The Pioneer Press is citing Minnesota’s “good Samaritan law” in its story about the still-unnamed guy who chased down an apparent armed robber and shot him dead in south Minneapolis Friday night. The Strib also is describing the shooter as a “good Samaritan” and is quoting a source who says the fatal shooting likely was legally justified.
Not so fast.
As the Minnesota Court of Appeals explained in a 2002 decision, the purpose of Minnesota’s good Samaritan law “is to encourage laypersons to help those in need, even when they are under no legal obligation to do so, by providing immunity from liability claims arising out of an attempt to assist a person in peril.”
Is an armed robber’s victim “in peril” when — as here — the mugger flees the scene? Likely, no. Plus, the law does not shield a gunman from criminal liability. Further, Minnesota’s good Sam law, like all others, is intended to protect us against getting sued for not giving CPR properly or getting in an accident while driving an injured child to the hospital. I’m not aware of anything to suggest it was intended to shield a gunman from liability for chasing down and killing an apparent armed robber who was fleeing the scene of the crime.
The newspapers suggest that because the “good Samaritan” had a handgun permit, different rules apply. They don’t. The Minnesota “Personal Protection Act” is not a license to use deadly force to protect or recover personal property such as a purse—let alone someone else’s. The Star Tribune quotes a firearms trainer and vice president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance who claims Minnesotans are “completely justified in shooting” if they give chase and the confrontation turned violent. But arguably, such a “good Samaritan” who chases an armed robber knows the confrontation could turn violent and knowingly and voluntarily put himself in a situation where self-defense might very well be necessary.
All this being said, judging from commenters to the newspapers’ stories, many Minnesotans would find the killing justified, and as is typical a grand jury probably will decide whether the “good Samaritan” should be charged. He very well might not be, and even if he is he might very well be acquitted. But despite the newspaper reports, the gunman does not really fit the legal definition of “good Samaritan.”