Many posters on the Internets spout the truism that warning shots are a bad idea because they can be taken as evidence that the shooter didn’t consider the threat in question to be deadly. Otherwise, they would have aimed for center mass instead of firing into the air (Biden style) or the ground. But in a recent case from Maryland, a prosecutor came to the opposite conclusion . . .
“He did everything he could have done. Maryland law says the person must first retreat if possible. He retreated as far as he could. He was backed up into a corner of his deck. He had nowhere else to go,” (Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis) Rollins said.
The rival kept advancing, even after the warning shot, prosecutors said. Even so, prosecutors added, the homeowner still exercised some restraint.
The case also illustrates the principle of disparity of force. That’s the principle that even if your opponents are not armed, as long as there is sufficient difference in the level of force available to the participants that a reasonable person would fear for their life, that can be considered a deadly threat. Large differences in physical size and age are common factors, as are multiple assailants.
Rollins also pointed out that the homeowner was “outnumbered three-to-one” during the incident.
“One of the men who had come to the house with the woman was much bigger than (the homeowner). He was a big guy, over 6-feet tall and weighing about 300 pounds.”
The prosecutor called the case “…a classic case of self-defense.” An important point in the case was that even the three aggressors agreed on what essentially happened.
For the most part, even the versions given by the three who had showed up at the shooter’s home matched the account given by the shooter.
And even when he fired, the shooter fired to wound, another thing that many caution against.
When the man failed to heed that warning shot, the homeowner fired a bullet into the man’s leg — ending the escalating situation, prosecutors reported.
No prosecutor is bound by any other prosecutor’s judgements. So the outcome of this situation shouldn’t be taken as a precedent. But at least in this case, this prosecutor found the firing of a warning shot to be evidence of restraint, not reckless endangerment or another crime.
One last observation. In spite of the clear explanation of the prosecutor, the headline writer still felt compelled to put self defense in scare quotes:
State’s Attorney rules ‘self-defense’ in Elkton-area shooting
©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.