Jury Says “NO” to Byron Smith’s Self Defense

self defenseHere in a small town in Minnesota, Byron Smith was found guilty of murder for killing two young people who broke into his home on Thanksgiving day last year.  He claimed self defense because he has a right to defend himself in his home and use deadly force—even killing someone to protect himself.  It’s sometimes called the Castle Doctrine: a person has the right to defend their “castle” against intruders.  The jury disagreed!

During the trial, prosecutors played recordings that Smith made on his home audio system in which he says he is glad the two young people are dead because he “considered them vermin” and that he was “doing the community a favor by cleaning up the waste.”  Besides using a bullet to stop each of the intruders, Smith continued to shoot them even after they were no longer a threat to him.

People have asked me several questions about the trial and verdict.  Here they are:

1.  The jury came back in less than three hours.  Does this mean anything?

I think it shows how convinced they were of Smith’s guilt.  In trials I’ve been involved with, juries can deliberate for days, especially if it’s a serious case like this one.  People understand the responsibility they have as jurors and want to make sure they make the correct decision.  It always takes an hour or more to choose a foreperson and to take an initial vote.  The fact this jury returned so quickly tells me they had few doubts about Smith’s guilt.

2.  Does this verdict mean that a person cannot use self defense in their home?

No.  The law in Minnesota says that you may use the deadly force that a reasonable person would use if you feel threatened with great bodily harm or death in your home.  Or, if the intruder is committing felony in your home.  You are allowed to use deadly force—even killing someone.  In this case, the jury obviously thought Smith went far beyond the necessary force to stop the threat and even turned it into an execution.

3.  Should Smith get life imprisonment without parole instead of being required to work with young, troubled teens?

Yes.  The Sentencing Guidelines in Minnesota that all judges are required to follow, prescribe a life sentence without parole.  Under some circumstances, the judge can deviate from that and could even give a shorter time in prison or probation, but the judge must have compelling reasons that he puts on the record to justify the departure from the Guidelines

http://http://www.startribune.com/local/east/257435001.html  See interview with the prosecutor.

4.  What about an appeal?

All losing defense lawyers promise they will appeal the case and, maybe, Smith’s lawyer will do that also.  However, an appellate court will not decide if Smith was justified using self defense—that’s not the purpose of an appeal.  Instead, the appellate court will look at the trial and if there were errors in the proceedings that were so prejudicial to Smith that he deserves a new trial,  the appellate court could order a new trial.

Let me know what you think about this case.

About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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