In previous articles, I’ve alluded to the way that some countries treat people who defend themselves worse than violent criminals. There is a case from a several years back in the United Kingdom that serves as a perfect example:
Facts of the Tony Martin case
Tony Martin was a farmer, whose remote farmhouse had been broken in to many times. Martin feared future burglary attempts and the risk of being attacked by a violent burglar. When a pair of burglars broke in while he was home, Martin opened fire with a pump action shotgun. The 16-year-old burglar Fred Barras was killed, and 33-year-old Brendon Fearon was wounded in the leg. Later on that day, the police arrested Tony Martin and charged him with the crimes of murder and wounding with intent. At trial, Martin argued that he had acted in self defense, but the court found that he had fired while they were trying to flee [I address this in particular below]. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, although the conviction was later reduced to manslaughter with a 5 year sentence. The surviving criminal, who had over 30 criminal convictions, then sued Tony Martin for the injury he suffered during the burglary. The parole board refused to grant Tony Martin an early release because he “has shown no remorse and would continue to pose a danger to any other burglars.” Martin was eventually released from prison after spending years in prison and being vilified by the anti-gun groups in the UK for shooting criminals who had broken into his home.
Why Tony Martin’s criminal conviction was wrong
Criminals who break in to homes are known to be violent, and a reasonable person would fear such criminals, especially while home alone. Waiting for a criminal to give up and/or escape can lead to a citizens death, as hesitating for even a second is enough time for a criminal to draw and fire their gun. It is also possible that the criminal could pretend to surrender, only to attack the citizen and kill them to avoid being caught. In other cases, criminals have come back seconds in after pretending to leave, with the intent to kill the victim. Now factor in the brief time that a citizen has to decide whether to fire, the fear that a person will experience during a home invasion, and the fact that most people have never experienced such a situation before, and it becomes apparent that second guessing victims who defend themselves is not reasonable. Even if Tony Martin didn’t act in the absolute best manner (and I’m not saying he was in error at all), his split second decision to defend himself against violent criminals should have been paid a great deal of deference by judges and jurors who where sitting in the safety of a court room, rather than facing two criminals in their rural homes. This is why the criminal immunity in American castle doctrine laws is so important. It not only protects the law abiding citizen from the specter of an expensive and life-ruining criminal trial, but also allows them to act in self defense without hesitating in a way that could give the criminal the upper hand during a life-and-death situation. Home invasions are violent, and that makes them dangerous for both the home occupant and the criminal. If someone must bear the risk of injury during a home invasion, it is better that the criminal bear that risk than the law abiding citizen who was in their own home and was minding their own business. Or, as Pope John Paul II stated it “Unfortunately, it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose actions brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.” [The use of this quote is not the endorsement of religion or religious leaders; I just like the quote and find it to be relevant to this discussion.]
Why it was wrong to allow the surviving burglar to sue Tony Martin
I don’t think it is right, or wise from a public policy standpoint, to allow a criminal to use the legal system to profit from his criminal activities. By allowing the lawsuit to proceed, the British courts have made clear that crime can pay not just on the streets, but in a court of law. Allowing the suit to proceeded sends law abiding home owners the message that they are at risk of losing their life savings if they defend themselves against a violent criminal, and some court later second guesses them. This highlights the importance of civil immunity in American castle doctrine laws, where a home owner need not fear that a criminal would be able to sue them.
My thanks yet again to Anders for suggesting I write about the Tony Martin case.