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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kentucky Justices Say: It Ought To Be Either Self-Defense Or It's Not!

Ky court reinstates reckless homicide conviction

— Kentucky's self-defense laws and jury instructions are so confusing that innocent people are convicted and guilty people set free because the average person can't make sense of what qualifies under the law, a Kentucky Supreme Court justice wrote Thursday.

The declaration from Justice Will T. Scott, who was joined by justices Mary Noble and Bill Cunningham, came as they agreed to reinstate the reckless homicide conviction of 61-year-old Janice Hasch of Shepherdsville in the 2008 shooting death of her husband.
"I must state my belief that the jury's verdict in this case is a state testimonial to the confusion generated by our self-defense statutes and instructions," Scott wrote for the three.

The decision reverses a ruling by the Kentucky Court of Appeals vacating the conviction.
The full court agreed that the evidence supports a reckless homicide conviction in the death of Jerald "Jerry" Hasch. The Kentucky Court of Appeals concluded that there was a lack of evidence underpinning the conviction and that a judge shouldn't have given jurors the option of reckless homicide.

Instead, the appeals court ruled, jurors should have had the options of murder and an acquittal based on a claim of self-defense.

Justice Daniel Venters wrote that, even though Hasch was aware she could have fled a potentially violent situation, that didn't negate her right to stand her ground in self-defense.
Police say Janice Hasch, then 57, shot Jerry Hasch between the eyes at a distance of less than 24 inches during a domestic dispute.

Hasch found a small caliber handgun while cleaning a closet and took the weapon, still in a case, to her husband and confronted him with it. Jerald Hasch became angry and demanded the weapon, but Janice Hasch refused to hand over the gun.

After a dispute, Janice Hasch, an experienced marksman, pulled the trigger and shot her husband between the eyes at a distance of less than 24 inches. Janice Hasch initially told police she could have left the house, as she had done during previous disputes. Later, she claimed self-defense.

Venters concluded that there's no doubt Hasch intentionally shot her husband, but that jurors accepted her claim that she believed shooting Jerry Hasch was necessary to protect herself.
"Further, it had to conclude that she was mistaken in that belief, and that she was reckless in forming that mistaken belief," Venters wrote. "Nothing in her explanation of the shooting or in the circumstantial evidence surrounding it suggested that (Hasch) entertained any doubt about Jerald's intentions or otherwise pondered the possibility that she might be mistaken in her belief.".

Scott, reiterating a call he issued in an unrelated 2005 case, called on lawmakers to address the confusion caused by Kentucky's laws with new legislation that would simplify the law and return it to the absolute guarantee of self-defense outlined in the state constitution.
"I would further note that one who truly acts in self-defense, and is thereby acquitted of murder, could not be guilty of a lesser crime involving a wanton or reckless state of mind for the same act — as we do now," Scott wrote. "As a trial judge, I believed this and still do."

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