Cheyenne, WY–Gun owners in Wyoming are celebrating great news today after Wyoming’s Supreme Court used their Stand Your Ground law to dismiss first-degree murder charges against a Casper, WY man.
Jason John faced prosecution after shooting and killing a man in the summer of 2018 as the man threatened to “blow him away” and ran towards John’s home with a knife.
The case had dismissed initially by Natrona County District Court Judge Catherine Wilking. At that time, Wyoming’s Stand Your Ground law was only a month old, and had not yet been used in a court case. Judge Wilking said that the new Stand Your Ground, as well as existing Castle Doctine law, both meant that Jason John was acting within the bounds of the law. Still, she encouraged an appeal, so that the wording of the new law could be tested in a higher court.
Why The Wording Matters
This Stand Your Ground law was filed and championed by Wyoming’s Second Amendment hero, Senator Anthony Bouchard. The wording of Bouchard’s bill intentionally required that all courts should have a ‘pretrial immunity hearing.’ This meant that a Judge would summarily dismiss a case immediately if the defendant could prove they qualified for immunity from prosecution under Stand Your Ground law. Bouchard’s law’s wording puts the burden of proof on the prosecutor to prove that the gun owner doesn’t qualify for this immunity.
Today’s victory was all the sweeter for upholding that exact wording!
This puts the judge in the role of a ‘gatekeeper’. This means the judge can simply dismiss cases where the gun owner was forced to defend themselves or their home–with minimal upset to the life of the gun owner. Fearing for your life and having to shoot somebody is traumatic enough. To then have to prove why you qualify for Stand Your Ground –rather than the prosecutor proving you don’t–is an extra burden.
Keeping “Pretrial Immunity” Was Half The Victory!
In the Court’s opinion, Justice Lynne Boomgaarden upheld the wording that Bouchard intentionally put into the bill. Boomgaarden said: “The district court correctly interpreted the plain language of (the law). Though (the applicable subsection) nowhere uses the word “immunity,” it is clearly an immunity provision carrying with it a judicial gatekeeping function to ensure the executive branch does not prosecute individuals who exercised reasonable force in self-defense. As such, (the subsection) preserves, rather than violates, the separation of powers between the legislature, executive, and judiciary.”
Months Of Effort and Many Opponents Crushed By Gun Owners
This bill faced opposition from all sides, but Bouchard was tireless in his efforts to advance gun rights. With help from the biggest gun rights group in the state, Wyoming Gun Owners, Bouchard hammered on cowardly legislators who tried to bury the bill.
When Senate President Drew Perkins tried to stop this bill with hostile amendments, gun owners pounded back with calls and emails demanding the Senate pass Stand Your Ground! Then Republican Governor Matt Mead refused to sign this bill–and even tried to kill it behind the scenes in Cheyenne! Republican Mead went on radio stations saying that this bill was ‘unnecessary.’ When it finally came to his desk, though, and he has the chance to veto it, he didn’t. Instead, he let it pass into law without his signature. Since he didn’t like the bill at all but yet didn’t veto it, all we can assume is that the pressure from gun owners was more than he could take.
These moves are common from limp-wristed Republicans who don’t want to stand for gun rights. It’s pathetic, but sadly not surprising.
Now Senator Bouchard’s wording of the law has stood the test of the Supreme Court! Wyoming gun owners can defend their lives and their homes without fear of unjust prosecution. That’s a darn good thing.