Case pits state law v. Rifle Codes | PostIndependent.com
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Case pits state law v. Rifle Codes

Amanda Holt MillerWestern Garfield County Staff

RIFLE – The longest Rifle Municipal Court jury trial in recent history has brought some interesting legal questions to the forefront.In the trial, Travis Dice was found not guilty of interfering with a peace officer, and Brett Smith was found not guilty of resisting arrest. Their joint trial wrapped up Friday. Peace officers used tasers on both men during the early morning on Third Street in Rifle on Aug. 15, 2004. The defense was allowed to enter only limited evidence having to do with tasers.”This was one of the most interesting municipal court cases I’ve handled in the last two and a half years,” said Rifle Municipal Court Judge Victor Zerbi. “It was well-tried on both sides, and the jury had some difficult issues to consider.”The case pitted Rifle city codes against state statutes, which is how Zerbi instructed the jury to consider the case. If Zerbi’s decisions in the case are appealed, the state or federal government could determine which laws will stick – state or city. Appeals will not effect the not-guilty verdict for Dice and Smith.The two men were found not guilty on the grounds that they acted in self-defense. That was a defense Walter Brown, the men’s attorney, almost wasn’t allowed to enter. Old Rifle Codes, created in the 1980s, state that a person cannot use self-defense against an officer when the officer is pursuing an arrest, said Ed Sands, the city prosecuting attorney. State statutes, on the other hand, say that a person can defend themselves against a police officer. Rifle codes also state a person can only justify self-defense when there is an “actual” threat. State statutes say a person can use self-defense when there is a perceived threat.”The difference is that the Rifle Codes are more objective, and the State Statutes are more subjective,” Sands said. “Judge Zerbi applied the state statutes.”Sands said Rifle is a home-rule municipality, and it’s permitted to make laws that conflict with the state statutes. Part of the problem in this case was that the codes having to do with self-defense were omitted from the most recent Rifle codes.The jury leader told Sands after the trial ended that the instructions Zerbi gave about self-defense impacted the jury’s decision.Sands is writing a memorandum to City Manager John Hier and City Attorney Lee Leavenworth. They will consider appealing the legal decisions.Brown has filed a civil suit with the state He has not served papers to the city yet.Contact Amanda Holt Miller at 625-3245, ext. 103ahmiller@postindependent.com


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