Results 1 to 2 of 2

Thread: WV Supreme Court of Appeals Decision on Self-Defense

  1. #1
    Regular Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Inwood, West Virginia, USA

    Post imported post

    Link to decision:

    CHARLESTON -- The state Supreme Court of Appeals overturned a Culloden woman's murder conviction Thursday, and set forth new case law regarding self-defense and domestic violence.

    By a 4-1 vote, the high court remanded Tanya Harden's case back to Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred Ferguson. The opinion ordered immediate acquittal and release.

    Harden, 33, had been sentenced to life in prison with mercy. She was transferred to the Lakin Correctional Center in Aug. 7, 2007. She walked out of the Mason County prison Thursday. Her appellate attorney, Russel S. Cook, transported her to a family residence.

    "Her take is just a great sense of relief," he said. "She is frightened. Not necessarily of anyone, just reintegrating into society ... She is pleased, frightened and looking forward to going on with the rest of her life."

    Harden killed her husband, Danuel L. Harden, on Sept. 5, 2004, at the couple's Culloden home following a night of fighting, threats and abuse. Prosecutors argued Harden killed her husband out of revenge during a cooling-off period. They said she opted to shoot him with a shotgun, instead of escaping their home with him half asleep.

    In disagreeing, the Supreme Court reversed precedent from two earlier opinions, which prosecutors had relied upon in their case against Harden.

    Kim Carico defended Harden at trial and described the court's ruling as "a breakthrough," showing that West Virginia is taking a lead in helping victims of domestic violence. The opinion removed the victim's duty to retreat a jointly owned residence, and states prior violence is relevant in determining the person's state of mind when deciding to use deadly force.

    "I cried when I first found out," Carico said. "This was more than we could have hoped for. We believed that she would get a reversal, but did not know she would get an outright acquittal. This is just wonderful."

    The Supreme Court's majority opinion was authored by Justice Menis Ketchum, a Huntington attorney serving his first term on the state's highest court. He was elected in November.

    Prior case law required a belief that danger was imminent at the time deadly force was used. Prosecutors used that precedent to claim Harden was not faced with imminent danger when she fired the fatal shot.

    Ketchum's opinion reversed that precedent, thus eliminating the prosecution's argument. He said hours of physical and sexual assault, combined with verbal and visible threats, gave Harden reason to kill. He cited Harden's testimony, along with that of their children and the kids' overnight guest. Each told their account of the couple's dispute. Testimony from an emergency room physician and photographs described Harden's injuries, which included a broken nose, black eyes and bruises to her face and chest. A state medical examiner placed her husband's blood-alcohol count at .22 percent -- nearly three times the state's level of presumed intoxication.

    "It is clear to this Court that the evidence adduced at the defendant's trial," Ketchum wrote "was sufficient evidence that the defendant did believe, and had a reasonable basis to believe, that her life was at risk of death or serious bodily injury."

    The court also eliminated Harden's duty to retreat, erasing the prosecution's other argument.

    Existing case law had stated victims had no duty to leave their residence when faced with an intruder, but had a duty to retreat when the attacker was a co-occupant. That changes with the Harden decision.

    Ketchum cited case law from other states, which indicates West Virginia was in the minority when comparing interpretations from other states. He relied upon a New Jersey opinion, which recognized domestic violence "attacks are often repeated over time, and escape from the home is rarely possible without the threat of great personal violence or death."

    Ketchum said the majority found "no rational legal basis" to force a domestic violence victim to leave his or her residence to escape attack.

    "In such circumstances the occupant may use, without retreating, deadly force if the occupant reasonably believes such force to be necessary to prevent his or her death or serious bodily injury," Ketchum wrote.

    The majority set forth a two-fold test to determine one's reasonable basis to kill. First, the person must actually believe, upon considering all circumstances perceived at the time, deadly force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury. The second test is that the action must be objectively reasonable to another person.

    The court's decision created new case law to address times in which the defendant's actions were not made in self-defense. In those instances, Ketchum wrote, the defendent's previous abuse or threats may negate or tend to negate necessary elements of the charge, such as malice or intent.

    Ketchum wrote his fellow justices considered all of the evidence in light most favorable to the prosecution, but its analysis found the prosecution's argument unpersuasive when considered in light of the new precedent. The majority also determined prosecutors did not contest many aspects of the night and failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt her actions were committed in absence of self-defense.

    Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles declined comment Thursday, saying he needed more time to read the court's opinion.

    Danuel L. Harden's mother, Dian, expressed disappointment with the decision. She worries about developing custody issues concerning the couple's children.

    "It's devastating," she said. "I don't know what to say. I'm just so hurt more than anything else."

    Chief Justice Brent Benjamin dissented from the majority and reserved the right to file a separate opinion.

    In August 2005, Harden declined an offer to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. It would have carried a sentence of three to 15 years in prison, instead of the life with mercy sentence she received.
    EFI, LLC - 07/C2 in Inwood, WV
    Custom firearms, gunsmithing, machine gun rentals, and it's just $10 for a Transfer!

  2. #2
    Regular Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    , South Carolina, USA

    Post imported post

    Let's just say that I am very pleased with this decision. I understand that there can be wide ramification's from this ruling but in this case I think she was well justified in shooting the SOB. Where this may get tricky is with roomates rather than couples and how long after the fight do you have to do them in. Overall I applaud the justices.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts