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Good Question: How Far Can You Go In Defending Someone?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
Jason DeRusha filed his first report for WCCO-TV on April Fool's D...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Investigators in Texas say they have no intention to arrest a father who killed a man while trying to protect his 4-year-old daughter.

Lavaca County Sheriff Micah Harmon said the father beat another man to death when he allegedly caught him trying to molest his daughter

In the small town of Shiner, no one’s second-guessing the father, whose name hasn’t been released yet.

“He got what he well deserved,” said one woman. “I’d give the guy a medal,” said another man.

We all know we can protect ourselves from a deadly threat, but what about protecting other people?

“Your response has to be proportional to the harm you see to yourself or others. And it has to be reasonable, in an objective way,” said John Choi, Ramsey County Attorney.

There is a specific Minnesota law that allows the use of deadly force, but it’s just one sentence. Deadly force must be “necessary in resisting or preventing an offense,” which exposes you or someone else “to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.”

“All of this comes to ultimately the discretion of the prosecutor whose duty is to make sure that justice happens in a case,” Choi said.

Just like in Texas, a prosecutor doesn’t have to charge someone, even if technically, you might be breaking a law. The prosecutor in Lavaca County is referring the case to a grand jury to make a decision, which is often the case in a difficult decision for a prosecutor.

Choi said prosecutors have discretion to look beyond the letter of the law and appeal to a higher sense of justice.

He noted that juries can, and do, the same thing.

“The jury has this inherent ability to basically ignore the facts or the law. In a very rare circumstance sometimes that can happen, that does happen,” he said. It’s a concept of law called “jury nullification.”

These are rare cases, with quite a bit of grey area in the law. And there’s only one version of what happened, when the other person involved is dead.

“What would a reasonable person do in that circumstance?” – that’s the test, Choi said.

And if you decide to intervene, you’d better make sure you’re reading the situation correctly.

What happens if you make a mistake?

“That’s the thing, when you’re intervening, you intervene at your own peril,” Choi said.

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