Minnesota: Weiss Case Dismissed, the Problem with Duty To Retreat

We Drive Late at Night, and Trouble is Waiting- More Self Defense Gun Stories.
We Drive Late at Night, and Trouble is Waiting- More Self Defense Gun Stories.

U.S.A.-(AmmoLand.com)-– On January 14, 2018, in Rochester, Minnesota, Alexander Weiss stopped to help people who were involved in a traffic accident. He ended in a confrontation with aggressive teenagers. Muhammed Rahim was claimed to have grabbed for Weiss’ handgun. Weiss shot and killed him. Surveillance video caught most of the action.

Early in the confrontation, Weiss had an opportunity to drive away.

Alexander Weiss was prosecuted in two trials, six months apart.  Both trials ended with hung juries and mistrials.  In November of 2019, the prosecutor dismissed the charges.

Finally, in May of 2020, a judge granted a motion to expunge the charges and seal them from the public record. From kalltv.com:

27-year-old Alexander Weiss was charged with second degree murder and tried twice. Both time the jury was deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial.

All charges against Weiss were dismissed in November.

A motion was filed in January for an expungement and was granted last month. His record still exists but is no longer public record.

In the first trial, the defending attorney believed a majority of the jury voted to find his client not guilty. After the second trial, it was revealed majorities of both juries voted to acquit. From the startribune.com:

The first jury was split 9 to 3 to acquit, and the second was either 8 to 4 or 7 to 5 to acquit, Ostrem said. In both cases, jurors took votes early in deliberations and were of the same opinion after deliberations.

A retired federal officer told me that a decision to retry a defendant, when there is a majority vote to acquit, is uncommon.

The decision to retry after a 9-3 vote to acquit is highly unusual. The prosecutor acknowledged as much when he announced the dismissal. From twincities.com:

County Attorney Mark Ostrem said a unanimous verdict is highly improbable, so he has a legal obligation to dismiss the charge.

In the American justice system, there is significant punishment by process. Minnesota is one of a minority of American states which still have laws with a “duty to retreat” before deadly force can be justified. From uslawshield.com:

Fourteen states continue to impose some form of a legal duty to retreat: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. It is important to note that most states impose a legal duty to retreat only if it can be shown that the defender knew or should have known there was a reasonably safe way to retreat.

It was reported the duty to retreat was a significant part of jury deliberations in the two trials. Seven of the fourteen states which still have a “duty to retreat”; Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, are 7 of the 8 states which infringe on Second Amendment rights by allowing public officials to deny carry permits based on subjective criteria.

The doctrine of a duty to retreat is failing in the United States.

Alexander Weiss survived the deadly encounter. He survived the two trials. He obtained a court order to expunge the charges and seal the results. He probably has re-considered the choices he made hundreds or thousands of times.

Could he have avoided the encounter by driving away? Probably.

Would it be good public policy to require him to do so? That answer seems less than clear.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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