Castle Doctrine Moves Forward, Receives Resistance
Reported by: Sarah Poulton
October 26, 2010
A Pennsylvania leader said she's pleased that a bill she and another state representative have been working very hard to pass may soon arrive on the governor's desk.
State Rep. Michele Brooks (R-17) said legislation move the Castle Doctrine forward passed the Senate by a vote of 45 to 4. Instead of voting on the Castle Doctrine bill, Brooks said the Senate wrote it in as an amendment to House Bill 1926.
According to the State Legislature's website, The Castle Doctrine, also known as House Bill 40, was originally introduced in January 2009. After lingering in the judiciary committee for more than a year, it was voted out by a vote of 22-4 on May 25 and was assigned to the appropriations committee.
The bill states that the Castle Doctrine is a common law doctrine of ancient origins that "declares that a home is a person's castle." In an earlier interview, State Rep. Chris Sainato (D-9) said the bill frees the homeowner of liability and gives the homeowner the right to use self defense.
H.B. 1926 is an expansion of Megan's Law and would further protect citizens against sex offenders. The House is scheduled to vote on this bill November 8.
Brooks, who cosponsored both bills, said adding the Castle Doctrine as an amendment to the Megan's Law bill does not change what the bill will accomplish if passed. Sainato also cosponsored H.B. 40.
"There will be some very good changes made to the Megan's Law bill," Brooks said. "I think we need to vote on both of these pieces of legislation."
The Megan's Law bill, she said, would make improvements to the current laws. Under the new bill, transient sex offenders would have to register each time they moved and homeless sex offenders would also have to register with the state more regularly, Brooks said.
The bill will also allow the state to prosecute an out-of-state sex offender if that person moves to Pennsylvania and fails to register.
"There was some ambiguity in our law about the prosecution being able to prosecute them with our lifetime offender policy," Brooks said.
Other benefits to the bill include regularly updated photographs on the Megan's Law website. You can also sign up for email notifications to alert you if a convicted offender moves into your neighborhood.
H.B. 1926 will be brought to a concurrence vote November 8. If the House passes it without any changes, it will go to Gov. Ed Rendell's desk for him to sign.
Brooks said she hopes the bill is passed without changes.
"They're both common sense pieces of legislation that protect law abiding citizens," Brooks said.
Brooks added that while both bills are good pieces of legislation, it would have been best to pass them separately.
Matt Mangino, former Lawrence County district attorney, said he agrees that the bills should be separated.
Mangino said he thinks the Republican-controlled Senate amended a bill that would overwhelmingly pass to include the Castle Doctrine in hopes that it would tie the hands of those opposing it. Both the District Attorney's Association and police organizations oppose the bill, he said, because it could be abused.
"From a legal perspective, I think, and I don't necessarily disagree with the DAA, which I was a member of, there could be some unintended consequences as a result of this legislation," Mangino said. "You're already permitted to use deadly force in the state of Pennsylvania. It eliminates the responsibility to retrieve first with out using deadly force. There are a lot of instances where this could be abused."
Mangino said when the House returns after the Midterm Election, members may choose not to do anything with the bill. Because Rendell is not running for re-election, and the elections are over, there will be little political pressure to pass the Megan's Law bill, he said.
The Megan's Law bill would repair a lot of loopholes in the current law, Mangino said, and should be an independent bill.
"The legislature has a responsibility to do what is right," Mangino said. "And if closing that loophole in Megan's Law is the right thing to do, they should do it independently. If this is a loophole that needs attention, give it the attention it deserves."