Mock jury research on shooting burglars
"Jurors" were given written summaries of a situation and asked if they'd convict or acquit, and if they convicted, what sentence they would impose. The scenario involved a homeowner encountering a burglar under ambiguous conditions tending toward shooting not justified (burglar makes a verbal threat but no moves -- technically, that might not be enough. In Arizona, it's more than enough: one fewer burglar, where's the harm?).
Findings: mock jurors were told the homeowner used different firearms. If told was an AR-15 (and shown a picture) they were MUCH more likely to convict than if told it was a Ruger Mini-14, although both shoot the same cartridge. They also imposed sentences 50% longer if told it was an AR-15. Then the study's creators changed the scenario to a female homeowner/shooter. Her odds of conviction went up, over that of a male, and if she used an AR-15 the sentence went WAY up.
Caveat: the mock jury on the last was composed of university students rather than a segment of the community at large. [Correction in light of comments: all juries were students. A good reason to use pre-emptory challenges against university students!).
Here in AZ, with real juries, the results are quite different. A prosecutor once told me that he'd urged the County Attorney to stop prosecuting homeowners who shot burglars in the back. They'd just lost three of those cases in a row. Whatever the statute law might be, jurors saw one fewer burglar as a good thing and would not convict a fellow homeowner for having done a good thing.
Hat tip to reader Joe Olson....
My reading was that all of the study participants were college students, the pools were students at a Texas liberal arts school, and students at a Texas community college...
Also, doesn't Texas let you shoot trespassers after dark? How could there be any question under Texas law that the shooting was legal? Not a very useful study if you let the participants make up the law, rather then advise them of the law and see if they conclude it was broken...
Posted by: Monty at September 26, 2010 10:43 AM
No, you can't just (legally) shoot trespassers at night. Penal Code, Chapter 9:
Sec. 9.42. DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:
(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and
(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
(A) to prevent the other's imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or
(B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
(3) he reasonably believes that:
(A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or
(B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.
However: if someone makes unlawful entry with force (and "force" can be as simple as turning a knob or opening an unlocked window)into your habitation, vehicle, or workplace, then you are presumed to have acted reasonably if you use lethal force (and meet a couple other criteria).
Posted by: Eric at September 26, 2010 11:35 AM
...and yes, the scenario seems to fall squarely within the law's justification for use of deadly force.
Sad commentary on the gullibility of the students at Trinity and Alamo colleges.
I think the actual record of burglary related self-defense shootings is rather different. Hint: stay out of houses that don't belong to you, especially at night.
Posted by: Eric at September 26, 2010 11:45 AM
This study seems to confirm that the specific make/model of firearm is a prejudicial fact without any legal relevance, and therefore what specific make/model used ought not be admitted into evidence or used in argument in such a case. "Rifle" or "Handgun" or "Shotgun" should be the extent of the firearm description submitted to the Jury.
Posted by: Kman at September 26, 2010 01:04 PM
I live in Florida commonly known as the "gunshine" state and we can't shoot them if they are running away. We need some of that Texas Justice here.
Many years ago S&W stopped nameing it's guns and just started using model numbers. Names like "Combat Masterpiece" were not going over well in the courts.
I figured I always needed a Colt Gold Cup.
And that's why I always refer to the AR-15 in my truck as a patrol rifle instead of that bad word "assault weapon" which as we know is not even a legitimate term.
Posted by: Chuck at September 26, 2010 04:11 PM
I don't see the law as relevant. The point was to find out if the type of firearm would impact the opinion of the fact finder, even though it is not legally relevant.
Its a very interesting result! I do agree that the sample pool makes the stude useless, unless a jury is to be selected from among college students. A jury selected from a pool of home owning parents would yeild a different result, I am sure.
Posted by: Jim at September 26, 2010 04:46 PM
Dave, have not looked at the study yet, only your summary. You wrote, "Then the study's creators changed the scenario to a female homeowner/shooter. Her odds of conviction went up, over that of a male."
So a woman who defends herself in her own home is more likely to be punished than a man who defends himself in his own home? Is my dyslexia having me read that incorrectly?
Posted by: Anonymous at September 27, 2010 11:22 AM
Re: the prosecutor who urged the County Attorney to stop prosecuting homeowners who shot burglars in the back. They'd just lost three of those cases in a row...
Was Massad Ayoob an expert witness for the defense? I read somewhere that he is able to easily explain to juries that an attacker, when they see the trigger being pressed, quickly turn around, faster than the defender can react while pressing the trigger. So the result is attacking burglar is shot in the back because he turned faster than the defender can react to the changed orientation of the attacker. In other words, the burglars are turning away so fast when they see that the homeowner is about to shoot them that the homeowner cannot stop pressing the trigger. When under attack and in fear for your life, if you got the front sight on the target, press the trigger. If they have turned away from you, stop pressing the trigger. Hope readers found this useful.
Posted by: XD Owner at September 27, 2010 11:41 AM
XD Owner: Homeowners are not all cops. They do not have a duty to apprehend.
The safest way to deal with a burglar is to back shoot him without making a verbal challenge. Opening your mouth can get you shot.
In most of the states out west, this is perfectly lawful.
Posted by: Kristopher at September 28, 2010 11:31 AM
Something I read a few years ago related that it was human nature to reflexively flinch away from sudden loud noises, so you'd see situations like: the first shot was in the chest, the second in the side, and the third and fourth in the back. This isn't intentionally shooting the perp in the back, this is continuing to shoot as they are reacting to the sound of the first shots and turning away.
Posted by: John Hardin at September 29, 2010 07:25 AM