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Love revives ‘castle doctrine’ bill in Senate
By Mannix Porterfield
CHARLESTON — A man’s home is his castle, and the wind, but not the king, may enter.
So goes an axiom with its genesis in medieval England, meaning no matter how poor a man might be, he could still bar unwanted royalty from his domicile.
To that adage some West Virginia lawmakers want to add a footnote: Nor can an intruder shot while burglarizing a home collect money for damages in a lawsuit.
Known as the “Castle Doctrine,” the legislation has been pushed successfully in 15 other states, and West Virginia could be added this year to that list in a bill with overwhelming support in the state Senate.
“The bill more or less gives you the right to meet force with force without having to face the legal liabilities that have been coming with that,” says the lead sponsor, Sen. Shirley Love, D-Fayette.
The idea is to let a homeowner take action without worrying about the consequences.
West Virginia law cites no obligation to retreat from either a motor vehicle or a dwelling if approached by someone with evil intent, says Jordan Austin, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, the chief backer of the proposal.
“We don’t have to right that and remove it from statute,” said Austin, who was at the Capitol for the opening day of this session.
“That’s not in statute here in West Virginia, which is a very good thing. The duty to retreat is not part of the statute.”
The NRA is seeking the bill for two reasons.
One is to excuse a homeowner from being held liable by either a wounded or slain intruder or the family when force is applied as a means of protection.
“And,” Austin said, “it’s not clear that you can use deadly force in the protection of your home and family. It’s too vague right now. We want to make it clearly really what everyone’s rights are. The clearer things are, the better understanding the ordinary citizen has.
“The Castle Doctrine is No. 1 on our plate this year. It’s very important that we look out for the self-defense rights of all West Virginia citizens.”
Love has 29 other sponsors added to his bill, which ran into a roadblock a year ago in the House Judiciary Committee and never came up for a vote.
“I anticipate a very good bill coming out of the House and Senate this year,” Austin said.
Austin emphasized the proposal wouldn’t bar law enforcement agencies from investigating a situation involving the use of force.
“But they will not be allowed to detain or arrest someone unless for some reason they have determined that person was not acting in self-defense,” the NRA leader said.
Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, another sponsor, said the concept has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Generally, all we’re doing is bringing West Virginia into compliance with what the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on,” he said.
“So it really shouldn’t even be a controversial bill. We just need to do what our Constitution guarantees already.”
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