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Free Bird? the Case of New Hampshire v. Ward Bird: A Miscarriage of Justice? Part I: The Facts of the Case

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The Ward Bird case has generated a great deal of local, and even national, attention.  On its face, the fact that a man with no criminal record whose only action was showing a gun to an intruder suggests an extreme miscarriage of justice.  The cases raise questions about the freedom a property owner to act in self-defense on his or her own property, judicial power, and the wisdom of laws establishing minimum mandatory sentences that are imposed without the benefit of a judicial “safety valve.”  The facts of the case, as recounted by the New Hampshire Supreme Court in its October 27, 2010 decision, are as follows:

Christine Harris arranged to meet a real estate agent on March 27, 2006, at his office to view a property for sale in Moultonborough owned by Patricia Viano that Harris was interested in purchasing. That day, she called the real estate agent to inform him she was running late and could not make the appointment. Because he could not meet her later that day, she decided to look at the property herself. During her drive to the property, she became lost and stopped at the home of the defendant’s niece, where she asked for directions. The niece told her that the most direct route to the property was Emerson Path to Yukon Trail, and then a road to the left with a small bridge over a stream. The niece told her that if she passed a white “job trailer,” she was on the wrong property.

After Harris left the home of the defendant’s niece, the niece telephoned the defendant to warn him that Harris was going to look at the Viano property and that she might show up on his property. She also told the defendant that Harris was driving a Ford Ranger. Harris followed the niece’s directions and drove past signs that stated: “Private road, keep out” on Emerson Path and “no trespassing” on Yukon Trail. She missed the left-hand turn off of Yukon Trail, drove past the white trailer, and ended up in front of the defendant’s house. She parked her car and got out. The defendant emerged from his home “screaming, get the F off my property.” He came down from his porch, continuing to yell profanities while waving a gun at her. At trial, she testified that he pointed the gun “[t]owards” her. Harris asked the defendant whether he was the boyfriend of the woman selling the property. He repeated his command for her to leave his property. Harris eventually climbed back into her car, mouthing “[w]hat an ass.” The defendant then walked off the porch toward her waving his gun as she backed out of the driveway.

Over the next several days, we will be updating this series of postings on the Ward Bird case, addressing the law of criminal threatening, prosecutor’s exercise of discretion, the right of self-defense and the duty to behave reasonably, and the merits of statutory mandatory minimum sentences, such as the one imposed on Mr. Bird.