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Self-Defense Available to Prisoners in Federal Guard Assault Cases

A federal prisoner charged with assaulting a guard may claim self-defense in limited circumstances, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided January 12, 2010.

Michael Gore got into a fight with Lieutenant Kevin Jensen and CO Gregory Feathers at FCI Gilmer. Gore was later charged with violating 18 U.S.C. §111.

At trial, Gore asked the judge to give the jury a self-defense instruction. The court obliged, but the instruction the judge gave to the jury was limited. Gore was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 87 months imprisonment. Gore appealed.

After looking at the history of §111 and the origins of the common-law right to self-defense, the Fourth Circuit concluded that “in the appropriate case, federal courts may instruct the jury on a common-law justification defense to a §111 charge based on self-defense.”

Any such instruction, though, would be confined to instances where a prisoner resists because “he faces an unlawful and present threat of serious bodily injury or death, not when he feels oppressed and unreasonably believes that he might be facing excessive force,” the court wrote.

Gore’s conduct did not fit this criteria; accordingly, the judgment of the district court was affirmed.

See: United States v. Gore, 592 F.3d 489. (4th Cir. 2010).

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Related legal case

United States v. Gore