Zale trial, Will it Shape How Stand Your Ground is Interpreted?

(Photo: Lisa Roose-Church/Livingston Daily)
(Photo: Lisa Roose-Church/Livingston Daily)

The Livingston Daily recently published this article:

Zale trial provides test case for self-defense act

“In Michigan, a person can only stand his ground and use deadly force when necessary to repel an attack that will result in imminent death or imminent great bodily harm, otherwise there is still a duty to retreat in Michigan before using deadly force if a person can safely do so,” Assistant Prosecutor Daniel Rose said in court Tuesday.

His remark came during opening arguments in the trial of Martin Zale, the 69-year-old Marion Township man accused of shooting to death Derek Flemming during a confrontation at the window of Zale’s pickup truck at the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Chilson Road last September.

You may read Michigan’s controversial 2006 stand-your-ground style self-defense law slightly differently. It says: “An individual … may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if … the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.”

We also learned Tuesday that Zale says he was punched.

Defense attorney Melissa Pearce said in her opening remarks it was “clearly self-defense” because her client “felt threatened for his life.” Pearce said Zale’s version of events is that Flemming approached his truck “yelling and screaming,” threatened “I’m going to kick your (expletive),” and punched Zale in the jaw and ear.

Zale, she said, was in “imminent fear,” so he grabbed his gun and fired.

Rose, however, said there are 18 witnesses to the incident and not one saw Flemming hit Zale.

It would be a mistake for anyone to prejudge this case. For one, it is at trial — this one expected to last two, maybe three weeks at least — where all of the details will be examined, and the testimony has only just begun.

For another, the outcome may well depend on exactly how you read that law. The test seems to be whether “the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent … imminent death … or imminent great bodily harm …”

Hard to know what an individual believes.

It appears to us that this trial is going to provide a truly interesting test case for the state’s self-defense act. Policy-makers, and just anyone interested in the subject of gun rights, gun control and the right to self-defense — regardless of which side of the fence you stand on — should be paying close attention to this case. Examine the details. When the jury rules, see if your view agrees with that of the jury.

Lawmakers in particular should watch this case to see if the results turn out as they believe the self-defense law was intended.

Michigan’s self-defense statute was controversial when it was adopted. Previously, the state said you had a duty to retreat if you could before using deadly force. Now it says you have “no duty to retreat” if “deadly force is necessary.”

And different people can parse those words in different ways.

Yet if we are going to have a state in which getting and carrying concealed weapons has been made much easier, and we have a law that says we have “no duty to retreat,” we should pay close attention to how such laws play out in the real world. We should pay attention to how it plays out in this particular case.

Lawmakers adopted this law to protect citizens’ rights to defend themselves.

And any of us may have to make that determination of when deadly force is necessary — or when there is another way.

– Livingston Daily editorial board

While we have commented on this case on our Facebook Page in the past, we have yet to write an article on it. One of the reasons is that self-defense cases are often sensationalized by the media and portray the gun owner in a bad light before any evidence is produced. We have seen numerous cases where the public opinion courts have tried and convicted a self-defense shooter in the media only to be exonerated in court.

The first reports on this case were very cut and dry. Guy got angry, and it ended with him shooting another man for no reason. It appears that may not be the case at all. Allegations are being made the “victim” had punched and Mr. Zale. I’m not here to debate the shooting as that is the courts job. What I want to make everyone away of is the wording of the law and that this case may very well either cement our rights to stand our ground or potentially put even clear cut self-defense on shaky ground.

“An individual … may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if … the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual

Driving on the road in a legal car properly owned, registered and insured would certainly meet the required: anywhere he or she has the legal right to be.

If a person blocks the road with a vehicle and engages you that may make retreat dangerous to you, passengers or other motorists. Yet the prosecutor presented his arguments to the effect of:

In Michigan, a person can only stand his ground and use deadly force when necessary to repel an attack that will result in imminent death or imminent great bodily harm, otherwise there is still a duty to retreat in Michigan before using deadly force if a person can safely do so,

If you look at the law and you look at the prosecutor statement you will likely see a conflict. If the person has the legal right to be in a specific place, it says he or she has no duty to retreat assuming they believe they are in threat of death or great bodily harm.

The real question is what criteria is going to be used to determine how an individual feels. I know a bunch of hard ass MoFo’s who frankly don’t get scared when approached by multiple assailants. I also know people who feel threatened just walking in a dark alley. How can we judge or gauge the actual threat a person may be feeling at the time of an interaction like this.

Zale is 69 and if he was punched and threatened as he is claiming does that demonstrate a real threat? I carry a gun but I also am young enough to take a beating, My 75-year-old father, however, is not. What would put me in the hospital may kill him.

We further have to look at what retreating safely is. As mention if retreat puts others in the car or pedestrians around you at risk does the danger posed there require you to stand your ground.

I know how I feel but want to hear what others think. Regardless of our opinions on the matter the case is in the hands of the court and this case will likely become case law in future stand your ground cases.

About 248 Shooter

248 Shooter
Charles is the editor and lead writer for 248 Shooter, a Michigan based gun, news and gear review site. An avid student, taking classes from top tier trainers around the country. Charles is not LEO, Military or Invested in the companies he reviews. The goal of all articles is to show an gun fan enthusiasts opinions on popular products in the market. The opinions expressed are individual opinions that we hope you enjoy reading and offer a unique user perspective that may be of assistance. Charles shares his love for training as well as experience and opinions on some of the most talked about gear and products used by competitive shooters, military, leo and civilians. Ever a supporter of the Michigan economy, the hunting sports and the 2nd amendment.

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