The Unintended Consequences of Montana's "Castle" Law Under Scrutiny

Generally, in this blog we do not spend much ink on criminal law.  A recent case out of Montana however merits mention. 

In September, an extramarital affair between Heather Fredenberg and Brice Harper, both   Kalispell, MT residents, ended in a fatal shooting of Heather’s husband Dan.  Harper (Heather’s paramour) killed Heather’s husband when Dan entered Harper’s garage.  As Dan Fredenberg, unarmed, entered Harper’s garage door, Harper shot Fredenberg three times killing him.  Harper told the police that he feared for his life because Fredenberg was upset about the illicit relationship.  As Dan Fredenberg walked through Mr. Harper’s open garage door, he was doing more than stepping uninvited into someone else’s property, he was walking into a “legal landscape reshaped by the laws that had given homeowners new leeway to use force inside their own home.” New York Times Article.

In Montana, before 2009, a person could use deadly force in self-defense if the person reasonably believed that he or she was facing the threat of deadly force.  The previous law also expected a person to avoid confrontation by calling the police or retreating from a fight.  The “castle doctrine” bill was passed in Montana in 2009; it allows a homeowner to stand his or her ground and no longer requires the person retreat from a threat.  The “castle law” allows the homeowner to use deadly force in the face of any perceived threat.  The Montana prosecutor has declined to press charges against Harper based on the “castle doctrine,” since the use of force was justified under the new law, even though the husband was not armed when he stepped into the garage. 

Now, the wife, Heather Fredenberg, claims her affair with Harper was “emotional” rather than “sexual” and disagrees with the prosecutor’s decision not to pursue the case.  Montana Castle Law.

Comment: This Montana case reads like a soap opera.  This law could have some unintended consequences.  Consider on time pizza delivery results in a $0.05 tip, after discovering the meager tip, the distraught pizza delivery man returns to the door of the homeowner upset and ready to give the miserly homeowner a piece of his mind.  As liberal as Montana’s law is that behavior could merit the pizza man a bullet between the eyes.  Based on this case, there is a movement under foot in Montana to return the self-defense rights statute back to its pre-2009 requirements.

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