Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Pickup Is My Rolling Castle

Waco Tribune - A home is a person’s castle, and property owners should have the right to shoot at anyone who tries to break into that occupied metaphoric building, whether it is a house, vehicle or workplace, supporters of revisions to Texas’ self-defense laws say.

And now that the Texas Senate and House have approved legislation detailing that right, “castle doctrine” could become law as soon as Sept. 1.

Since 1995, Texans could claim self-defense if they used deadly force while someone unlawfully and forcefully entered their home — without having to prove they first tried to retreat.

Now, advocates of the castle doctrine, including the National Rifle Association, want that right extended to vehicles and businesses. They also want to give enhanced protection against unjustified prosecution and lawsuits.

However, some prosecutors are worried that such changes could make it impossible to win a case against someone who makes a false self-defense claim.

Despite such concerns, the proposal has garnered overwhelming support among legislators, with more than 100 sponsors in the House and 28 co-authors in the Senate. Texas would be the 16th state to pass such a law since 2005.

Sen. Kip Averitt, R-McGregor, one of the sponsors, said the legislation was a “common-sense deal” that provides “one more layer of security for property owners.”

Although opponents have said the legislation would allow people to “shoot first and ask questions later,” Tara Reilly Mica, a NRA lobbyist, said citizens must have the law on their side if facing a lethal attack.

“Certainly nobody has an attorney beside them at all times where they can seek legal advice in that split second when something is happening,” she said.

Removing need to retreat

For incidents occurring in vehicles and places of employment or business, the bill would strike the “duty to retreat” provision added to Texas law in 1973. It also would provide protection from lawsuits filed by injured attackers or their family members.

But prosecutors have been rankled by a provision that would require juries and judges to be instructed to presume a person is justified in using deadly force in these situations. Currently, judges and juries are allowed to decide whether those who use deadly force were acting “reasonably” in determining whether a self-defense claim is justified.

Prosecutors worry that the presumption would be impossible to rebut in a trial in which someone falsely claims self-defense, said Shannon Edmonds, legislative liaison for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

“Most prosecutors think the status quo is working fine. There wasn’t any testimony otherwise at any of the hearings,” Edmonds said, referring to witnesses who spoke during Texas House and Senate committee meetings.

Well Do Ya Punk?