Saturday, October 28, 2017

Case o' The Week: Ninth Reverses Convictions for Three Grizzly Deaths - Wallen and Good Faith Self-Defense

 The AUSA and MJ won’t like our subjective “good faith” self-defense theory after reversal and remand.
  (But they’ll have to grin and “bear” it).
United States v. Wallen, 2017 WL 4799292(9th Cir. Oct. 25, 2017), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Fisher, joined by Judges O’Scannlain and Friedland. Admirable win by Assistant Defender John Rhodes, Federal Defenders of Montana.

Facts: Wallen lived in Montana. There are bears. Specifically, three grizzlies killed his chickens, ran near his kids, scared his wife, and returned repeatedly despite being chased off. Id. at *2. When the bears returned to the home for the third time in one day, Wallen killed them. Id.
  He gave different narratives of what happened to agents, and was charged with three misdemeanor counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. Id.
  At the bench trial, Wallen asserted he shot the bears in self-defense. Id. at *2. Id. The magistrate judge, as the factfinder, found Wallen’s claim of self-defense was objectively unreasonable and found him guilty. Id. at *3.
 Wallen appealed.

Issue(s): “Here, the parties dispute whether the ‘good faith belief’ standard an objectively reasonable belief, as the government argues, or requires only a subjective belief in the need to protect oneself or others, as Wallen maintains. The magistrate judge and district court applied an objective test.” Id. at *5.

Held:We conclude that was error.” Id. “We now hold that subjective good faith belief suffices to establish self-defense under this statute.” Id. 
  “We . . . construe § 1540(b)(3) in accordance with the general principle that a good faith belief defense ordinarily depends on a defendant’s subject state of mind rather than the objective reasonableness of the defendant’s belief . . . .” Id. at *8.

Of Note: The Endangered Species Act provides a defense when the defendant kills an endangered animal, but had a “good faith belief he was acting to protect himself or herself” or others from bodily harm. Id. at *5 (quoting 16 U.S.C. § 1540(b)(3)). Judge Fisher concludes that the words “good faith” requires an analysis of the defendant’s subjective belief – not the (more difficult) “objective” reasonable person standard. Id. at *5-*6.
  “But wait,” you may ask, “doesn’t the vanilla federal assault statute require that more-difficult objective, ‘reasonable’ belief of danger to argue self-defense?”
  It does indeed.
  Judge Fisher observes that 18U.SC. § 113 (“Assaults within maritime and territorial jurisdiction”) only permits a self-defense theory when a defendant reasonably believes the force was necessary. Id. at *6, quoting United States v. Keiser, 57 F.3d 847, 851 (9th Cir. 1994). Shoot a grizzly and your sincere belief in the need for self-defense is enough. Assault a human, and a “reasonable,” objective belief in the need for self-defense is necessary.
   Weird? Blame Congress, explains this admirably honest opinion. Id. at *6. The two statutes are written differently: unlike the Endangered Species Act, the Section 113 assault statute has no “good faith” language. The Ninth is just calling ‘em like Congress writes ‘em.

How to Use: Fourth Amendment fans may get a little nervous with all this “subjective good faith” language that peppers Wallen. In a world where Leon and Jacobson give cops a “good faith” harbor, does Wallen mean that a cops who honestly – but unreasonably – believe a search was righteous escapes suppressesion?
  It does not. 
  Judge Fisher carefully distinguishes those other good faith cases, that arise in the context of the Fourth Amendment and § 1983 claims. A cop’s assertion of good faith for a search, and the government’s assertion of good faith in the context of the Stored Communications Act, still must be objectively reasonable. Id. at *7.
For Further Reading: Last summer, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) introduced a bill to split the Ninth– and held a hearing on the issue. See article here 
 This week, Senator Flake famously explained he would not be seeking re-election – and added a bon mot or two with his announcement. See article here
  Impossible to predict the Split’s momentum, but safe to predict it won’t come be from a bill sponsored by Senator Flake.

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender, N.D. Cal. Website at


Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home