Criminal Justice

Jurors convict ex-cop who shot man after entering wrong apartment; 'castle doctrine' is at issue

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Jurors convicted a former Dallas police officer of murder Tuesday for shooting and killing a black man after she mistook his apartment for hers.

Jurors convicted Amber Guyger even though they were allowed to consider whether the “castle doctrine” protected her, the Washington Post and NBC News reports.

Guyger was accused of shooting and killing 26-year-old Botham Jean, whose apartment was directly above hers, after opening his unlocked door in September 2018 and seeing him seated on his couch. Jean was unarmed and eating ice cream. Guyger said she feared for her life after opening the door and seeing a “silhouette figure” in the dark apartment.

Judge Tammy Kemp ruled Monday that jurors could consider whether Guyger was protected by the castle doctrine, according to prior reports by the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, the Dallas Morning News and CNN.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the castle doctrine holds that people have the right to use deadly force, without retreating, to protect themselves or their home (their “castle”) when they know or have reason to think such force is immediately necessary. They also have the right to be present at the location where the deadly force is used, provided that they didn’t provoke the other person, and they weren’t engaged in criminal activity.

Another section of the law cited by the Texas Tribune says people’s use of force is presumed to be reasonable when they know or have reason to think the other person is unlawfully on their property.

Prosecutors have said Guyger was distracted on the night that she entered Jean’s apartment because of sexually explicit text messages from her partner on the police force. She had just finished a shift of nearly 14 hours when she parked on the wrong floor of her apartment building and went to the wrong apartment.

Prosecutor told jurors in closing arguments that the Castle doctrine didn’t apply to Guyger.

Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus argued that Guyger’s use of force wasn’t reasonably necessary. Another prosecutor, Jason Fine, also argued that the doctrine doesn’t apply.

“Who does castle doctrine protect? Homeowners. It protects homeowners against intruders, and now, all of a sudden, the intruder is trying to use it against the homeowner. What are we doing?” Fine said.

Fine said Guyger missed several cues that she was in the wrong apartment, including Jean’s red doormat, the carpet in his home and the apartment number on the door.

Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, told the Texas Tribune that the castle doctrine is an ambiguous term, and lawyers disagree about the doctrine’s protections.

Many people were surprised when the judge allowed use of the doctrine, legal analyst Pete Schulte told the Washington Post. Schulte was among them.

“This case is so rare. You couldn’t even make this up for a law school exam,” Schulte said.

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