Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shooting Death Puts New "Castle Doctrine" Law to an Early Test

A man was shot and killed last week while trying to forcibly enter a southwestern Pennsylvania home, putting the state's new "Castle Doctrine" law to an early test.

A 32-year-old New Mexico man was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest while trying to enter the home near Washington, PA, during an apparent domestic dispute. The shooting came less than two weeks after Gov. Tom Corbett signed a Castle Doctrine law that expands an individual's right to use deadly force inside or outside a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle.

This issue hits close to home here at Legal Schnauzer because our 10-year legal battle started when a thug with an extensive criminal record moved in next door and started trampling on our property rights. Given my experience, you might think I would support Castle Doctrine Laws. But I don't think introducing a gun into the equation would have been the right way to handle our problem. And I'm not sold on the Castle Doctrine in general, especially when you consider that the National Rifle Association (NRA) tends to push for it.

A general rule of thumb that I've come to live by: If the NRA is for it, I should be against it.

Many Americans probably have read about cases where a homeowner used force against an intruder only to then be sued for damages by the intruder. Such cases, indeed, sound nutty, and I suspect they are driving the Castle Doctrine. Here is a summary of the new Pennsylvania law:

Introduced by state Representative Scott Perry (R-92), HB 40 would permit law-abiding citizens to use force, including deadly force, against an attacker in their home and any place outside of their home where they have a legal right to be. If enacted into law, it would also protect individuals from civil lawsuits by the attacker or the attacker’s family when force is used.

What else does the Pennsylvania law accomplish? An article titled "More Protection or More Violence?" from the Allentown Morning Call provides insight:

Pennsylvania's age-old law giving residents the right to defend themselves inside their homes soon will extend past the front door to the porch, driveway and beyond. That much is clear.

What remains to be seen is whether the bill, expanding the so-called Castle Doctrine — as in your home is your castle — will lead to shootouts on Pennsylvania streets. . . .

The bill, passed Monday on a 45-5 vote in the state Senate, eliminates a person's duty to flee when confronted by an attacker with a deadly weapon, whether it's a gun, a knife or a baseball bat.

Instead, it gives victims of an attack the right to respond with deadly force if they believe they are in imminent danger of death, serious bodily harm, kidnapping or sexual assault.

Supporters say the law merely "levels the playing field" for well-armed, law-abiding citizens who might come face to face with thugs. Opponents, however, say it is not that simple:

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski said he worries the law could bring a spike in gun violence to Pennsylvania's densely populated cities.

"This is going to open us up to scenarios we haven't even imagined," he said.

"Say I'm a carpenter and I look threatening to someone. I have a hammer in my hand. Does that allow them to shoot me?" Pawlowski wondered.

Max Nacheman, of the gun violence prevention group CeaseFirePA, said the law could lead to people killing each other over parking spaces at the supermarket, or escalate road rage to shootings.

"In a civilized regular modern society, that shouldn't be the case," he said.

As for me, I clearly believe in the right to protect your property--both inside the house and in the yard. But I'm concerned that the Pennsylvania law will give some folks the idea that a gun is the logical first choice to help resolve most property-related disputes. As someone who has a lot of first-hand experience with unlawful intrusions, I'm not sure that's a good idea.

As big a thug as my neighbor is, he never showed signs of threatening me physically on my property. (He did later commit a felony assault by hitting me in the back with a roadside sign, but that took place near the entrance to our neighborhood.) When the neighbor's intrusions continued, I notified authorities and tried to resolve the matter through the legal process. My wife and I wound up in a 10-year legal nightmare because incompetent law-enforcement officers, and corrupt judges and lawyers, did not do their jobs.

Do I wish now that I had confronted my neighbor with a gun early on? No, I do not. The situation didn't call for anything like that, and I'm concerned about laws that give the impression that guns should be the "solution of choice" for property-related problems.


Anonymous said...

I did a field interview of the brother of the guy who died with a Golden Flake bag in his mouth, he says you are a nut...write a article about that case so I can evaluate your position....ATS

legalschnauzer said...

I've written about a dozen articles on the Major Bashinsky case. You can go to the search function at the top of this blog and key in "Major Bashinsky." It will call up everything I've written. I have a new post coming soon.

By the way, what is a "field interview"? Are you aware that Sloan Bashinsky frequently writes on his blog that he takes actions based on his consultation with angels? And he calls me a nut?

Joe Steel said...

I'm sure you've heard of American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate lobbying organization The NRA is the ALEC of gun legislation. They decree and the State legislatures agree. At least, that's the way it is in Missouri.

A few years ago, we were dealing with the concealed gun issue. The General Assembly was considering legislation the governor said he wouldn't sign unless it passed a state referendum. As I understand, the NRA didn't like that so they told the bill's sponsor to pull the legislation. Of course, he did.

Not that it mattered. In 1999, we actually had a referendum and the citizens voted-down concealed guns. It didn't make any difference, the GA passed a concealed gun law a few years later and overrode a new governor's veto.

What the NRA wants, the NRA gets.

Ishmael said...

Hmm. Considering the alleged assailant was from New Mexico, he should have assumed that such a law was in effect in PA. Here in Valencia County New Mexico, where Bo Diddley himself served as a reserve Deputy, I was told by a different deputy that I could defend myself on my home AND property as long as I felt, "Fear of an imminent danger to my life."

But I'd also like to another data point on your chronicle of Judicial Corruption, this one FROM New Mexico.


About a NM state judge arrested for sex with a prostitute that the prostitute videotaped.

legalschnauzer said...


That judge/prostitute story sounds juicy. Thanks for sharing. I live for stories like that!

Anonymous said...

Comments like "If the NRA is for it, I should be against it", made me lose any validity I had for you. I hope your family is never in danger and have you to depend on. By the time you analyze it long and hard enough your family will be raped, beaten and dead. Its individuals like you that scare me more than the hardened criminal.

legalschnauzer said...

The law in PA, and in most other states, already gives you the right to use firearms to protect yourself against intruders in your home. And I support the provision that forbids lawsuits by would-be intruders. But I don't see what else the Castle Doctrine laws accomplish. It allows me to "shoot first and ask questions later" when someone is external to the home and not threatening to enter. I'm already able under the law to use a weapon to protect myself and my family under the scenario you describe.