February 12, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Defendant's retrieval of his gun did not support menacing conviction---
Article provided by Turner & Webb, P.C.
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Imagine that a group of individuals are illegally trespassing in a building you own. After you call the police and the individuals are ordered to leave, you still end up in an altercation with one of the trespassers, and perhaps you reach for a gun in your car to protect yourself.
Then, although no one is harmed, you suddenly find yourself accused of the crime of "menacing."
When tempers flare, an argument can so easily and inadvertently escalate into an incident that leads to criminal charges, as can be seen in the Alabama Supreme Court case of Ex Parte Pate.
Trespassing leads to retrieving a shotgun
The defendant was leasing a building to a restaurant, which subsequently went bankrupt. The restaurant's lease was terminated for nonpayment and the restaurant's employees were ordered to vacate the premises.
Several days later, the defendant learned that restaurant employees were on the premises removing equipment, and although the police were called, the officers decided it was a civil matter. The defendant arrived and when the officers acted reluctant to get involved, the defendant stated he had a shotgun and would remove the trespassers himself.
Although the police did ask the employees to leave and they did so, one employee reentered the premises, leading to harsh words with the defendant. When the employee exited, the defendant, who had earlier gone outside, allegedly was standing in front of his car with his shotgun.
The defendant was charged and convicted of menacing, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail, suspended, and a year of probation. The defendant appealed the conviction.
Did the actions amount to menacing?
The Alabama Supreme Court noted that menacing is defined under Alabama law as placing a person in fear of imminent serious physical injury by taking physical action. The term "physical action" is not defined by the applicable statute.
A basic rule of review in criminal cases is that criminal statutes must be strictly construed in favor a defendant. In addition, when interpreting a statute, a court should give the words contained therein their natural, plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning.
Here, the act of the defendant going outside to his car and getting his gun, without any other action, was not sufficient to establish the physical-action element of menacing under the statute.
Therefore, the lower court committed error in determining that there was sufficient evidence of the physical-action element of menacing to support defendant's conviction. The defendant's conviction was reversed.
Take immediate action to defend your rights
If you are charged with a crime, penalties can range from fines and suspended jail sentences, to substantial time in prison or worse. If you find yourself in this situation, you should find an attorney who will take immediate and aggressive action to defend your rights.
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