In October 2011, a Minnesota man heard a drunken man knocking loudly on a neighbor’s door in his apartment building. According to TwinCities.com, the man confronted the drunken visitor in the shared hallway and asked him to leave. Each man gave a different account of what took place next, but an altercation between the two occurred. They both fell down the stairs, and the drunken man was taken to the hospital for a week-long stay.
The other man was charged with felony first-degree and felony third-degree assault as well as misdemeanor fifth-degree assault, though a jury only convicted him of the third-degree and fifth-degree charges. He is now appealing to the state’s highest court, asking it to overturn the felony conviction.
Invoking the defense of dwelling defense
The man is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to consider the defense of dwelling statute, which states that people may use force in an effort to prevent an attack or other crime in their homes. The jury at the man’s original trial did not receive information regarding the state’s dwelling defense policy, the man claims. The defendant also is arguing that the shared hallway of the apartment should be included as part of his dwelling.
The high court will be asked to examine a few points in order to determine if the statute is applicable in the case, such as the following:
- The incident occurred in the hallway of the building he lived in – does the definition in the statute include the interior surroundings around an apartment?
- The man used force in order to protect himself – did he use the appropriate amount of force according to the statute?
- An appeals court ruled that the man does not have the right to prevent people from standing in a shared area – but does a threat in the shared area give residents the right to use force to protect themselves from potential danger?
The appeals court also ruled that another resident had invited the drunken man to the building, further giving him right to be there. The high court may have to look at whether that fact has any bearing on the defense of dwelling law.
When the self-defense argument works
According to Minnesota self-defense laws, people are supposed to retreat when there is a threat of danger. People who rely on self-defense and dwelling defense arguments must be able to prove that the force they used was necessary. The man in this case claims that the drunken man swung at him several times before he took action.
People may successfully use a self-defense argument if they can prove that they did not instigate the situation and that the force that was used is proportional to the perceived threat. For example, someone who is being mugged could deter the perpetrator with pepper spray and then retreat. Using a gun after the robber is incapacitated may be viewed as excessive force and even merit a murder charge. In many cases, using the self-defense argument will swing the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused.
Anyone with questions regarding defense of dwelling or other self-defense arguments should consult with an attorney.