Alabama’s Brittany Smith is living every woman’s worst nightmare – all because she tried to do a favour for someone she barely knew. Now she could spend the rest of her life in prison for shooting and killing the man she says brutally raped her twice and was attempting to kill her brother.
Imagine yourself in Brittany’s shoes.
January 16, 2018.
Someone you know only because you bought a dog from him, calls one evening and says he’s stranded, You’re the closest person who can help. Will you come pick him up and let him stay the night? He promises to leave first thing in the morning.
Against your better judgement you say yes. To ensure your safety you get your brother to drive with you to pick up the man and bring him back to your place. Your brother, believing everything is okay, leaves.
Then things go sideways. Seriously sideways.
The man, a sweet Dr, Jeckyl while your brother was there, flips a switch in his head and out pops the evil Mr. Hyde. He punches you in the face, knocks you out, then rapes you the first time.
When you regain consciousness he rapes you again.
Somehow you manage to get a message to your mother and brother that you desperately need help and your brother comes to the rescue. And he brings his gun.
When your brother arrives he, for reasons you’ll never understand, puts his gun down on a counter and attempts to talk the rapist into getting out of your house.
He promptly attacks your brother and, in an effort to stop him from being beaten to death before your very eyes, you pick up your brother’s gun and shoot the man once, and when that doesn’t stop him, you shoot him a couple more times.
The man falls off your brother. You call the police, and they send an ambulance. The man who raped you twice is pronounced dead at the emergency room of the local hospital.
You feel a bunch of conflicting emotions at once. First, relief and gratitude your nightmare is over, and second, horror that you were forced to kill this man inside your own home, the one place you should be the safest.
You soon learn your nightmare is not, in fact, over at all. It’s just begun.
Police arrest you and charge you with murder.
Despite your home state’s Stand Your Ground law, which allows you to defend yourself or your family members from being attacked, the District Attorney wants to make an example of you and send you to prison for the rest of your life.
My overview is necessarily brief, but I recommend Lauren Gill’s excellent and extremely detailed piece at Appeal.org.
Fair Warning: A lot of what you will read in Lauren Gill’s article will probably make you sick to your stomach. The entire system and the people who work in it appear determined to drive a bus over Brittany and send her to prison for the rest of her life.
A Baffling Outcome
Victor Revill, an Alabama criminal-defense attorney who has handled many Stand Your Ground claims, reviewed Brittany Smith’s case. His analysis was Brittany’s case is “Stand Your Ground all day.”
“That situation is one of the reasons why this law is in place,” said Victor Revill. “If her brother was saving her from her kidnapper or her rapist and then kidnapper is trying to fight her brother, in her situation you have the right to defend yourself and you have the right to defend the other person as well.”
All she needed to do is win a Stand Your Ground hearing and all charges against her would be dismissed, but that’s the problem.
Brittany Smith got the hearing but lost.
On February 3, 2020, Judge Jenifer Holt denied the Brittany Smith protection under Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law.
In a 19-page order, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Jenifer Holt wrote on Monday that Brittany, who was charged with first-degree murder for killing an acquaintance, Joshua “Todd” Smith, “did not credibly demonstrate that she reasonably believed it was necessary for her to use deadly force in this situation.”
The decision came after Brittany testified in an emotional hearing last month that Todd raped her, threatened to kill her and her family, and “was fixing to kill my brother,” Chris McCallie, by choking him in a headlock. Jackson County District Attorney Jason Pierce, who has fought for two years to win a murder conviction, argued that Todd was the victim and not a threat to Brittany and Chris.
A favorable decision for Brittany would have resulted in immunity from prosecution.
Brittany’s mother, Ramona McCallie, told The Appeal on Tuesday that she wasn’t surprised by Holt’s decision. “We all know that the Stand Your Ground law wasn’t created for women,” she said. “We’re disappointed, but not defeated. Just have to keep fighting another day.”
In her decision, Holt found that although the 33 wounds reviewed by a rape crisis center nurse in the courtroom were “consistent with physical assault,” Brittany had “many opportunities to seek protection from Todd” if she was in fear for her life. Holt also wrote that Brittany had trapped Todd in the kitchen by standing between him and the door, and he had no way to escape. “The defendant was armed with a revolver and Todd was unarmed,” she wrote.
Brittany testified that she had agreed to let Todd sleep on her couch in Stevenson, Alabama, after he told her he was stranded in a snowy park. They were engaged in conversation before he suddenly turned violent, she said. Chris then came to her defense, after learning Todd had raped her, she said. When she ran into the kitchen, she testified that she saw Chris losing in a fight against Todd and it appeared as if he were struggling to breathe. Brittany then gave Todd a warning before firing at him, she said.
Judge Jenifer Holt’s decision in Brittany Smith’s case is being appealed.
Stand Your Ground Laws
State-level self-defence laws in America fall into three broad categories:
- Stand Your Ground: No duty to retreat from the situation before resorting to deadly force; not limited to your property (home, office, etc.).
- Castle Doctrine: Limited to real property, such as your home, yard, or private office; no duty to retreat (use of deadly force against intruders is legal in most situations); some states, like Missouri and Ohio, even include personal vehicles.
- Duty to Retreat: Must retreat from the situation if you feel threatened (use of deadly force is considered a last resort); may not use deadly force if you are safely inside your home.
Alabama is a Stand Your Ground state. Under the state’s law, Brittany Smith’s case should be a slam dunk to qualify and have all charges dismissed. For reasons unknown, the District Attorney in her case is pushing hard for murder charges, despite all the evidence, including a rape kit that identified over 30 wounds on her body.