The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals has provided essential clarification of Alabama's “Stand your Ground” law and the proper procedure the court must follow when a defendant raises this defense.
In State v. Harrison, CR–13–0429 the appellate court concluded that a criminal defendant may raise a self-defense defense and avoid trial altogether. This case did not change that a self-defense defense has always been available during the trial.
However, Harrison clarified that under certain circumstances a defendant may be immune from prosecution and can avoid the financial and personal inconvenience of a trial. To do this, a defendant must motion the court and submit evidence during a pre-trial hearing.
During this pre-trial hearing, the defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the conduct arising in the criminal charge was consistent with § 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 175, which provides “[a] person who uses force, including deadly force, as justified and permitted in this section is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the force was determined to be unlawful.”
If the defendant proves by a preponderance of the evidence that his or her use of force was legally justified, then the prosecution cannot proceed any further. The charges against the defendant will be dismissed. The defendant will not be subjected to the personal and financial burden of a criminal trial.
Who determines whether the defendant has proven force was justified and as a result is immune from prosecution?
The judge, before whom the defendant appears, decides whether the actions were justified according to § 13A-3-23(d), Ala. Code 175 and that the defendant is immune from prosecution.
State v. Harrison
In the Harrison case, the defendant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion seeking immunity. Over the prosecution's objection, the Court held a pre-trial hearing to determine whether he was immune from prosecution. The State argued that Alabama law did not address how a defendant may assert immunity and that immunity should be asserted in the criminal trial.
In this case the court determined the following:
- Immunity from Prosecution Can be Raised Before Trial: Allowing a defendant to only raise the immunity offense during the trial defeats the purpose of immunity. Immunity is supposed to protect a defendant from all of the collateral consequences of a criminal trial, including public embarrassment and financial burden.
- Self-Defense can also be Raised at Trial: The court also reiterated that self-defense has always been a defense that can be raised at trial. To have a person be granted immunity only after going through trial makes immunity illusory.
- Allowing a Pre-Trial Conference is Legally Sound: The Court looked to the laws of several other states, including Colorado and Georgia, to determine whether a Court should hold a pre-trial hearing upon motion seeking immunity from prosecution.
Although the “Stand Your Ground” law was clarified in Harrison, the defendant's conviction was upheld. The appellate court determined the trial court was correct in determining his actions were not in self-defense and his force was not justified.
While the defendant in Harrison was not successful, the higher court in reviewing the actions of the trial court judge found that the procedures used were exactly correct. While the outcome was not good for him it is likely that in the future individuals will be successful and the state will be barred from pursuing cases if an accused person can convince trial court judge by a preponderance of the evidence they were justified in using deadly physical force.
Harrison v. State, CR–13–0429: Read the full text of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals' case which clarified the Alabama “Stand Your Ground” Law.
Huntsville, Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers
Preparing a successful self-defense defense can be challenging. Contact the experienced Huntsville criminal defense attorneys to assist in your defense. Call (256) 533-4529 or send an online message, and set up a free consultation to discuss your criminal case and any charges pending against you.