Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Businessman Stan Pate Exonerated of Menacing Charge by State Supreme Court

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Businessman Stan Pate Exonerated of Menacing Charge by State Supreme Court

Article excerpt

TUSCALOOSA | The Alabama Supreme Court has cleared local businessman and property developer Stan Pate of the misdemeanor charge of menacing that stemmed from a 2009 confrontation at a now- defunct restaurant.

In a 4-2 decision, the state's high court ruled Wednesday that the act of holding a gun during a dispute does not constitute the crime of menacing.

In fact, walking toward someone while holding a firearm doesn't meet the legal definition of the crime either, according to Alabama Supreme Court Justice James Allen Main, who wrote the opinion for the court's majority.

That's because the Alabama criminal code lacks a specific definition of what, exactly, makes up a "physical act" during the commission of a menacing crime.

Main cited prior case law that requires the criminal code to be interpreted narrowly, any doubts of the meaning of the language should be decided in the defendant's favor and that an accused suspect "is not to be subjected to a penalty unless the words of the statute plainly impose it."

"Consistent with the foregoing and applying the principles of statutory construction, we conclude that Pate's getting the gun, without more, was not sufficient to establish the physical-action element of menacing," Main said in his majority opinion.

Pate was aware of the timing of the court's ruling coming as the nation prepares to celebrate its independence.

"It makes me proud to say I'm an American citizen on this eve of the Fourth of July," Pate said. "In my heart, it's the right day to be vindicated."

Pate was arrested on the misdemeanor menacing charge a week after a Sept. 30, 2009, dispute between him and the general manager of the now-

defunct Santa Fe Cattle Co. restaurant near the intersection of Skyland Boulevard and Alabama Highway 69, which had permanently closed a few days earlier. The business had operated in a building and on land owned by Pate's development company, but it was shut down as part of the restaurant chain's bankruptcy restructuring.

The dispute between Pate and the restaurant employees was over what items the restaurant's owners were allowed to remove from the premises. At the time, Pate said that about $500,000 worth of property was removed from the building and that the business owners owed him more than $4 million in rent. Pate contended that the property -- including booths, stoves and industrial sinks -- belonged to him pending payment of that debt.

During the argument, Pate grabbed a 12-gauge shotgun from his vehicle while ordering Brian Hart, the restaurant's general manager, to get off his property. Pate never pointed the weapon at Hart, and police officers summoned to the restaurant decided Pate had not acted illegally.

However, Hart pressed charges and Pate was arrested on Oct. 6, 2009. Five months later, Pate was convicted of misdemeanor menacing in Tuscaloosa Municipal Court. …

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