Imagine it’s Easter Sunday, you grab the kids, get in the car, and head over to grandma’s house. You are a responsible gun owner who has a valid and lawful concealed carry license. You believe in America and in lawfully exercising your civil liberties and rights. You carry your gun every day. There are a lot of crazies out there.
You go to grandma’s. She fixes a big brunch. You and the kids are happy as can be. You get in your car with the kids to go home. You are singing songs with the kids, laughing and having a good time. You are going the speed limit and obeying all of the traffic laws. You are on Nye’s Road in Lower Paxton Township, a very nice suburb of Harrisburg. Nye’s Road is a single lane in each direction that winds through the suburb connecting to the main roads that are several miles away.
Behind you is a large black SUV. At first you don’t even notice it. The big black SUV appears to be in a hurry. He begins to tailgate you. The large black SUV is on your tail for over a mile. So much so that the person directly behind the large black SUV is convinced at this point that this is “going to be a road rage incident.” You heart starts to pound. The kids see that you are nervous. They start looking back at the large black SUV and saying “Daddy, are we going to be ok?” You assure them that it’s going to be ok. There is silence in the car as the large black SUV is only inches away from your bumper for over a mile.
You see up ahead that there is a traffic signal. And it’s red. Your heart begins to race more. You are thinking to yourself “What do I do? If I stop, is he going to run into me? Is he going to hit me and the kids?” You begin to slow down, and you stop the car like a responsible and law abiding person. The large black SUV stops too. But the driver flings open his door and gets out. He leaves his door open. He is very big: six foot three inches and 265 pounds. Built like a defensive end. According to the driver who is in the car immediately behind the large black SUV, the 6’5” 265 pound man gets out “like he meant business.”
Quickly, the light turns green before the 6’5” 265 pound angry man gets more than 2 steps away from the large black SUV. You go through the intersection. But the 6’5” 265 pound angry man in the large black SUV doesn’t give up. He rushes up to your car and again begins to tail gate you. Just inches away.
You start coming up to the main road. But to get on the main road, there is an access point and a traffic light that acts like a choke point. As you get closer, you see that the light is red and there is a car in front of you. You are now totally boxed in.
You stop because you are forced to. The kids are now crying. They are scared. You can’t go forward. You can’t go backwards. Again, the 6’5” 265 pound angry man in the large black SUV jumps out. According to the guy directly behind the large black SUV who is watching this all unfold, the 6’5” 265 pound angry man is aggressive and making gestures.. He is walking up towards your car: the driver’s side of the car. You think to yourself “Oh my God! He’s going to hurt my kids.” You get out of the car. You face him. You pull your firearm. You don’t point it at him. You announce that you have a gun thinking to yourself that nobody in their right mind will keep coming. But unbeknownst to you, the 6’5” 265 pound angry man in the large black SUV is not in his right mind, he is drunk. He has a 0.156 BAC (nearly twice the legal limit) mid-morning on Easter Sunday. He keeps coming. You fire near him. You warn him verbally again. He still keeps coming. Your kids are in the back seat and he is within feet of the back door. You shoot again. You hit him in the leg. He finally stops. He turns around and gets into his SUV. He goes on the other side of the road and gets out on the main road and leaves. You call 911. You report where you are and say there was a shooting. You stay on the line. You lay down the gun on the ground. You back away from it.
You hear the police sirens. “Thank goodness they are coming”, you think to yourself. You tell the kids that everything is going to be ok because the police are coming. They arrive. You want to tell them what happened. But instead, they point their guns at you. They force you to turn around, and to get on your knees, crossing your legs with your hands interlaced over your head. They order your kids out and force them to do the same. They bum rush all three of you, tackling you and your kids. They put you and your kids in handcuffs. They separate you from your kids. You are beyond scared. You can’t even imagine the fear that your children are feeling.
They take you to the police station. You are still in handcuffs. You meet with the Detective. He is questioning you. He is hounding you. All you want to do is to see your kids to make sure they are ok. Unknown to you, your kids are in separate rooms from one another in handcuffs and being interrogated just like you.
You give a statement. You tell them everything. What do you have to hide? They tell you to sign your statement. You do so. You think that you are going to go home. You wait. Hours go by. The next thing you know you are facing a video screen and on the other end is a judge. He says that he is there to set bail and that you are being charged with Felony of the First Degree Attempted Homicide with a 40 year maximum sentence, a Felony of the First Degree Aggravated Assault with a 20 year maximum sentence, a Misdemeanor of the Second Degree Recklessly Endangering Another Person with a 2 year maximum sentence. You are told that there is a 5 year mandatory minimum because a gun was involved. Your head is spinning. The judge sets bail at $500,000 straight cash. You don’t have that type of money. You have never been in trouble before. This is not fair. You think to yourself, “What is going on?” You are whisked off to prison. You sit in prison awaiting your preliminary hearing. You wait over 11 months for trial.
The worst part is that the drunken driver who threatened you and your family is treated as the victim. The government doesn’t even try to charge him with the misdemeanor drunk driving charge. They are fully after you.
Do you think this could not happen to you?
That’s what Curtis Williams, Jr. thought too. But it happened to him.
On April 12, 2009, Curtis Williams and Harrison Purdy were driving on Nyes Road in Harrisburg, PA. Harrison Purdy was following Curtis Williams. Curtis Williams was traveling with his two children; his baby was in the back seat and his son in the passenger. At an intersection, after both cars were stopped, Harrison Purdy exited his car and began shouting. He claimed to be angered by William’s offensive driving and conduct. Williams exited his car and testified that he told Purdy to stop. Williams believed he saw Purdy go under his shirt for a gun. Fearing for his life and that of his children, Williams shot Purdy in the leg. Purdy was taken to the hospital where it was revealed he had a BAC of 0.156%.
Based on the shooting, Williams was arrested and charged with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, and recklessly endangering another person. Before trial the Commonwealth filed a motion to exclude Purdy’s BAC. The trial court granted the motion holding that Purdy’s BAC was not relevant and it was unfairly prejudicial to the government’s case. A trial was held and the BAC evidence was not allowed to be presented. The trial ended in an acquittal of the attempted homicide charges, but Williams was found guilty of aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.
Williams appealed but a three-judge panel of Superior Court judges agreed that the BAC evidence was inadmissible. The entire Superior Court or what is called an en banc panel disagreed, but one justice. They ruled that the trial court was incorrect because evidence of a witness’s intoxication is admissible impeachment evidence where the witness was intoxicated during the event to which he or she testifies. Basically, because Purdy was drunk at the time he was shot, the jury was entitled to know he was drunk in order to determine whether he was telling the truth.
Williams is now entitled to a new trial where the jury will hear for the first time all the evidence concerning this incident, including the fact that not only was Purdy admittedly aggressive and threatening when approaching Williams, who was protecting his two young children, but also Purdy was operating a car at almost twice the legal limit. Thanks to the eight members of the Superior Court this case for the first time has the opportunity to be decided on all the evidence.
The en banc opinion can be read here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/J-E02004-13o%20-%201017938642185246.pdf?cb=1
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