Minn. high court to review defense of dwelling law

Published 10:30 am Monday, July 7, 2014

WASECA — A Waseca man is asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to decide whether his self-defense rights under the state’s “defense of dwelling” laws extends to his apartment’s shared hallway.

Daniel Devens, 51, encountered an intoxicated man in October 2011 in the shared second-floor hallway, according to the Mankato Free Press (http://bit.ly/VvEpSf ). The man was knocking loud and Devens asked him to leave the building.

The two men’s accounts vary at this point. Devens claims the man took several swings at him while he was walking the man out. The man claims Devens attacked him as he walked down the hallway, resulting in a fight.

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In the end, the men both fell down the stairs to an entrance. The intoxicated man suffered injuries that hospitalized him for approximately a week. Devens was charged with felony first-degree assault, felony third-degree assault and misdemeanor fifth-degree assault. A jury convicted him of the third-degree and fifth-degree charges.

Devens appealed his third-degree conviction, saying the jury should have been given the “defense of dwelling” instructions during trial. The jury was only given instruction on the general self-defense requirements.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied his appeal and affirmed the lower court’s ruling. The Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling by Aug. 30.

Minnesota self-defense laws rule that individuals have a duty to retreat. The “defense of dwelling” law gives a narrow expansion of “reasonable force” that can be used, including lethal force, to prevent a crime or attack in an individual’s home.

Devens argued his “defense of dwelling” rights extended to the shared apartment hallway, similar to how self-defense rights can apply to the porch on a home. He claimed the intoxicated man was trespassing and he had the right to stop the potential crime.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals argued the definition did not apply in this case. The court said Devens did not own the building or the hallway. Similarly, the court noted he had no legal rights that allow him to exclude people from the shared area. Finally, the court noted the intoxicated man had allegedly been invited to the building by another individual.