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Trial of Officer Who Shot Innocent After Mistakenly Entering His Apartment Thinking It Was Her Own Places Unique Interpretation of Castle Doctrine in Question


The trial of Amber Guyger–the police officer who shot and killed an innocent man (Botham Jean) after mistakenly entering his apartment, thinking it was her own and that he was an intruder–has garnered national headlines in October. While there have been a number of ‘stand your ground’- (or self-defense) related homicide trials around the country, this one in particular was unique because it 1) involved a version of stand your ground known as the castle doctrine, which allows an individual to use lethal force to defend against an intruder in one’s home and 2) represented a unique attempt to apply the castle doctrine, given that the shooter was technically the trespasser who shot the homeowner in his own residence in this case.

Because there are so many states that follow the castle doctrine (or some version of it, like New York), the nation closely watched this case as it was decided on October 2 due to the potential precedent it could set for criminal defendants around the country. Although Guyger was eventually convicted of murder, she was only sentenced to 10 years in state prison (versus a potential life sentence), arguably indicating that the jury may very well have taken her defense argument into account during sentencing.

The Law in New York: Use of Physical Force

While New York is not a stand your ground state, it does follow a doctrine similar to the castle doctrine in terms of allowing for deadly force to be used to defend one’s home against intruders. In New York’s law, while retreat is required if the shooter knows that they may avoid the use of deadly force by retreating, at the same time, they are under no duty to retreat if they are in their own dwelling and are not the initial aggressor.

What Role Does Race Play?

These cases also often draw attention due to the obvious race-related outcomes associated with them: In a study recently published in the journal Social Science Quarterly, researchers found that ‘stand your ground cases’ involving black shooters lead to convictions almost 100 percent of the time, while white defendants were acquitted for the same crimes at least 10 percent of the time. The racial issue was also arguably at play in the current case, as Guyger is a white police officer and the victim was an unarmed black male. Some have also accused Guyger of being racist, and indicated that this sentiment may have played a part in the incident.

Contact Our New York Criminal Defense Attorneys

A careful evaluation of the specific facts and circumstances involved in each case is crucial in order to determine how to proceed when it comes to a self-defense argument. Contact our experienced New York criminal defense attorneys at the office of Phillip J. Murphy today with any questions you might have if you have been charged in a crime whereby you were simply defending yourself.




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Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney At Law is located in New City, New York and serves clients in and around New York, New Jersey & Connecticut. Contact our experienced criminal defense law firm.
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