Correction: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Smith received the life sentence in 2021. He received it in 2022.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – If a defendant is claiming self-defense in a deadly shooting, but they weren’t legally permitted to have that gun, does the jury have to know about it?
The South Dakota Supreme Court considered the question on Thursday. Ramon Smith received a life sentence in 2022 for the 2019 murder of Larry Carr Jr. Smith claimed he acted in self-defense and that he was protecting his sister and her girlfriend.
The evidence that Smith was unable to legally have a gun received justices’ attention on Thursday when the South Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case.
“With respect to this testimony from the law enforcement officer who testified real briefly that the defendant was a convicted felon and couldn’t possess a gun, judge allowed that testimony to come in,” Chief Justice Steven Jensen said. “Tell me why you think that ruling was erroneous.”
“We thought that that was certainly irrelevant, overly prejudicial, and it didn’t go to anything as far as whether this killing was lawful or not,” said Manuel de Castro Jr., who represented Smith.
Justice Patricia DeVaney looked for clarity on this question, too.
“There are standards set out for what constitutes self-defense and a reasonable perception of an imminent threat,” DeVaney said. “So how does whether or not you possess the gun lawfully or unlawfully relate to your perception of the immediate threat that would allow you to use self-defense. I’m not getting the logical connection there.”
Assistant Attorney General Stephan Gemar argued on behalf of the state. He says the information about illegally having the gun was a piece of the overall puzzle.
“It was the defendant’s knowledge that he was unable to possess a firearm and under the justifiable homicide jury instruction, the jury needed to consider what a reasonable person in defendant’s position would have done, and that includes what the defendant knew,” Gemar said.
The justices will render a decision on this case in the future.