Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Patriot-News: Say No to Castle Doctrine

Below is an interesting editorial from a leading central Pennsylvania newspaper advocating for the undoing of the Castle Doctrine in the Pennsylvania legislature. The editorial also quotes a GOP district attorney who opposes the legislation. The editorial is worth reading and is set forth in its entirety below.

Harrisburg Patriot-News Editorial Board
October 8, 2010

The legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, and allows someone to use deadly force if attacked, passed the House last week 159-38 and now sits in the Senate where it’s likely to pass.

We support the concept of the measure to provide people who are confronted by criminals with protections but agree with the Dauphin County district attorney and state police that the expansion could have unintended consequences and should not become law. Gov. Ed Rendell, who has been noncommittal on the bill, should veto it if it arrives on his desk.

Currently, the law states that unless someone is in their home or vehicle, they have a duty to retreat from an attacker before they can legally use deadly force to defend themselves.

Under Perry’s expansion of the so-called Castle Doctrine, as long as a person is where he or she is legally entitled to be, there is no duty to retreat if attacked.

This bill has been pushed by the National Rifle Association, which calls it a priority for Pennsylvania. But this is not a gun-rights issue.

At the heart of opposition to the bill is trying to stop more encounters from turning into deadly confrontations and not giving criminals a potential defense when they are accused of murder.

Under the legislation, for example, if someone pulled a pocket knife on another person who was carrying a gun, that person would have the right to shoot even if they could have easily retreated instead.

At the same time, people who murder someone without cause could potentially use the law to their advantage, saying the killing was really done in self-defense.

As Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico told the editorial board Thursday, not many people wind up on the wrong side of the legal system because they were truly defending themselves as some supporters of the bill imply. He believes the legislation is unnecessary.

If lawmakers really want to stand up for law and order and make a difference there are other bills they should pass. There is the loophole in Megan’s Law that prosecutors have been lobbying our lawmakers to fix.

It is unnerving to know that even though those sentenced to a lifetime of registration for serious sex-related crimes are required to notify authorities in Pennsylvania after moving here from another state, there is no legal penalty if they don’t do it because of a loophole in the law. In May, we saw this firsthand when charges in Cumberland County were dropped against Bryan Shaw Rouse for failing to register as a sex offender after he moved here from Ohio.

He was then re-arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Mechanicsburg girl.

Then there is the amendment that was struck down during debate of the Castle Doctrine that would have ended the ability of Pennsylvanians who are denied concealed-carry gun permits from obtaining them in states with less stringent standards. That too was worth legislative support.

Lawmakers should stand up against crime but expanding the Castle Doctrine is not the way to do it.

Legislation to expand the Castle Doctrine easily passed the state Senate this month by a vote of 45 to 4.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Senate used a different procedure to enact the law. Rather than voting on House Bill 40 (the Castle Doctrine bill), the Senate turned the measure into an amendment to another measure, House Bill 1926. Its purpose is to close certain loopholes in Megan's Law, which protects children against sexual predators.

The amended bill now returns to the House for further action, but the House isn't due to return to voting session until Nov. 8. Whether it will approve the Senate's version of the bill remains to be seen.

One reason the Senate used a different legislative "vehicle" was in hopes that Governor Rendell wouldn't veto the bill. The tougher version of Megan's Law contained in the bill could make it harder for him to reject, according to the Post-Gazette.

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