Last month in Florida, 19-year-old Antonio Gordon knocked out the front teeth of a 13-year-old boy in a bowling alley parking lot. In response, 17-year-old Marqualle Woolbright shot Gordon in the chest with a .22 caliber handgun, killing him. No murder charges have been filed, though. This is because Florida has a law that adheres to the Stand Your Ground principle, allowing someone to use deadly force in self-defense or defense of another without having to attempt to retreat first. 5th Circuit Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said, “It was a justifiable use of deadly force. [Gordon] was beating on the guy in the back seat. This was not a hard decision, once you look at the facts.” I could not agree more, but Gov. John Lynch (D-N.H.) is apparently not convinced.
New Hampshire is one of only a handful of states to not uphold the Castle Doctrine or the Stand Your Ground principle. In criminal law, unless the Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground principle are upheld, victims of crimes are required to retreat as far as possible before using deadly force due to the duty to retreat rule.
The Castle Doctrine nullifies the duty to retreat if the crime is taking place in the victim’s dwelling place. The Stand Your Ground principle allows one to respond with deadly force to attacks that occur not only on one’s property, but in public places, without having to retreat first.
In 2006, Gov. Lynch vetoed a proposed “deadly force” bill. The bill would have extended the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground principle to New Hampshire. Now that 2011 has rolled around, the new state legislature, one that is dominated by Republicans, will send the bill back to te governor. If he cares about what the people want, he should sign it into law this time. Republican state Sen. Jack Barnes said that the reasoning behind the law was, “Why should I have to run away? It’s my house.’’ The duty to retreat rule interferes with one’s right to self defense.
If a person is afraid for his life, why should he be punished for using force against an assailant, instead of trying to outrun him? As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wisely put it, “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”
A Pennsylvania Senate panel recently approved a bill meant to expand the scope of the Castle Doctrine. Republican state Sen. Richard Alloway’s new bill would “allow residents to use deadly force to defend themselves outside their homes and vehicles without first having to retreat.” Those opposed to law call it the “Make My Day” law, referring to Clint Eastwood’s famous line as Dirty Harry. They are worried people will take advantage of it in order to shoot anyone who tries to “steal a purse” or something else trivial.
First, comparing women with purses to Dirty Harry does not make much sense. Second, the law is necessary to protect victims. One proponent of the new bill said that its critics “appear more worried about the life of the attacker than the victim.” Hopefully Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Penn.) will not make the same bad decision his colleague made in 2006.
In the same year that Lynch rejected the Stand Your Ground principle in New Hampshire, it was adopted in South Carolina. So far, it has worked perfectly. Former state Attorney General Charlie Condon proclaimed the law “a great deterrent to criminals.”
Condon, who in 2001 drew attention to himself by declaring an “open season” on home invaders, also stated, “If you are going into someone’s home to hurt somebody, don’t expect the law to protect you.”
The law is also holding up statistically. Home invasions per 100,000 inhabitants have decreased every year since 2006, dropping from 1,025.8 to 992.8 in 2009. Lynch should take a look at these numbers.
It is important for every state to adopt the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground principle, because the duty to retreat rule is outdated. In 1905, Judge Jaggard of the Minnesota Supreme Court explained why the Castle Doctrine was important: “The doctrine of ‘retreat to the wall’ had its origin before the general introduction of guns . . . It would be good sense for the law to require in many cases, an attempt to escape from hand to hand encounter with fists, clubs and even knives . . . while it would be rank folly to so require when experienced men, armed with repeating rifles, face each other in an open space, removed from shelter, with intent to kill or do great bodily harm.”
Judge Jaggard’s point is valid. Why should a victim have to worry about trying to outrun an assailant’s bullets, especially in his own house? Without the Castle Doctrine, a homeowner who shoots a burglar can be sued for excessive force by the intruder.
Nobody should have to be afraid of going to jail for protecting themselves in their own house, or anywhere, for that matter.