terminate the intruder’s or attacker’s unlawful entry if the occupant reasonably apprehends that the intruder or attacker may kill or inflict serious bodily harm upon the occupant or others in the home or residence or if the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder or attacker intends to commit a felony in the home or residence and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary.
(b) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence does not have a duty to retreat from an intruder or attacker in the circumstances described in subsection (a) of this section.
(c) A person not engaged in unlawful activity who is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be outside of his or her home or residence may use reasonable and proportionate force against an intruder or attacker: Provided, That such person may use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a place that is not his or her residence without a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker.
(d) The justified use of reasonable and proportionate force under this section shall constitute a full and complete defense to any civil action brought by an intruder or attacker against a person using such force.
W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(a)-(d).
Of course, there are exceptions. The absolute immunity afforded by Section 55-7-22 does not apply in the following circumstances:
– The person who would invoke Section 55-7-22 was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping from the commission of a felony;
– The person initially provoked the use of force against himself, herself, or another with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant;
– Otherwise initially provokes the use of force against himself, herself, or another, unless the individual withdraws from the physical contact and clearly indicates to the assailant the desire to withdraw, but the assailant continues to use force.
W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(e)(1)-(3). Case law considering Section 55-7-22 is sparse. SeeState v. Samuel (No. 13-0273, Mem. Dec.) (Nov. 8, 2013); United States v. Matheny (No. 2:12-CR-00068, S.D. W. Va., May 8, 2012).
Nothing in Section 55-7-22, however, permits the creation of a hazardous condition on or in real or personal property designed to prevent criminal conduct or cause injury to a person engaging in criminal conduct (e.g., spring-loaded shotguns). Nor does Section 55-7-22 authorize or justify a person to resist or obstruct a law-enforcement officer acting in the course of his or her duty. W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(g).
[As quoted from the West Virginia Gun Law CLE 2017]
I hope this clears up some of the confusion out there regarding West Virginia’s self defense laws, the practical application of what they mean, and how the “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” actually work.
People assume that people convicted of murder get a large amount of appeals, and have judges looking over their case to make sure everything was constitutional and fair . . . . Nope. This folder contains no actual direct appeal of James McClurkin’s murder conviction.
His lawyer who represented him during the 1977 trial which convicted him dropped the ball completely. He filed the notice of intent to appeal, but never actually followed through. Apparently he was waiting on payment from Mr. McClurkin’s family prior to filing the appeal. However, James’ father, who had hired him initially, passed away two weeks prior to the trial, and had spent all he had on James’ trial. The result was that Mr. McClurkin did not receive a direct appeal for his murder conviction. The State of South Carolina filed a motion to dismiss the notice of intent to appeal based on the failure to take any action beyond filing the notice. So the “appeal” was dismissed forever. What followed is paperwork which mostly discusses legal technicalities such as failure to comply with deadlines, and the discussion of rules which forbid inmates from bringing up old issues. It doesn’t appear that Mr. McClurkin ever had the assistance of a lawyer at all up until 1992, when the real murderer confessed. Every document James filed throughout his incarceration always mentioned first that James had exhausted his appeals. Well, he never got an appeal, and it is a fiction – a lie – that he exhausted his appeals.
The notoriously racist trial judge, Judge Moss, who in 1985 created “controversy” by using the “N word” from the bench (in response to black protestors following the conviction of a black man accused of shooting a white man – ironically similar to James’ conviction). Here is an article I tracked down from January 28, 1985, as it appeared in the South Carolina Herald-Journal.
This file contains almost no discussion of the evidence upon which James’ murder conviction stands. At one point, a lawyer for the South Carolina Appellate Public Defender’s Office filed a motion to withdraw from representing James due to the case being “without merit.” He didn’t bother to mention the evidence from the 1970’s, or the lack thereof. He didn’t even look into the 1992 confession and testimony of the real murderer. This was 2004. James would spend another 12 years in prison.
We are pleased to have been hired to represent a man named James McClurkin. James was convicted of murder in 1977. In late 2016, law enforcement appeared at his parole hearing and testified that the old murder case was reopened, and that James was innocent. James was released. He was 63 years old, and had been in South Carolina prisons since the age of 18.
South Carolina is one of the states which does not provide compensation to innocent people who are wrongfully imprisoned and then later exonerated. Hopefully that legislation can soon be enacted in South Carolina. But until that happens, we are working hard to compensate Mr. McClurkin for the terrible injustice which occurred in his case.
Here are some of the media accounts of his release from prison:
James McClurkin and his co-defendant were convicted of the 1973 murder of laundromat attendant Claude Killian. James, and his co-defendant Ray Charles Degraffenreid, both African Americans, were convicted under the brutal 1970’s Chester County, South Carolina justice system, which involved, among other things, a presiding trial judge who was known for using the “N word” while on the bench.
The real murderer actually confessed in 1992, which was corroborated by the fact that he was convicted of a similar murder, and by the fact that he had no alibi on the night of the murder. However, the justice system once again failed James, and he was sent back to prison for another 25 years. Now law enforcement reopened the case, and have concluded that the real murderer was telling the truth. How did this occur? Well, among other issues, the mother of the real murderer was apparently the maid of the prosecutor who prosecuted James and Ray Degraffenreid.
This sounds like a novel, but it’s not. It’s real, and it was only uncovered because a courageous new sheriff was willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt, and double check an old case. Follow along as we jump into this case and work to reverse the wheels of justice.
IF YOU LIVE IN SOUTH CAROLINA, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR POLITICIANS AND EXPRESS YOUR SUPPORT IN PLACING THESE CASES BEFORE THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA. BOTH JAMES MCCLURKIN AND RAY CHARLES DEGRAFFENREID SHOULD BE PARDONED BY THE GOVERNOR OF SOUTH CAROLINA.
You can donate in order to assist with James McClurkin’s living expenses through the following site: