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Pond’s Defense: Self-Defense on Mackinac Island

Clarkston Legal Feb. 17, 2016

One of the most famous tourist spots in Michigan, iconic Mackinac Island, has played a surprisingly important role in our state’s history. The island was a key battleground in the War of 1812 when the British attempted to retake our country, landing on the island from the North, taking some high-ground, and with the assistance of the local Indians, surprising the garrison of U.S. soldiers and taking Fort Mackinac.

Mackinac Island also played an important role in our legal jurisprudence a few decades later, when a small group of soldiers wound-up on the island and began to harass Agustus Pond, his family and his hired hands. Eventually, the three rogue commandos entered onto Pond’s property, damaging one of his out houses and assaulting one of his hands.

Hearing the commotion, Pond gave fair warning for the soldiers to leave his property or he said he would shoot. When they continued to assault his hand, he took aim, shot and killed the ring-leader of the trio.

Pond went on trial in the courthouse pictured above and was jury-convicted and sentenced to ten years hard labor. In reversing his conviction in an 1860 decision, Michigan Supreme Court Justice James V. Campbell clarified Michigan’s law of self-defense writing:

Human life is not to be lightly disregarded, and the law will not permit it to be destroyed unless upon urgent occasion. A man is not, however, obliged to retreat if assaulted in his dwelling, but may use such means as are absolutely necessary to repel the assailant, or to prevent his forcible entry, even to the taking of life…unless…he can otherwise arrest or repel the assailant.

This holding is known as Pond’s defense. It is not the last word on the difficult topic of self-defense and the defense of one’s residence, but it continues to guide judges and juries here in the post-modern era of the Twenty First Century, some 155 years later.

If you or a family member have been charged with assault but have a viable self-defense, you should give serious consideration to hiring a criminal defense lawyer. We offer free consultations to explore such options.