A St. Louis couple has made headlines recently after they wielded their guns at protesters who broke through their gate and entered their front yard. A St. Louis’ top prosecutor charged the husband and wife with a felony count of unlawful use of a weapon for displaying their guns. Specifically, The local Missouri Public Prosecutor, Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, stated that “peaceful protesters were met by guns and a violent assault.” This is a Class E felony that carries a four-year prison sentence in Missouri.
Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
The husband and wife are both lawyers, and in addition to facing criminal charges, are facing calls to be disbarred from the practice of law due to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. This case will hinge on whether or not the couple actually committed aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Under Missouri law, the second-degree assault includes attempts to cause or knowingly cause physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument.
Certainly, the couple was holding deadly weapons in their hands. Each was holding a gun and telling protesters to leave the property. Keep in mind that defendants can be convicted of assault whether or not their weapons actually caused any physical injury to anyone else. Assault charges do not require that the couple caused any physical harm, just that they behaved in a way intended to put a person in reasonable fear for their safety. In the video footage, it is clear that the protesters believed that they feared for their safety.
Defenses to Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon
We do not know whether or not the couple’s AR-15 rifle and what appears to be a Walther pistol were loaded or even if both guns were real. At this point, only the couple themselves know. If they contend that the guns were not loaded, they may be able to claim that their weapons were not “readily capable of lethal use” as part of their defense.
The couple will likely argue that their lives were threatened. According to an interview with the husband, some of the protesters were committing property damage, violence and threatening acts of aggression. The couple has reported that they did call the Saint Louis Police Department because they feared for their lives, but we do not know exactly when that call happened.
According to the couple, they only armed themselves with guns after they saw that several trespassers were armed. The couple has stated that two protestors were wearing body armor, and that one of them pulled out a loaded gun magazine and clipped the gun and magazine together, saying “you’re next.” They have also stated that some of the protestors threatened to burn their home down.
The Castle Doctrine
Under the castle doctrine, a person can use force against another person when he or she reasonably believes that it is necessary to stop another person’s unlawful entry into or attack on your dwelling. Deadly force is appropriate to defend a dwelling when people have entered your home in a riotous manner, and you reasonably believe using force is necessary to prevent violence. If this occurred in Illinois, the couple may be able to make the case that they feared that their actions were necessary to prevent violence against themselves and their home from being burned down, which is a valid defense to their actions.
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