Michigan Legal Milestones
21. Pond's Defense

Michigan Supreme Court Justice James Campbell authored an important decision about self-defense and defense of others in 1860 in Pond v. People, and overturned a lower court decision finding Augustus Pond, an Upper Peninsula fisherman, guilty of manslaughter. Dedicated and placed outside City Hall on Mackinac Island on June 10, 1995.

Michigan Bar Journal

Michigan Bar Journal

The Verdict of History: The History of Michigan Jurisprudence Through its Supreme Court Cases
December 2008


Resources

Pond v. People: Michigan Sets a Legal Precedent by Larry Peterson. Excerpted with permission from Michigan History Magazine March/April 2011

Complete Text on Milestone Marker

Pond's Defense

Augustus Pond, a fisherman from nearby Seul Choix, was convicted in this building in 1859 of manslaughter. In 1860 the Michigan Supreme Court reversed Pond's conviction, clarifying a legal principle of self-defense that is followed to this day.

Isaac Blanchard and two confederates had for three days challenged Pond, his family, and Pond's hired hands, Cull and Whitney. One night, the three began tearing down Pond's net house and attacked Cull, who was sleeping inside. Pond confronted the men, and upon hearing Cull's cries, called out: "Leave, or I'll shoot." The three men continued and Pond fired, killing Blanchard. A jury sitting here sentenced Pond to 10 years' confinement at hard labor.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice James V. Campbell, a towering figure in the state's legal history, wrote the historic decision overturning the conviction. Justice Campbell stressed, "Human life is not to be lightly disregarded, and the law will not permit it to be destroyed unless upon urgent occasion." This, Justice Campbell wrote, was such an 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 and to prevent his forcible entry, even to the taking of life . . . (unless) he can otherwise arrest or repel the assailant."

The issue remains difficult, but Justice Campbell's reasoning continues as it has for generations, to guide our courts and juries.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the 50th Judicial Circuit Bar Association, 1995.