STURGIS, SD – Sturgis Attorney Mike Strain doesn’t like the term, ‘stand your ground.’ He says it’s vague and often misinterpreted by the public.
“Basically, referencing stand your ground laws is so vague that the public can misinterpret what stand your ground means,” says Strain.
The recent shooting death of Matthew Flagler, 32, who was shot after he allegedly entered a residence early on the morning of Sun., Oct. 20, raises the question of justifiable force in self-defense. According to police reports, Flagler was allegedly messing around with vehicles parked outside of the residence and entered one of them. The homeowner stepped outside and confronted Flagler and then reentered his residence to call law enforcement. Flagler then entered the home where he was shot once in the chest with a revolver.
“There are two kinds of self defense laws that go into play in South Dakota,” explains Strain. “One that involves non-firearm oriented type offenses which is aggravated assault and the other component is what you can use deadly force on.”
Where the stand your groun’ interpretation gets lost, according to Strain, is in what is called the reasonableness factor.
“What that means if someone is standing in your home and you tell him to leave and he doesn’t, that doesn’t mean you can shoot him. But if he comes at you with a knife or some other type of force that could do great bodily injury to you and there is an immediate danger of it happening, then the use of deadly force may be justifiable.”
Strain says stand your ground has different meanings in different states. Yet there is a broad labeling of the defense that Strain finds troubling.
“There is a national labeling when it comes to stand your ground. What I’ve seen is the misconception of shoot first, ask questions later.”
In murder cases, the issue that comes up is what Strain phrases as duty to retreat. “That goes back to the old English concept called the Castle Doctrine. Some states still have that. We don’t.”
The South Dakota legislature has gone through some changes of statutes during the late 1990’s and 2000’s based on different defenses that have been raised by Strain in criminal cases he has had. “But the ambiguity right now,” says Strain, “is the use of deadly force in protection of property as it dove tails into the duty to retreat.”
The legislature did finally pass a statute, says Strains, that deadly force can be used in two circumstances. One, if you’re in your home and someone is going to commit a felony upon you or two, if you’re in your dwelling house when it’s occurring, you can use deadly force provided you have reasonable grounds to apprehend that you’re going to get hurt seriously and that person is going to do it.”
He adds, “But if a trespasser is in your house and is just standing there you can’t shoot that person.”
The question of reasonableness always comes into play, says Strain. “That’s always a fact driven interpretation of the code. Jurors will determine what’s reasonable and what’s not based on all the evidence that’s there.”
The use of the defense where it actually goes to trial occurs maybe once every two years in the state. “More people do raise the defense,” says Strain, “but through plea negotiations it gets resolved in a different manner.”
In the most recent case in Sturgis, and based on what information law enforcement has released, the consensus may be a justifiable use of force. But Strain says it’s not always simple.
“It’s not the simple at all. Was he misguided, was he lost, what was going on? I have no idea what occurred. I’m sure law enforcement and the State’s Attorney’s office are doing an excellent job of ferreting out the facts as to what happened.”
According to Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater no arrest has been made in the shooting. “We are still conducting the investigation. It hasn’t been finalized yet but it’s getting pretty close,” says the Chief. He adds, “I don’t expect an arrest to be made but we will know more after we visit with the State’s Attorney’s office.”
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