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Merritt Landry Case: Overview of Louisiana’s Self-Defense Statutes

Merritt Landry Case: Overview of Louisiana’s Self-Defense Statutes

We’ll be covering the second degree murder trial of Merritt Landry, who was charged with second degree attempted murder for his shooting 14-year-old Marshall Coulter (described as a “professional thief” by his brother in news reports).

Coulter had scaled a spiked metal fence to enter Landry’s property at 2AM, in a Louisiana neighborhood riven by burglaries, home invasions, and car-jackings.

Landry, alerted to the presence of the intruder by his dog, and acting in defense of his pregnant wife and infant child, as well as himself, fired his licensed handgun at Coulter when it appeared the “professional thief” was reaching for a weapon.

Landry’s single shot struck the intruder in the head, severely wounding him. As of this writing, Coulter remains alive, albeit grievously injured.

Merrit Landry dog

(The Landry’s pet dog which alerted the homeowner to the presence of an intruder within his gated and secured driveway at 2:00AM.)

I first wrote of the Merritt Landry case a week-and-a-half ago right here at legal insurrection, Merritt Landry Allies Developing Narrative of Innocence, and we’ll be covering the case in detail as it develops.

Of interest is that the local Justice for Merritt Landry group is organizing rallies in support of Landry, and trying to prevent the case from attracting racial agitators, unlike the Zimmerman case.

Justice for Merritt Landry posters

(Justice for Merritt Landry posters)

In preparation for our coverage of the case I thought it might be useful to set a stake in the ground in the form of the relevant Louisiana self-defense statutes that will come into play.

Louisiana’s Idiosyncratic Self-defense Laws

Louisiana is a bit of an oddity when it comes to its self defense law.

Most states differentiate defensive force on the basis of whether the force is “deadly”—meaning, reasonably capable of causing death or great bodily harm—or “non-deadly”—meaning any lesser degree of force. Often states will have one statute for self-defense with deadly force and a second statute for self-defense with non-deadly force.

Under this paradigm, if one uses deadly force in self-defense they fall under the conditions of the deadly-force self-defense statute, regardless of whether the person against whom they used force actually died. What matters is the force used, not the outcome of that force. Shoot and miss, and you have still used deadly force and still fall under the deadly force self-defense statute.

Louisiana, in contrast, differentiates its self-defense statutes on the outcome of that use of force. Use deadly force, but the person you used it against survives, and you fall under Louisiana Revised Statute (LRS) 19. If the person dies, you fall under LRS 20.

With that said, let’s take a look at the actual statutes.

LRS §19. Use of force or violence in defense

LRS §19 provides that:

A. The use of force or violence upon the person of another is justifiable when committed for the purpose of preventing a forcible offense against the person or a forcible offense or trespass against property in a person’s lawful possession, provided that the force or violence used must be reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent such offense, and that this Section shall not apply where the force or violence results in a homicide.

B. For the purposes of this Section, there shall be a presumption that a person lawfully inside a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle held a reasonable belief that the use of force or violence was necessary to prevent unlawful entry thereto, or to compel an unlawful intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle, if both of the following occur:

(1) The person against whom the force or violence was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or had unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle.

(2) The person who used force or violence knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring or had occurred.

C. A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using force or violence as provided for in this Section and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.

D. No finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the possibility of retreat as a factor in determining whether or not the person who used force or violence in defense of his person or property had a reasonable belief that force or violence was reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent a forcible offense or to prevent the unlawful entry.

Note that the first section of LRS 19 provides that it “shall not apply where the force or violence results in a homicide.” So long as “professional thief” Marshall Coulter does not die from Landry’s shot, this is the statute that Landry will use in his claim of self-defense, regardless of the fact that he used deadly force in defense of himself and his family.

Note also section B, which applies to a person lawfully inside a dwelling—as Landry surely was, in his own home. It provides for a presumption that he held a reasonable belief that the use of force was necessary to prevent unlawful entry into the dwelling if both of two factors occur: (1) the person against whom the force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering the dwelling AND (2) the person using the force had reason to believe an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring.

In this case, the question for the jury will be whether it a reasonable and prudent person in Landry’s position—living in a neighborhood ravaged by home burglaries and home invasions, alerted by his dog to an intruder in his small, fenced-in driveway at 2AM, and confronted by a furtive figure in the dark of that hour apparently reaching for a weapon—would have reasonably believed that the intruder, having already scaled a spiked, steel fence to gain entry to his driveway was “in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering the dwelling”.

LRS §20. Justifiable homicide

In the event that “professional thief” Marshall Coulter dies, however, LRS 19 is swept to the side and replaced by LRS 20, which provides:

LRS §20 provides that:

A. A homicide is justifiable:

(1) When committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger.

(2) When committed for the purpose of preventing a violent or forcible felony involving danger to life or of great bodily harm by one who reasonably believes that such an offense is about to be committed and that such action is necessary for its prevention. The circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fear of a reasonable person that there would be serious danger to his own life or person if he attempted to prevent the felony without the killing.

(3) When committed against a person whom one reasonably believes to be likely to use any unlawful force against a person present in a dwelling or a place of business, or when committed against a person whom one reasonably believes is attempting to use any unlawful force against a person present in a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40), while committing or attempting to commit a burglary or robbery of such dwelling, business, or motor vehicle.

(4)

(a) When committed by a person lawfully inside a dwelling, a place of business, or a motor vehicle as defined in R.S. 32:1(40), against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, or who has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle.

(b) The provisions of this Paragraph shall not apply when the person committing the homicide is engaged, at the time of the homicide, in the acquisition of, the distribution of, or possession of, with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance in violation of the provisions of the Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

B. For the purposes of this Section, there shall be a presumption that a person lawfully inside a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle held a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent unlawful entry thereto, or to compel an unlawful intruder to leave the premises or motor vehicle, if both of the following occur

(1) The person against whom deadly force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or had unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle.

(2) The person who used deadly force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring or had occurred.

C. A person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and who is in a place where he or she has a right to be shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force as provided for in this Section, and may stand his or her ground and meet force with force.

D. No finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the possibility of retreat as a factor in determining whether or not the person who used deadly force had a reasonable belief that deadly force was reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent a violent or forcible felony involving life or great bodily harm or to prevent the unlawful entry.

Ironically, if Coulter Dies, Landry’s Self-Defense Claim May Strengthen

Interestingly, LRS 20 may offer a more protective shield for Landry’s use of deadly force than does LRS 19.

The first section requires only that the defender reasonably believe he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm, and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger. Confronted by a 2AM intruder, who necessarily had already scaled a spiked metal fence, standing only a few feet away, while Landry stood in the doorway of his home, as the intruder apparently reached for a weapon—all of this would seem to meet the conditions of section (1) nicely.

The second section allows the killing for the purpose of preventing a forcible felony involving danger to life or great bodily harm by one who believes that such an offense is about to be committed. Burglary is routinely considered a “forcible felony”. If a jury believes that a reasonable person in Landry’s circumstances would have believed that the furtive figure in his driveway at 2AM after having scaled his locked, spiked metal fence, was about to commit an act of burglary, then Landry’s killing of Coulter was justified.

The third section permits the killing when committed against a person reasonably believed likely to use any unlawful force against a person in a dwelling—as Landry was—by a person attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling. Again, if the jury believes that a reasonable person in Landry’s circumstances would have believed that the furtive figure in his driveway at 2AM after having scaled his locked, spiked metal fence, was about to commit an act of burglary, then Landry’s killing of Coulter was justified.

Facts In Evidence May Change Without Notice, Analysis Will Follow

Based on the facts currently available, it would appear that Landry has a robust legal claim to self-defense justification of the shooting. Of course, new facts may appear as the case develops, and we will adjust our legal analysis consistent with the development of new facts.

–Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer in his third decade of practice, an attorney member of the Armed Citizen Legal Defense Network, and a Guest Instructor on the Law of Self Defense at the Sig Sauer Academy. He is the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition”.

Andrew  conducts Law of Self Defense Seminars all around the country, and he has also launched a series of LOSD State-Specific Supplements that dive deep into every relevant statute, jury instruction, and court case that defines the law of self-defense in a particular state.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter on @LawSelfDefense and using #LOSD2, on Facebook, and at his blog, The Law of Self Defense.

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Comments

should not even be a trial. one less professional thief to tie up court and penal systems.

Thanks for this very informative post, Andrew. This is the type of reporting that we should see in our traditional media, but never do.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Daedulus. | August 19, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    LOL, agreed. Now for just a moment contemplate what it means when a lawyer is a better “Reporter” than the supposedly professional “Reporters”.

A LOT of Louisiana (or what I refer to as French-speaking Deep East Texas) law is screwy.

I blame the vestiges of 1) the Napoleonic Code, admixed with modern statutes and a sprinkling of common law, and 2) the Progressive Era, which hit the state particularly hard, what with Huey P. Long and his legacy.

I forget, do they have his little buddy, the lookout ?

It would seem that no one can argue that Coulter wasn’t ‘committing a forcible offense’, seeing as he was inside a locked area, having climbed the fence at 2 AM. This would clear Landry for 19-A

Further, under both 19-B (1) and (2), Landry held ‘reasonable belief that the use of force or violence was necessary’.

If Coulter dies, then :

20-A (2) and (3) both fit, as does 20-B (1) and (2).

20-C and 20-D both apply.

There can be no fuzzy ‘did Coulter have a right to be there, was he profiled or followed’ crap like in Zimmerman, he was in a locked, dog-guarded secure area at 2 AM, having climbed a fence to get there.

Given that, I fail to see how charges can even be brought. Not that I will die of shock if they are. But it can ONLY be because of the race-baiters, or fear of the race-baiters.

So, it will come down to the politics (as to charging or not), just like in Zimmerman, except that it’s a HUGELY farther reach to charge in this case.

So, Andrew – what do the politics on the ground there look like ? Or smell like, should I say ?

    sequester in reply to pjm. | August 18, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    19a(1) seems to the use of reasonable force to stop a forcible trespass. So if Coulter lives, the legal issue of burglary v. trespass is less important.

    rspung in reply to pjm. | August 18, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    charges have already been filed. merritt landry was arrested and posted bail. it will be going to trial.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to pjm. | August 19, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Yea, I can’t wait for the first claim that the “Young Black Boy” was there seeking help or aid and you know it is coming, just wait for it.

One would assume that a “Professional thief” would understand the risks of his profession. Just like Wallander, the high wire walker, knows that if he screws up he will die so a thief knows that if he breaks into the wrong house he may die. The race hustlers are going to have a hard time getting much sympathy for this dude.

    Estragon in reply to inspectorudy. | August 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    In a perfect world, true.

    But Trayvon Martin was also involved in burglary, drugs, weapons, and street fighting, a multi-faceted young thug, and he was portrayed as a fresh-faced child with a bag of Skittles.

As a Concealed Carry person, I find your blog extremely interesting. I watched it closely during the Zimmerman trial. Im not familiar with this La. case but I can bet that Coulter is black. Had he been white there wouldn’t be a trial. Just look what happened with those three Black thugs that beat up the White boy on the school bus. The whole thing was videotaped. It was clearly a pack of animals trying to do as much harm as possible to the white boy and now the prosecutor wants to give the three blacks nine months probation. Give me a break. Had it been three White beating on a Black, we all know the prosecution would have wanted jail time for them. Justice isn’t blind when it comes to deciding what punishment to deal out.

Yes, if a get away driver can be charged in the death of a robber at the gun of a bank guard (as an accessory), why no charges against the lookout/loot carry helper?

Midwest Rhino | August 18, 2013 at 11:52 am

The shooter has to build a narrative, but the kid seemed quite proud to promote his brother’s narrative as a “professional thief”.

Becoming a burglar, thief, robber, drug dealer … carrying a gun and fencing stolen goods … apparently all things of which to be proud, in today’s black society. Trayvon fit that category, and was CHOSEN as a national hero, an example of a good black kid just making his way in white ass cracker world.

So now this Landry guy has his life turned upside down because he dared defend his family, and taxpayers will foot the bill for a million dollar prosecution, and probably a million in care for the kid. The left is firing on all cylinders in their drive to destroy our country.

The light of day! The wonderful Internet! This is what is keeping us free!

And, if we’re very, very lucky, ahead, as lawyers train to become one … some amount of discussion will go to handling cases like this so they don’t explode into the prosecutor’s face.

It will train a lawyer’s nose to smell trouble. It seems, in Louisiana … a “Hurricane Katrina” has just hit a few prosecutors so hard they’ve flown up in the air … And, they want to land on cushions.

PROVIDE ROCKS!

Marshall Coulter should have been in his bed at 2AM instead of jumping a locked fence (no invitation there) and trying to break into a locked house (still no invitation). Let’s hope a grand jury puts an end to this folly of a case.

    Gremlin1974 in reply to Juba Doobai!. | August 19, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    If the Grand Jury actually see’s it, they may try to pull what I like to call “The Corey Maneuver” where they know it has no chance with the Grand Jury and just charge him directly.

Very interesting.

What happens if the alleged perp dies during the trial?

For many years in South Carolina, and I believe also Virginia, where there were cases of self defense like a shopkeeper shooting a robber, the prosecutor would bring a charge of murder or manslaughter which would go immediately before a judge instead of a grand jury, and then be dismissed with prejudice, to inoculate the shooter from civil prosecution later on.

I hope that if any charges are brought in this case in Louisiana, it is due to a similar practice.

Andrew —

In Louisiana, is a locked and fully fenced in curtilage of a home considered part of the dwelling, or is it merely the four walls?

Why has Coulter not been charged? From the facts it would seem that a prosecutor could charge him with a forcible trespass, attempted burglary, or burglary (depending on how dwelling is defined). Are there burglary convictions in Louisiana for breaking into the locked and fenced curtilage of a home?

    These are, of course, intensely pertinent questions. Unfortunately, I happen to be on “vacation” this week–that doesn’t mean I’m not working, but it does mean I’m removed from my usual legal resources for the duration.

    I do, however, have a fair representation of the leading Louisiana self-defense cases from 1950 to 2012 immediately accessible to me, and the term “curtilage” is used only a handful of times over that entire period.

    Louisiana law is odd (from this New Englander’s perspective) in many ways, and perhaps they simply use a different term than “curtilage” to mean much the same thing. But that kind of subtlety won’t be amenable to close inspection by me until next week. 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

      Gremlin1974 in reply to Andrew Branca. | August 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Andrew, enjoy your working vacation. I was wondering something off topic. I have finished reading The Law of Self Defense and I want to post a review for the book, where would be the best place to do that?

The New Orleans Police Department and Prosecutors Office may be corrupt but they are not stupid. They saw what happened to the Sheriff in the Zimmerman case (fired after declining to charge and offering to resign) and the chief investigator in the Zimmerman case (demoted to patrol man). I suspect they intend to send the matter to the Grand Jury so that when it gets “No True Billed” from the Grand Jury that they will not have to take the heat. It is unfortunate that justice has come to this, but that is how it is these days.

BannedbytheGuardian | August 18, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Ragspierres sniff at the Napoleonic laws – many of which still exist.

Louisiana has the most interesting set of laws & set of values in the USA . And they have every right to them. Of course America could always give it back to France.

Full credit to Merritt Landry for maintaining his cute little home . I love it . What it will demonstrate is that in the f ace of a city with heavy black crime he is just trying to preserve his home & the life & liberty of his family & dog.

If these values are to be attacked by others outside of Lousiana then it is the end of civilisation as we know it. But with the popularity on Tv of louisianan traditional life eg Duck Empire – they will not go there.

    “Of course America could always give it back to France.”

    France didn’t give it to America, so America can’t give it back to France.

      BannedbytheGuardian in reply to rantbot. | August 19, 2013 at 1:45 am

      Rants – one day your state might be sold off from under you to pay for foreign wars ……wait ……

        Selling a state or territory is a different matter entirely. But when the US bought Louisiana (not just the modern state, but the whole territory stretching to the Pacific), it paid for it with real money; none of this modern funny money “hot off the press”. Who could manage that today?

        But no matter; the costs of “foreign wars” are trivial for a modern state, so long as it can avoid something really dumb like either of the World Wars. The total cash outlay for TEN YEARS of warfare (or whatever one wants to call it) in both Iraq and Afghanistan is about equal to the federal deficit for this year alone. The US can afford foreign wars. What it can’t afford is the Eurosocialist-style state.

JackRussellTerrierist | August 19, 2013 at 1:19 pm

But for Crump, Al & Jesse, Landry wouldn’t have been charged, at least not at such lightning speed.

More evidence of the black crime war on whites and the war by black leaders on whites who dare to defend themselves.

amatuerwrangler | August 19, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Putting Andrew’s vacation at risk… can we get a reading on the “charged” part of this?

In many jurisdictions there is “charged” and there is “Charged”. The former being the offense(s) that the police put on the paperwork, including the arrest form. The latter “Charged” are the offenses that the prosecuting authority decides the offender must face the court over. There may be a similarity between the two, but it is not required. A person can be released on bail when only “charged” and not yet “Charged”.

So when we say that Mr. Landry is charged with attempted second degree murder, is that a charge lodged by the prosecutor or is that what the NOPD put on the paperwork when they dragged him in?

Extra credit will be given if we can learn the elements of 2d degree murder as to the level of intent required. In some states the intent is what separates 1st degree from 2d. Can someone actually, legally, attempt an offense that does not require premeditation? Maybe you can in LA.

    I don’t have any insider info on what degree of “charged” we’re talking about here, but I doubt there’s much discontinuity between the Police Chief and the state prosecutors–remember, in Zimmerman BOTH lost their jobs. If the Police Chief in New Orleans acted as he did to save his job, I’m confident the prosecutor will do so, as well.

    In terms of the LA murder 2 statute, I’ll post up something about it late tomorrow afternoon–I’m leaving the warm shores of Long Beach Island, NJ at dawn to take a much looked forward to trip for some shooting down at Quantico. And I’m bringing my 14-year-old daughter with me for this trip. 🙂

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

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