An update on the self-defense trial in Marin County

Gun in the hand is better than a cop on the phoneJames Simon, the doctor who shot a man who followed him home, tried to pull into the doctor’s garage, and started storming the house, has pled “not guilty” to felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and negligently discharging a firearm. The judge also refunded him his $160,000 bail, finding that the 71-year-old doctor is not a flight risk.  Something interesting is going on here:  This is now the second Marin County Superior Court judge — let me repeat again “Marin County” — who seems to be taking a stand in favor of gun rights against the local prosecutor.

As those who have been following this story know, one Marin County judge also refused to indict Simon, believing that there was no case against him (i.e., the judge thus accepted Simon’s claim that he acted properly to defend himself and his wife). Dissatisfied with the judge’s ruling, the prosecutor, Edward Berberian, immediately convened a grand jury, and pushed through a new indictment:

The new judge, Andrew Sweet, seems equally disinclined to view Simon as a criminal:

Sweet set jury selection for July 29. He also agreed with defense attorney Charles Dresow that Simon poses no flight risk or danger to the public, so his $160,000 cash bail should be exonerated.

“This case is potentially a very defensible case,” Sweet said. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, Sweet is saying that, under California law, homeowners have a valid defense if the undisputed facts show that someone followed them all the way home, tried to drive a car into the homeowner’s garage and, when that failed, got out of the car and headed with angry purpose to the homeowner’s front door (and front windows, I might add).

What’s also emerging from the news reports is that Prosecutor Berberian doesn’t understand that California is both a Castle Doctrine and a “Stand Your Ground.” First, as is true for all Castle Doctrine laws, California presumes that a homeowner faced with an intruder has a right act in self-defense:

California Penal Code sec. 198.5:

Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

California’s “Stand Your Ground” law is also consistent with others, insofar as it allows people the right to use legal force to defend themselves, whether in their home or out of it, without insisting that they first runaway, barricade themselves, or call the cops (or all three):

California Penal Code sec. 197:

Homicide is also justifiable when committed by any person in any of the following cases:

1. When resisting any attempt to murder any person, or to commit a felony, or to do some great bodily injury upon any person; or,

2. When committed in defense of habitation, property, or person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors, by violence or surprise, to commit a felony, or against one who manifestly intends and endeavors, in a violent, riotous or tumultuous manner, to enter the habitation of another for the purpose of offering violence to any person therein; or,

3. When committed in the lawful defense of such person, or of a wife or husband, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant of such person, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony or to do some great bodily injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished; but such person, or the person in whose behalf the defense was made, if he was the assailant or engaged in mutual combat, must really and in good faith have endeavored to decline any further struggle before the homicide was
committed; or,

4. When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed, or in lawfully suppressing any riot, or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.

Keep those two laws in mind — both of which explicitly state a right to self-defense, as opposed to an obligation to hide and call the police — as you read the prosecutor’s statement about what Simon ought to have done after being chased home by an angry man who intended to storm his house:

During closing arguments, Berberian said Simon’s trove of guns suggested he had a victimization complex that led him to take unreasonably deadly action. He said Simon could have locked himself in the home and called police rather than seek a confrontation.

“There has to be a standard,” Berberian said. (Emphasis mine.)

The highlighted language shows that Berberian, a lawyer and representative of local government, has the law completely wrong. You can see, too, what is really driving Berberian: Because Simon has a gun collection, he believes that Simon was a psychopath was, having reached the grand old age of 71, finally gave in to his lust to kill. After all, killing is what all people with gun collections really want to do, right?

My suspicion/hope is that Judge Sweet has a better grasp of controlling law than the prosecutor does, and that he will force any jury to abide by these legal standards when the jury is called upon to reach its decision. It’s a damn shame, though, that Dr. Simon has to go through this process when his conduct was so manifestly in line with the inherent rights of the Second Amendment, and the explicit laws of the State of California.