This past Monday we wrote about the start of the re-trial of retired firefighter Raul Rodriguez who was previously convicted of murder and sentenced to 40 years in jail after shooting a neighbor over a dispute about the neighbor’s noisy party. Rodriquez had claimed self-defense justification for the killing.  That prior post can be found here: Retrial Begins for Firefighter Who Selfied “Stand-Your-Ground”

That re-trial ended yesterday with the jury returning a verdict of guilty of murder after three hours of deliberation, reports the Houston Chronicle.

Rodriquez first murder conviction in this case was overturned because of a somewhat subtle error in the jury instructions on self-defense, as covered in some detail in a post last December, New Trial for Man Who Video Recorded Own “Self-Defense” Shooting.   No one knew, of course, whether the mistaken jury instruction had led the first jury astray and resulted in an improper guilty verdict, but a defendant is entitled to correct jury instructions and so a re-trial was ordered on appeal.

This second conviction seems completely unrelated to the concerns surrounding the first–an issue of the timing of when Rodriquez may have openly displayed his concealed carry pistol–but instead focuses strictly on the issue of provocation.

“This case is about provocation, pure and simple,” prosecutor Kelli Johnson told jurors in closing arguments earlier in the day. “The law doesn’t allow you to create a situation and then claim self-defense.”

As the Houston Chronicle summarizes the facts of the case:

The party on May 2, 2010 was to celebrate the birthdays of Danaher’s wife and daughter. … The evening brought karaoke and speakers. … The music was too loud and [Rodriguez] called the police several times to the property, but they did not respond. He walked to Danaher’s house, more than 100 yards away, with a videocamera, a cell phone and a gun. …  When Rodriguez got to Danaher’s home, he used his flashlight to signal the partygoers that he was watching from the street, about 25 yards away. Sampson said a group of intoxicated, “angry men” then confronted Rodriguez. In the video shown to jurors, Rodriguez can be heard repeatedly saying, “I am in fear for my life.” Rodriguez then fired twice, killing Danaher, prosecutors said.

The defense tried to argue that the case centered on the last split-second when Rodriguez had to make the decision on whether to shoot, but the jury appears to have bought the state’s narrative that it was Rodriguez who substantially created the circumstances in which that decision had to be made.

As an aside, as nice job as the Houston Chronicle piece did on summarizing the facts of the Rodriguez piece, their self-described “Legal Affairs Reporter” performed the usual acts of “journalism” on self-defense law generally, with a couple of real howlers.

Here’s one:

Under “stand your ground,” a person in fear for the life does not have a duty to retreat before using deadly force. It was famously invoked by George Zimmerman, a Florida man who killed teenager Trayvon Martin, setting off a months-long firestorm over the law’s intent and how it is applied.

(Emphasis added.)

Uh, no. George Zimmerman did not “invoke” stand-your-ground. The very notion of “invoking stand-your-ground” is nonsensical, as stand-your-ground is not something that can be invoked.  Stand-your-ground merely removes an otherwise existing duty to retreat before using force in self-defense.  It’s in effect as a function of its nature, it’s not something that’s triggered by any act of the defendant.  In any case, retreat was not an issue in the Zimmerman trial at all.

On the chance that by “stand-your-ground” the reporter mistakenly means “self-defense immunity,” which certainly is something that necessarily must be invoked by a defendant in a self-defense case, Zimmerman to this day has never sought self-defense immunity.

Here’s another:

The so-called Castle Doctrine allows a person to use deadly force to protect their private property (their “castle”) but also the private property of another in certain situations.

(Emphasis added.)

This is another common mistake.  Properly understood, the Castle Doctrine, like stand-your-ground, only has an impact on the element of avoidance.  In states that do impose a generalized duty to retreat before using force in self-defense (states that are not stand-your-ground states), that duty is generally excused when one is inside one’s “castle,” variably defined as one’s home, place of business, or vehicle, depending on the jurisdiction.  So, you need not first retreat before using force in self-defense if you are in your home, etc., even if you are in a duty-to-retreat jurisdiction (with some important exceptions).

The Castle Doctrine has nothing whatever to do with how much force you can use when defending yourself in your home, nor under what circumstances you might be justified in using force when in your home (where some states relax the standards for use of force against another).  Those factors are dealt with under legal doctrines of defense of property, not the Castle Doctrine.   All the Castle Doctrine says is that you need not retreat when in your “castle.”

Other than that, the article was mostly correct.

If only these journalists would spend the $9.99 for the Kindle version of “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” they’d need not make such silly errors. 🙂

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Attorney Andrew Branca and his firm Law of Self Defense have been providing internationally-recognized expertise in American self-defense law for almost 20 years in the form of blogging, books, live seminars & online training (both accredited for CLE), public speaking engagements, and individualized legal consultation.
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