Grizzly Bears – Self-Defense?
On June 26, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion that reversed the trial court conviction of a Montana man who had been convicted under the criminal provisions of the Endangered Species Act for shooting and killing a grizzly bear. United States v. Charette, ___ F.3d ___, No. 17-30059 (9th Cir. June 26, 2018).
Brian Charette shot the grizzly bear as it was harassing horses in a pasture behind his rural home. The government indicted Charette on one count of “taking” a threatened species in violation of the ESA. Charette was convicted in a bench trial before a magistrate judge and the report and recommendation was affirmed by the district court. Charette then appealed. There were a number of issues raised by Charette that were rejected by the Ninth Circuit; however, ruled that there was an error in how the trial court handled the affirmative defense of self-defense.
The ESA provides, at 16 U.S.C. § 1540(b)(3), that a defense to the “taking” is “if the defendant committed the offense based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual, from bodily harm from any endangered or threatened species.” The trial court ruled that good faith must be determined using an “objectively reasonable standard.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed, holding that the standard only required a subjective belief in the need to protect oneself or others. That standard would be “satisfied when a defendant actually, even if unreasonably, believes his actions are necessary to protect himself or others from perceived danger from a grizzly bear.” As a result, the case was remanded to the trial court to make a determination in applying the subjective standard. In the original trial, Charette had elected not to testify in support of his claim of self-defense. He will now get an opportunity to rethink that decisions.
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