Gran Torino and the Castle Doctrine

My wife and I saw Gran Torino last night. GT is a great film worthy of all the Oscar buzz. I don’t usually do movie reviews but here goes.

GT is a formulaic Eastwood in a good way. Dramatic, funny, and ultimately tragic. The whole time I was just waiting for things to go horribly wrong Million Dollar Baby style. And wrong they went.

Spoiler alert- I’m going to give away the ending so we can discuss the castle doctrine. If you aren’t willing to trade your surprise for this discussion click here.

Client Eastwood’s character Walt is a bigoted veteran who loses his wife. Walt befriends a young boy (Toad) and his sister who live next door. Toad and his sister are harassed by local gang members.

During an altercation Walt points his M1 rifle at the gang. Later, Walt beats the crap out of one gang member. Finally, the gang members assault Toad and rape his sister. You know this isn’t going to end well.

Dirty Harry shows up at the gang’s house for a final confrontation. Walt points his finger at the gang members and says “bang”, shooting them with an imaginary hand pistol. The gang members are nervous, and armed with an assortment of firearms.

Suddenly, Walt reaches into his jacket. The gang members quickly fire multiple rounds into the Space Cowboy, killing him. Walt wasn’t carrying a gun, only his lighter. The gang members are arrested with the expectation of long prison sentences.

Such is the ending of Gran Torino. Walt sacrifices his life so his friends can live in peace. Typical depressing Eastwoodian conclusion.

The movie took place in Michigan. Would Walt’s plan work in Texas? Would the gang members go to prison? Or would the castle doctrine have justified their use of deadly force?


If you must read my wildly speculative thoughtless ramblings the discussion is below the jump.

What is the Castle Doctrine?
The last legislative session revised the deadly force provisions of the penal code. This change gave greater protection to those who use deadly force to defend their property. Normally, Governor Perry would veto any measure that would prevent criminal convictions. Ultimately, the GOP love of guns trumped their disdain for the rights of the accused.

The right to defend oneself from an imminent act of harm should not only be clearly defined in Texas law, but it is intuitive to human nature. You ought to be able to protect yourself,” Perry said, surrounded by lawmakers who pushed for the law.

If you are collecting all the Rick Perry quotes supporting greater rights for criminal defendants, there it is.

Ok. So, what is the law?

Much of the castle doctrine changes took place Texas Penal Sec. 9.32.

Here is a summary. Hire an attorney to read the law to you, before doing, or not doing, anything.

A person is justified in using deadly force against another if the actor reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force.

There is a presumption the conduct is immediately necessary if, inter alia, the deadly force user does not provoke the situation, or violate any other laws during the incident. Finally, there are no requirement to attempt to retreat.

Back to Gran Torino.
To justify their use of deadly force the gang members needed a reasonable belief that Walt was going to use deadly force. That shouldn’t be a problem if Unforgiven could be admitted as Exhibit A for the defense. Barring that, the prior contact between the parties would be relevant.

Clint had assaulted one of the gang members, and pointed a gun at all of them. The gang member know that a) Walt is crazy pissed at them, b) he has a gun and c) even though he is old he can, and will still kick your ass. Finally, Walt points his finger at each while saying “bang” which could be threatening, or just weird.

Is that enough for a reasonable belief Walt is about to use deadly force? Maybe. That’s a fact issue for the jury. (I know that’s a non answer, but you try writing a legal opinion about a movie shooting.)

The gang members would not qualify for the presumption that the conduct was immediately necessary. The gang members had automatic weapons (breaking the law) and provoked the situation (rape and assault of Toad and his sister).

Reasonableness and immediate necessity would be contested issue at trial. However, there is a chance these gang members would not have been convicted in Texas.

This uncertainty demands a sequel. Gran Torino 2 could focus on the trial and deadly force issues. If Mr. Eastwood is reading this (I have no doubt, none, that he checks this blog daily), I did some theater in high school (the Crucible, It’s a Wonderful Life) and would love to read for the film. I could be a lawyer, Yum Yum’s uncle, Walt’s long lost brother who shows up to finish off the gang members. Just call me.

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2 responses to “Gran Torino and the Castle Doctrine”

  1. maryland criminal lawyer says:

    I had my doubts about this movie but now you have prompted me to go see it, especially with the controversy it creates.

  2. I will play Walt’s long-lost son, a former Navy SEAL/brain-washed CIA assassin who went underground when his superiors sold him out, who hides his caring heart beneath a bitter, cold, ruthless exterior, and who is making his way through the world atoning for his sins by helping those he finds in need.

    It’s a totally original character. I may throw in a case of amnesia just to make it all the more unique.

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