State v. Whitlee Jones, App. Case No. 2014-002123, An Important Win in the SC Supreme Court for the Castle Doctrine! (filed May 18, 2016)

Striking a well-earned blow to the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office’s argument that victims of criminal domestic violence should not be entitled to “stand their ground,” the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed, in an unanimous opinion, that they are.

Ms. Jones was indicted for murder after she stabbed her boyfriend in the house they shared. Ms. Jones argued pretrial that she should be granted immunity under the “Protection of Persons and Property Act” (South Carolina’s statutory codification of the Castle Doctrine). The trial court judge agreed so naturally the Attorney General’s Office appealed. The AG’s arguments were: 1) she was not entitled to protection under the Act because the stabbing occurred at her residence and not “another place where [s]he ha[d] the right to be,” and 2) that she failed to establish she was acting in self-defense when she stabbed her boyfriend.

The standard of proof in a Castle Doctrine hearing is “preponderance of the evidence.” See State v. Duncan, 392 S.C. 404, 411, 709 S.E.2d 662, 665 (2011). A reviewing court assesses the finding using an abuse of discretion standard. State v. Curry, 406 S.C. 364, 370, 752 S.E.2s 263, 266 (2013).

The Court adopted the trial judge’s reasoning that “[t]o hold that a person cannot utilize [this particular section of the Act] if the person were inside of their own home would create a nonsensical result—that a person can defendant themselves from attack by their spouses, lovers, or any other co-resident while outside of their home, but not inside of their home.” Essentially, the Court found that the Legislature clearly intended to protect law-abiding citizens from attackers without fear of prosecution, and without the need to retreat in the face of intrusion or attack. Based on this, the Court found Jones had the right to seek protection under the Act.

But additionally, the Court found, under its deferential standard of review, support for the trial court’s findings as to each element of self-defense: 1) the defendant is without fault in bringing on the difficulty, 2) actual belief that he/ she was in imminent danger of losing life or sustaining serious bodily injury, 3) if defense is based upon belief of imminent danger, a reasonably prudent person of ordinary firmness and courage would have entertained the same belief. If defendant was actually in imminent danger, the circumstances were such as would warrant a man of ordinary prudence, firmness and courage to strike the fatal blow in order to save himself from serious bodily harm or losing his own life, and 4) the defendant had no other probable means of avoiding the danger of losing his own life or sustaining serious bodily injury than to act as he did in this particular instance. State v. Davis, 282 S.C. 45, 46, 317 S.E.2d 452, 453 (1984).

I wonder how many months Ms. Jones spent in pre-trial detention for justifiably protecting herself from being abused by her boyfriend? And why the State went to such lengths to re-victimize her?