Charging crime victim with manslaughter seems wrong

The benefit of the doubt should go to the victim of a crime.

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When people are protecting themselves or their property with physical force, bad things can happen. People can be seriously hurt or even die.

That's what happened last week in Western Washington when a man attempting to steal a boat motor was killed by the boat's owner.

The death is unfortunate. However, had the man not attempted to steal the boat motor he would be alive today.

Yet, the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office is recommending to prosecutors that the boat owner be charged with a crime -- manslaughter.

That seems -- at least on the surface -- to be an injustice.

Now, to be clear, we do not know the details of the incident. The investigators might have evidence that this death did not occur exactly as it was portrayed in the Everett Herald newspaper.

According to the Herald, Dylan Thomas Jones, 23, reportedly was held down in a driveway by the a 67-year-old man who said he caught him attempting to steal an outboard motor from his boat, which was parked outside his house on a dead-end street near Everett.

Deputies found Jones lying on the ground near the house and was not breathing, according to the paper. The boat owner said he held down Jones to detain him for police after the two exchanged punches. The 67-year-old said he wrapped an arm around the younger man's neck and tried to stay on top of him.

"I was scared to death he was going to get up," he told The Herald the day after the confrontation. "Truthfully, I'm not fighting. I'm hanging on ... I hung on because I was scared."

We would hope the benefit of the doubt would go to the victim of a crime.

After all, a victim is by definition thrust into these dangerous situations. There should be an understanding that when people are confronted by an intruder or someone who is threatening to do them harm they will react, perhaps even overreact, as their adrenaline will be pumping. It is the criminals who causes the confrontations to occur so they must bear the responsibility for what happens.

Prosecuting victims for the harm that has occurred to alleged criminals sends a chilling message. It could cause some to question the wisdom of defending themselves or their property with any type of physical force or even firearms.

Again, there might be more to this story than has been reported, but if this was simply a case of a victim using a bit too much force in trying to subdue a thief then it would be wrong to charge him with manslaughter.

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