Ionia County Homeowner Claims Self Defense in Stabbing Death

The Michigan Gun Crimes Lawyers of the Barone Defense Firm practice all over the State of Michigan. This includes both state and federal courts.  For example, the 64A District Court and Ionia Circuit Court both located in Ionia, Michigan in Ionia County are regular courts that we appear in due its proximity to our Grand Rapids office.  The media recently reported that there was a stabbing in Ionia County and further that there is a claim of self-defense.  All the facts surrounding the circumstances of the stabbing are still being investigated, but there is some information that has been reported by local news outlets, therefore, we believe it is important to address some of the common issues that we see in self-defense cases and in Ionia County.

Is Self Defense limited to firearms?

No. Self-Defense often elicits the idea that a gun or firearm was involved.  However, Michigan legal self defense laws apply to all legal weapons, which include knives.  According to article a homeowner stabbed a man that was in his home.  He then called 911 and notified the dispatcher of what he had done.  Law enforcement arrived which included local public safety officer and state authorities from Michigan State Police.  It is common that multiple agencies arrive on scene when there is possible use of deadly force, regardless of whether it is reasonable and legal use of deadly force.  It was further reported that the person who had been stabbed was pronounced dead at the scene. Therefore, it is common practice that the medical examiner and a forensics unit would also appear, although it was not reported.

The news reports that the homeowner is claiming self-defense, but understandably the article does not explain self-defense or what legal self-defense may apply.

Are there different types of self-defense in Michigan?

Yes.  Michigan has two statutory laws for self defense known as Stand Your Ground and the Castle Doctrine.  Michigan also has a common law for self-defense.  The main distinction between the statutory self defense laws and the common law self defense law is the whether the actor has a duty to retreat or not.  A Stand Your Ground or Castle Doctrine defense provides that there is no duty to retreat, but under common law, under most circumstances, you do have a duty to retreat before use of deadly force.

Ionia Man Claims Self Defense….is this claim valid?

A claim of self-defense is not by itself sufficient.  Because the investigation would be ongoing, and because forensics and science will play a crucial role in determining what occurred, a claim or simply telling law enforcement you acted in self-defense is not advisable. The best practice is to remain silent after a traumatic and emotional experience and talk with an attorney. Therefore, a claim is not enough. It must be supported by the facts, and it must be supported by reasonableness. He will need to establish that he is owed the protections under the Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground.

First, let us assess the application of the Castle Doctrine, which would provide a rebuttable presumption that he acted in self-defense.  This law presumes that deadly force is appropriate and necessary if the person who was stabbed had broken into the home, was in the process of breaking into the home, or was in the home and committing a home invasion.  There is no indication in the news release other than the man that was stabbed was inside the home, therefore, with this limited information we cannot conclude if he was present in the home legally or illegally.  If he was there legally, but then requested or told to leave, Castle Doctrine would not apply.  Castle will only apply, and its legal presumptions, only under limited circumstances.

If Castle does not apply, then we must assess a Stand Your Ground defense.  The homeowner would need to establish that he was not engaged in a crime and then establish that he had an honest and reasonable belief that he would be immediately killed, seriously injured, or sexually assaulted by the man in his home.  Those are the only three permissible reasons to impose deadly force, where deadly force is any force likely to cause death, and therefore, a stabbing would be considered deadly force.

Who will determine if Self-Defense applies?

The first decision maker will be the Ionia Prosecuting Attorneys Office.  The prosecutor will receive a significant amount of information obtained through the police reports from the local department and the Michigan State Police.  In addition, they will receive reports from the Medical Examiners office.  They will review any recorded evidence from video recordings and 911 audio recordings.  Upon review of this information, the prosecutor will decide whether self-defense applies.  This may take a couple weeks to a couple of month, and sometimes even longer.  This is an important time for defense attorneys, which is why we constantly stress the importance of retaining counsel as soon as possible rather than waiting to see IF charges get issued.

If Ionia Prosecutor determines that self-defense is applicable there will be no criminal charges authorized.  Alternatively, if the prosecutor believes the actions of the homeowner were criminal then charges will be issued in the form of a Complaint, but it does not mean the Ionia Homeowner does not have a self-defense argument. It means that he will need to argue it in court. The most common mistake that we observe that cause a criminal charge are the statements made by the accused at the scene, during the investigation, and without experienced and trained counsel.  Therefore, after calling 911 it is important to protect your right to remain silent and seek counsel.

What happens in Court?

The first judicial proceeding for the homeowner would be an Arraignment. The Arraignment requires the accused to appear in court before a Judge to be advised of his rights, the criminal charge, and the applicable maximum penalty. The Judge will also determine whether the accused will be released on bond.  In Ionia, this would go before the Honorable Rayond P. Voet.  Judge Voet is the only Judge for the 62A District Court.  Judge Voet is considered a law-and-order judge who years ago gained some national attention after holding himself in contempt of court after his new cell phone went off while court was in session.

After the Arraignment the case will be scheduled for a Probable Cause Conference or Preliminary Exam Conference within 7-14 days after the Arraignment, and then a Preliminary Exam will be scheduled 5-7 days after that Conference.  At this stage the prosecutor is required to present sufficient evidence known as probable cause that a felony was committed, and that homeowner committed it.  Under certain circumstances the prosecution would also need to establish that self-defense does not apply.

If Judge Voet determines that there is sufficient evidence he will order the case be bound over, which means it would transfer jurisdiction to the 8th Circuit Court of Ionia County to handle the remainder of the case.  If bound over the case would be assigned to one of two Circuit Court Judges, either Judge Suzanne Kreeger or Judge Ronald Schafer.  Although Judges certainly play a crucial role in a case it is the Attorney and the Jury that will have the biggest role regarding whether Self Defense is a valid and successful defense.

The Michigan Gun Crimes Lawyers of the Barone Defense Firm have had significant experience in the Ionia County Courts, and in representing the accused in self-defense cases, and although the above referenced article is at the early stages of its own investigation and legal journey but is an important reminder to protect your rights, your right to remain silent, your right to an attorney, and understanding your rights to defend yourself.

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