The Troubling And Tragic Case Of Brittany Smith

Brittany Smith, an Alabama woman charged with murder in the death of a man who assaulted her, has lost a Stand Your Ground hearing in which her attorneys argued that she was acting in self-defense and in defense of her brother when she shot and killed a man named Todd Smith back in January of 2018. The New Yorker‘s Elizabeth Flock has a must-read write up on Smith’s case and the concern that Smith and other women aren’t receiving justice when they defend themselves against their abusers.

Witnesses for Brittany Smith testified during the Stand Your Ground hearing that she had injuries and bruising consistent with being assaulted, and several women talked about being violently attacked by Todd Smith in years past. Smith himself had a lengthy criminal record with more than 80 arrests, and toxicology reports showed he was high on meth when he was shot.

Brittany Smith says she was forced to shoot Todd Smith after he raped her in her home and then began to assault her brother when he showed up, concerned for her safety. Unfortunately, Brittany Smith’s story changed over time. She originally told 911 that she had not been raped, for instance, and she and her brother also told police in her first interview that it was her brother, not her, who fired the shots that killed Todd Smith. According to the New Yorker‘s Flock, those inconsistencies influenced the judge’s decision to deny Brittany Smith’s Stand Your Ground defense.

In his closing argument, Brittany’s lawyer, Ron Smith, asserted that Brittany’s actions were clear self-defense. “She believed Todd Smith was going to cause serious injury to herself or her brother,” her lawyer said. “He was told to leave. He did not leave. He unlawfully remained.” In Alabama, he contended, unlawfully remaining is the very definition of burglary. If sexual assault would not convince the judge that Todd had been a threat, it seemed, perhaps an argument of burglary would. It did not.

Go read Flock’s entire piece for Brittany Smith’s full story. It’s clear that Flock believes Brittany Smith is telling the truth, and she’s a powerful advocate for Smith’s case. Flock also believes that women in Alabama simply aren’t likely to receive justice when they kill their abusers in self-defense, and says the problem is far bigger than Brittany Smith’s current murder charge.

Outside the courthouse, after the testimony was over, a woman approached me on the lawn. She told me that she had previously thought about what it would take for a woman’s self-defense case to be found justified, after a past partner had put her head under a tire while his friend revved the engine. In addition to that, she said, he’d held a phone line around her neck, threatened her with a knife, and “cold-cocked me in the face.” Nearly every woman I had spoken to in Jackson County had a story of domestic violence to share, yet the shock of hearing these stories had not worn off. At first, the woman gave me her name, but then she said that she was worried, even years later, about what her former partner might do. “What would happen if I’d shot him then?” she asked, but she already knew. Her fate would likely have been the same as Brittany’s.

One of my go-to hashtags on Twitter when sharing armed citizen stories is #SelfDefenseIsAHumanRight. As Second Amendment supporters, we need to ensure that is actually the case, and it sounds like there are some serious concerns when it comes to the idea of armed self-defense against domestic abusers in the state of Alabama.

I would love to see Gov. Kay Ivey or Attorney General Steve Marshall investigate this issue. We need to spread some sunlight on what’s taking place in the criminal justice system, but we also need to look beyond the law to see if there are cultural influences that inhibit the idea that a woman who’s being assaulted and in fear for her life can’t protect herself with a firearm. In other words, we need to make sure that self defense really is a human right, and not just a hashtag.