Here is yet another noteworthy case out of the Sixth Circuit (and, once again, kind of, Tennessee): United States v. Walker.
Jerry Walker received a 19-year federal prison stint. He then received a five-year period of supervised release in 2013, at which point he moved to Alabama. There, the dog belonging to Walker’s neighbor would repeatedly defecate and urinate on Walker’s lawn. On one occasion, when Walker confronted the neighbor about the matter, the neighbor moved toward Walker with a stick in his hand. After an argument, Walker attacked the neighbor with a machete. According to the court’s description of the facts, “Walker severely cut his neighbor’s arm (requiring it to be amputated), shattered the neighbor’s other elbow, slashed the neighbor’s head, and severed a nerve in the neighbor’s leg.” The neighbor otherwise survived the attack.
Walker now has two legal problems. One is that Alabama law apparently takes a dim view of attacking your neighbor with a machete, because Walker has now been indicted in Alabama for attempted murder. But a second problem for Walker is that his supervised released from federal prison required him to obey all state laws. The District Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee (which had jurisdiction over Walker’s initial federal conviction) therefore sentenced Walker to five more years in federal prison for violating the terms of his supervised release.
On appeal to the Sixth Circuit, Walker said the District Court should have accounted for his claim of self-defense. But Walker admitted to violating state law, and that admission was enough to impose a federal sentence on the supervised release violation. It then becomes a question of reasonableness, and here is where Walker beleives that his state law claim of self-defense makes the five-year sentence unreasonable. But the court wasn’t buying it: Alabama, as in other states, requires reasonable belief of imminent force before a person can act in self-defense. Here, Walker had no reasonable basis for believing that the neighbor would use the stick against him. Moreover, the force Walker used was disproportionate, which also vitiates a claim of self-defense. As the Sixth Circuit put it, even assuming that the neighbor was planning to use the stick: “Walker brought a machete to a stick fight . . .” Walker could not overcome this legal reality with his claims that the machete was a mere “garden implement” or that Alabama self-defense law is like “war.”
One of the more remarkable aspects of the case comes at the end of the court’s opinion. The court noted that Walker “it turns out, has several redeeming qualities.” The court noted that he was a model prisoner during his initial federal sentence, that he protected a prison guard from an assault, that he was a model citizen once released, garnered a job, paid old fines so that he could obtain a driver’s license, moved to Alabama to be near his mother, and kept a tidy house. Still, the court explained, “Being a model citizen for 364 days of the year is not of much use if this is what happens on the 365th day.”
Accordingly, the court held, the sentence was reasonable, and affirmed.