Grizzly bears had been harassing Brian Charette’s horses near Ronan, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation. On May, 11 2014 Charette killed one of the Grizzlies from a distance of less than 30 yards as it was climbing a fence, coming toward him and his home.
To avoid the hassle of reporting the shooting, he and a friend adopted the shoot, shove and shut up approach. They buried the Grizzly in a field.
About seven months later, however, Charrette and his wife divorced. His ex-wife’s new boyfriend reported the bear shooting to authorities.
Tribal police and game wardens investigated and Charrette confessed to the shooting.
Charette told investigators that three bears had been harassing his horses in a pasture about 30 yards from his home that May. He said he shot and killed one of the bears when it chased his dogs toward the home and appeared to be climbing a fence into his yard.
He was prosecuted under federal law, which doesn’t allow for jury trials of offenses which carry a punishment of less than six months in jail. A plea bargain wasn’t allowed in the case because Charrette refused to back off his self defense claim. Charrete was found guilty in 2016 and he appealed the conviction to the Ninth Circuit.
Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction and sent the case back to the District Court.
The judges said U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah Lynch set the wrong standard for a self-defense claim in Charette’s 2016 bench trial. The magistrate judge ruled that to claim self-defense, Charette must have had an objectively reasonable belief that he was protecting himself or others from danger.
But the appellate panel, citing a ruling in a previous case, said the magistrate judge should have used a subjective standard, which would have allowed Charette to claim self-defense based only on a “good-faith belief” that he was protecting himself or others, even if that belief was unreasonable.
Faced with the higher “objective” standard, Charette chose not to testify in his defense at trial, the 9th circuit opinion said.
“It is difficult to fathom how Charette could raise an effective self-defense claim without testifying as to his mental state when he decided to shoot the bear,” Judge Richard Tallman wrote in the opinion.
The precedent set follows current law, where the frame of mind of the person claiming self defense must be considered. The question is whether the person subjectively feared for his life or the life of another person.
Charette was required by federal law to report the shooting of a Grizzly within five days. Instead, he chose to shoot, shovel and shut up. This case illustrates the weaknesses inherent in that approach and he’s admitted to violating that law.
Reporting incidents to authorities may be a hassle, but it’s usually the wisest course to follow.
©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.