We have previously discussed the use of lethal force to protect one’s home or business both in terms of the common law and “castle doctrine” laws. It is rare for jurors to convict homeowners who wound or kill armed robbers or burglar. However, in Glasgow, Patrick Phinn, 49, has been sentenced to five years for stabbing to death Ronald Pattison, who broke into his home and threatened Phinn and his partner.
A man who killed an armed robber after he turned up at his house demanding money has been jailed for five years. Pattison was wielding a knife when he entered the home and threatened the couple. A fight ensured and Phinn grabbed a knife and proceeded to stab Pattison 17 times.
The number of knife wounds is clearly notable and disturbing. Yet, if the jury accepted that this was self-defense, he could have killed Pattison with a single wound. The case is reminiscent of the recent Bronx case of a criminal charge in killing a felon but that case involved chasing the individual.
I have been a long critic of Castle Doctrine laws. The title refers to the old adage that “a man’s home is his castle,” which is not a common law doctrine of criminal law or torts but rather an aspirational statement. The Castle Doctrine is a generally a reference to the modern trend of legislatively empowering homeowners to use lethal force solely on the basis of a home invasion.
Under the common law, there was not “fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves and others” so long as you acted in reasonable self-defense or even “reasonable mistaken self-defense.” In the case of Courvoisier v. Raymond, 23 Colo. 113 (1896), a man chased a group out of his home only to fire when a man approached him outside his home from the stone-throwing mob. It turned out to be a deputy sheriff but the court found that Courvoisier could rely on reasonable mistaken self-defense. The common law has long offered ample protections even for reasonable mistakes.
Notably, in this case, prosecutors pushed for an actual murder conviction. However, the jury found him guilty of the reduced charge of culpable homicide. The number of knife wounds was clearly determinative. Lord Matthews told Phinn that: “[i]t is difficult to think of circumstances where provocation is more appropriate than this. This was extreme in the circumstances. However, the jury was satisfied that you went beyond what was necessary.”
Again, that statement highlight the curious aspect of the verdict. Presumably, they are not suggesting that he should have merely wounded seriously but not fatally. If that is the case, why is 17 blows excessive rather than 1 fatal blow. Indeed, how do we know if the first or third or tenth wound was fatal. It is difficult to state conclusively the precise order of multiple stab wounds. Unless the jury believes that Phinn should have used non-lethal force to repel a lethal threat, this is a difficult verdict to fully understand in terms of the standard.