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As one case expires, a new one arises

Submitted by Pat on Thu, 05/31/2007 - 3:35pm

This is going to stir up some news on several levels. Mario Claiborne was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to 15 months in prison, less than half the sentence recommended under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The prosecutors appealed the sentence as being unreasonable. The Supreme Court accepted the case, along with a companion case called Rita, to address the issue of what standards the courts of appeal should use when reviewing sentences to determine if they are reasonable or not. Claiborne's case was argued before the Court this past February. Scotusblog previewed the oral argument. Tom Goldstein at ScotusBlog predicted that Justice Stevens was likely writing the opinion.

If so, Justice Stevens' work will have been in vain. Claiborne's lawyer has filed a notice with the Court that Mr. Claiborne has died. Under relevant Supreme Court rules, Claiborne's case will now be dismissed. It may take a little longer to establish the rule for determining the reasonableness of sentences which are below the sentencing guidelines. Doug Berman and his commenters are discussing the ramifications over at Sentencing Law & Policy.

But Claiborne's death may open up a whole new set of legal issues. It appears that the Claiborne of the pending Supreme Court case is the same as the Claiborne who died in this shooting, reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Claiborne was driving a car, accompanied by another male, a woman, and a young child. At about 11:45pm this past Tuesday night, the group stopped for gas. While they were at the gas station, a pickup truck, occupied by two men, drove up. The two men got out of the truck and went into the station, leaving it running. Claiborne's male passenger hopped out of Claiborne's car and drove off in the pickup truck, stealing it. Claiborne, with the woman and the child still in the vehicle, followed him.

The two men from the truck ran out of the station. One of them pulled out a gun and fired four shots at the fleeing car, hitting Claiborne in the shoulder. He drove to the hospital, but died within hours. The hospital appears to be right around the corner from the gas station.

As an added twist, the pickup truck actually was leased to the mother of the man driving it (the shooter), and the shooter was not an authorized driver on the lease. Claiborne's family, incidentally, immediately ratted out and identified the man who had actually stolen the pickup truck.

Police have obtained warrants for both the truck thief and the shooter for murder. The truck thief may well be guilty of murder under the felony-murder doctrine, which provides that you are guilty of any homicide which occurs in the course of a felony which you committed. It often comes into play when more than one person is involved in an armed robbery, but only one of them actually shoots the guard. All the robbers are guilty of murder under the felony-murder doctrine, even if killing was not part of the plan. You occasionally see the doctrine crop up when hostages are accidentally killed by police during a stand-off.

The charges against the shooter may cause some stir among gun rights and self-defense folks. Like most jurisdictions, Missouri law does not allow the use of deadly force to protect mere property. Missouri revised statutes 563.031 provides:

2. A person may not use deadly force upon another person under the circumstances specified in subsection 1 of this section unless he reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself or another against death, serious physical injury, rape, sodomy or kidnapping or serious physical injury through robbery, burglary or arson.

Here, both the pickup truck and Claiborne's car were driving away from the scene of the crime. There were no other people in the pickup truck who might remain in danger as kidnap victims. There was no reason for the shooter to believe that deadly force was needed to protect against his (or another's) death, serious physical injury, rape, sodomy, or kidnapping.

I hope that few will try to justify the shooter firing down a public street at a stolen vehicle being driven away from him. Murder itself may not be an appropriate charge, but manslaughter (in the heat of passion from the theft) or reckless homicide would be entirely appropriate charges.

Are there any St. Louis readers out there? My experience with urban hospitals suggests that they are usually located in relatively bad neighborhoods. This one is located near the interstate and a railroad yard, but the houses and other properties nearby seem mostly occupied and well maintained according to the Google satellite images, so it's hard to say.

St. Louis University Hospital...

...is a large research hospital in a mixed area. (Maybe a poor mans Johns Hopkins?) Housng stock in that part of town is quite varied..there are some real run down places and some very nice rehabbed neighborhoods as well. Just down the street on South Grand there is a large restaurant and entertainment district that was some very nice places.

Is there anything more specific you'd want a (former long time) St. Louisian to answer?

Thank, Rich...

I'm really just trying to get a picture for whether the pickup truck driver is likely a local hoodlum with probably criminal reasons for wanting to carry a gun on him, or if he's more likely an upstanding citizen who got carried away in the moment and had poor gun training. Of course, we don't even know if they were local, but I figure at that time of night, people at a gas station like that have some reason to be in the area.

If I had to guess....

...I'd say "local hoodlum" would be right the majority of the time, especially since the shooter was packing on his person. That part of town wouldn't be the worst in terms of this sort of crime, but it wouldn't be unknown either.

Its a shame because St. Louis is a great place.

For what it's worth, some

For what it's worth, some may style me a "gun rights advocate" and I completely agree that it is unreasonable and beyond the scope of self-defense to shoot someone over a car. If I understand the circumstances correctly, the offense in this case is aggravated even further by the presence of a woman and a child in the car that was shot into. Either of the above parties could have been accidentally shot, making this undiscerning discharge of a firearm even more clearly criminal. I don't think it matters whether the offender was a "hoodlum" or an "upstanding citizen," though I admit I'm in the minority in that belief (that evidence of the defendant's character is generally irrelevant).

Doesn't Seem Like There is A Need To Invoke FMR

Why would the prosecution need the felony murder rule to convict the shooter of murder? As you pointed out, deadly force cannot be used to defend personal property (and I don't know why that would bother a gun rights advocate, I don't think most reasonable people think that it is okay to kill someone over a car). Also, just because he was not an authorized driver does not mean that he stole the car (and thus he may not have committed a felony). Besides, does FMR apply to any killing associated with stolen property, even if the initial act to take and carry away the property has long since passed? I thought it only applied to killings committed during the commission of the crime.

Not that it really matters, it looks like MO treats both intentional killing without premeditation and killing during the commission of a felony as Second Degree Murder.

--Fern

Not the shooter, Fern, the thief...

Why would the prosecution need the felony murder rule to convict the shooter of murder?

Not the shooter, Fern, but the truck thief for felony murder. The shooter was the original unauthorized driver from whom the truck was stolen. The thief was in the commission of the crime of stealing the pickup when the shots were fired, hitting his accomplice Claiborne, and said felony theft was the proximate cause of the shots being fired.

The shooter is clearly guilty of idiocy...

Ahh Gotcha

It was hard for me to keep everything straight without real names. Now that I've read what happened a few times, I think I've got a handle on it. ;-)

--Fern

Mmmm, Irony....

Claiborne was originally sentenced on March 28, 2005.

Assuming he didn't get killed in prison, had he received a sentence within the guidelines he'd likely still be in prison--instead of in the grave.

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