Legal Experts Weigh Self Defense and Race in Michigan Shooting

Charges filed in the Renisha McBride case raise sticky legal questions

  • Share
  • Read Later

The Renisha McBride case, with its echoes of the Trayvon Martin shooting, reignited the national debate over Stand Your Ground self-defense laws, which give citizens the right to defend themselves with deadly force without trying to escape.

“It’s always been the case that in your own home, you do not have an obligation to retreat.” says Professor Peter Henning, who teaches criminal law at Wayne State University law school in Detroit. “That’s true in Michigan and pretty much everywhere else.”

It’s not yet clear what kind of argument Theodore Wafer, the Dearborn Heights man accused of shooting the 19-year-old McBride through his screen door on Nov. 2 and charged with 2nd-degree murder on Friday, might use in his defense. But the bar will be high.

“The standard for self-defense is that you reasonably perceive a threat of death or serious bodily harm from the other person. You respond with equal force. You can’t use deadly force ample to defend your home or to prevent someone from stealing your property. It can only be used for self-defense or defense of others,” Henning says.

Authorities say McBride came to Wafer’s door around 4:30 a.m. after crashing her car. A toxicology report found twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood.

Could there be valid argument of self-defense in this case if the defendant was behind a locked screen door? “Certainly that’s a possibility,” says Henning. “It is possible that there was shouting, or perhaps an effort to open up the door, or bang on a window or something like that could give him a basis to believe that there was a threat that someone was going to break into his home. From there, you could infer a threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worth said Friday there was no reason to believe Wafer acted in self defense. But she also said the shooting is not being considered racially motivated.

The Dean of Wayne Law School, Jocelyn Benson, emphasizes that there is more at stake. “The perception that it might have been [racially motivated] is one of the concerns that in my view has to be addressed. There has been a reality of racial profiling for many people of color in Dearborn, in Detroit, and in the state of Michigan. Whether that it is the source of this incident or not, there needs to be an ongoing conversation.”

24 comments
ABulletForCinde
ABulletForCinde

McBride's shooting has nothing to do with self-defense. Wafer just panicked, that's all.

WalterPinkmanHyzenburrg
WalterPinkmanHyzenburrg

Gun nuts are wusses.  Seriously, shooting someone dead on your porch because you can't handle simple situational awareness?  Refusing lock-box laws that would save thousands of childrens' lives but might add three seconds to your shot time? Give me a break.

Leftcoastrocky
Leftcoastrocky

why didn't Wafer just close and lock his door and call 911?

PaulThomas1
PaulThomas1

This is very different from the George Zimmerman case. It's hard to imagine her as a serious threat to anybody. She made no physical contact and she did not  brandish a weapon. If she had, there would have been plenty of time to shoot, but the homeowner jumped the gun.

buffalo.barnes102
buffalo.barnes102

Stand Your Ground = I can shoot anybody I want and say they were threatening me.

Sean_C2
Sean_C2

There are all kinds of problems with SYG laws, but this particular case wouldn't be affected by it.  The dude was in his house, which is the only exception to the normal rules of duty to retreat:  you have no obligation to retreat from your own house (the castle doctrine).

emeraldseatown
emeraldseatown

Civilians, which includes police, have the right to self-defense, but must expect that every incident will be second-guessed.  I don't think you should be required to retreat further into your house, but shooting an unarmed victim through a door that is stopping them would take some extenuating circumstances.

If I had to shoot someone breaking into my house, I would make sure that I was on the line to the police, so their tape could back up my contention that the criminal got warnings, and that I gave the police as much chance to respond as I could afford.

Also, if you own a gun, don't be an idiot, or overly jumpy. That goes for cops too.

kccarstensen
kccarstensen

I'll bet you don't invite some fool in for coffee and donuts that's banging on your door at 4:30am either. I'll bet you call the cops on them. But in Dearborn Heights how long would that take?? Most of you are obviously very selective readers.

johnconaway
johnconaway

we weren't there, but every armchair quarterback with an ax to grind will comment incessantly to justify their own positions.

BorisIII
BorisIII

There is also a whole lot of sick Americans who hope everyday that get the chance to shoot somebody and legally get away with it.

JugglingForCure
JugglingForCure

The value of Black life seemingly includes many asterisks.  In situations where virtually everyone would say that a person's death was wrong, society searches for excuses when the victim is African American.  This woman was shot knocking on the front door of a home.  And this is a divisive issue?


phreak9
phreak9

this isnt even close to a story compared to whats happening in the black communities in detroit, milwaukee, and chicago. 

here is a short list of my experiences while living in milwaukee

-black serial killer caught after murdering hookers for 20 years. doesnt make national news. since when doesnt a serial killer NOT make national news? theres actually been several black serial killers over the last 50 years in america.

-black teen rapes 10-20 women at gunpoint. happens again in same area 2 years later. doesnt make national news

-MASSIVE exploitation of food stamps. the gas station i went to they would sell them out front. the gas station was next to a police department. 

-several outdoor festivals ended because of black crime/violence

-teens banned from malls without parental supervision. (even the Milwaukee's famous black writer Mr Kane acknowledge it was blacks fault)  

-prostitution ring busted. turns out its all black dudes dressed as women selling it. 

-white people CONSTANTLY robbed shot and killed by blacks

-arab taxi drivers and gas station workers CONSTANTLY robbed and assaulted by blacks. the gas stations next to the police dept in the black neighborhood looked like an open crime scene. smashed security glass, yellow tape, shut down. one was set on fire with the clerk inside. 

-metal detectors installed and extra security needed at black area schools

-high school in black neighborhood starts fight with ITSELF at pep rally! ambulances, police and mayhem. i could not find details because it didnt even make the local news. i got details of the story (from 2 separate co workers, who didnt know each other) who went to school there. 

-kid comes home from school and says 'theres a fight' mom gives kid a gun and says 'finish it'

-school buses being shot at

-50% drop out rate by blacks. 

-50% no daddy in household


let me know when ANY of this makes the national news

before anyone uses the race card on me let me point out i have donated to the UNCF and have employed, and will continue to employ, blacks. i just pointed out the cold reality the media has been feared into pretending isnt real. 

Openminded1
Openminded1

It was not racial, but it will be made racial, by the likes of big mouth AL and Jessie, along with the media. This over reactor shooter will pay the wrong price. This was not 2nd degree murder, it is negligent homicide. The prosecutor will leave that door open I am sure if she is smart.

phreak9
phreak9

@JugglingForCure from what ive seen over and over and over and over again is that here is an attitude difference in the cultures. more based on location than race. some of my black coworkers would threaten to kill people a lot. like all the time. and not in a friendly way. like in a yelling super crazy detailed way. when youre talking about detroit area, milwaukee, or chicago you might as well say they are from the Southside LA Super Ghetto. i cant for the life of me understand he would just shoot her but based on where shes from i wouldnt be surprised if she did something a little crazy by normal standards. like trying to get in the door or yelling something stupid at a guy with a gun on the other side of the door. the ghetto (and even white trash places) breeds crazy intense and bizarre mentalities. 

GaryMustard
GaryMustard

@phreak9 It will never make national news, we live in a society that wants to make us feel bad for being white all the time and feel sorry for black people. Funny how Chinese and Irish people were discriminated against as well, but now they fit in just fine. Hell, pretty much every race seems to do well in America after a while...except for one. I wonder why that is. Then again, what do you expect when they know they can just blame the evil white man and liberals will sympathize with them.

phreak9
phreak9

@MichaelBaeza @JugglingForCure oh please! 2 stories in 2 years and everyones panties are in a race card playing bunch. get real. look at some crime data and pay attention to more news. white people do go to jail when they kill black people. just because it happened in a big story doesnt mean you all need to cry and lose all sense of other crime realities. poor you! oh poor poor you! 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,107 other followers