Just breaking in the last few minutes, NJ police officer Joseph Walker, tried on charges of  first degree murder in the road-rage shooting of Joseph Harvey Jr., has been acquitted. Not many details yet, so we’ll just share the news as provided by Hudson News 12 New Jersey, Hudson County Detective Joseph Walker acquitted in Maryland shooting:

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A New Jersey detective was acquitted today of all charges in the killing of a driver during an alleged road-rage incident.

Joseph Walker, an investigator for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, has been cleared of first-degree murder in the death of 36-year-old Joseph Harvey, of Lansdowne, Maryland.

Prosecutors say Walker, 41, shot Harvey after the two pulled over in Millersville on June 8, 2013 after some traffic jostling. Walker’s lawyers have said their client thought he, his wife and three children were in danger when he fired his gun.

The Anne Arundel County Circuit court jury delivered the verdict after a day of deliberations.

Key to this case was that Maryland is a very strong “duty-to-retreat” state. This means that if one has a safe avenue of retreat one is required to take advantage of it before you can make use of deadly force in self-defense.

Given that Walker was standing beside his operable minivan (with his family inside), and the unarmed aggressor whom he shot, Harvey, had to cross ~150 feet of distance on foot before being within reaching distance, a reasonable argument existed that Walker could have simply driven away rather than resort to his service pistol.

Taking the stand in his own defense Walker testified when asked about this issue that he’d had merely a split-second in which to make the decision. Apparently the jury found his explanation more compelling than whatever it was the prosecution presented to them (sadly, the trial was not live streamed.)

Also important to keep in mind is that the burden of persuasion was on the state of Maryland to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, the same as in every other state but Ohio.  Clearly the jury here concluded they had failed to do so.

(Much of our detailed prior coverage of this case since the shooting occurred can be found here.)

More details to follow.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle). He holds many state-specific Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and produces free online self-defense law educational video- and podcasts at the Law of Self Defense University.