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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

'Castle Doctrine' self-defense right proposed

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - A pair of northwest Ohio lawmakers yesterday proposed flipping current law on its head, giving potential victims the benefit of the doubt when they kill or harm an apparent intruder or assailant in self-defense.

"Since the Middle Ages, people have respected the idea that a man's home is his castle and [he] has a right to defend that castle and his family inside," Sen. Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta) said. "The burden will shift to the perpetrator or criminal to prove that he, in fact, was not climbing through the bedroom window late at night to do harm to a family that might be inside."

Mr. Buehrer and Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon) introduced bills in their respective chambers to enact a "Castle Doctrine" in Ohio similar to that enacted in 16 other states, including neighboring Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky.

In addition to creating a presumption of innocence for a would-be victim in cases where someone was apparently about to commit forcible trespass or a felony offense of violence, the bills would provide civil immunity to that person from a lawsuit because of that action.

"The facts of the case can still be presented, but the bottom line is that the defendant will have a stronger standing in court than what the criminal would," Mr. Wachtmann said.

But Toby Hoover of Perrysburg, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, called the bill's title a misnomer since the language dealing with civil immunity would also apply to someone who acts outside his home if he believes he or someone else is threatened.

"We're moving outside of one's castle," she said. "They call it the Castle Doctrine, but it's not about your castle at all. It's wherever you are, and the rest of us are there too.

"We train law enforcement officers to know when to shoot and when not to," she said. "Now we're to believe that everybody can make that same kind of decision. Not a good idea."

She said she knows of no one who has been successfully prosecuted when they truly acted in self-defense.

But Jim Irvine, chairman of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said those who act in self-defense sometimes plead to a lesser charge and shouldn't have to face the time, expense, and effort to defend themselves.

"It's common sense," he said. "Are you going to side with the rapist criminal or the victim? Right now the law is upside down."

The Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association opposes the bills.

"Current law has been worked out by the courts over the years and requires a defendant to make a showing that he was in reasonable fear of bodily harm or death before he is authorized to use deadly force," Executive Director John Murphy said.

He said these bills would require prosecutors to prove a negative.

Mr. Buehrer said supporters of the bill could not convince someone who acted in self-defense to participate in yesterday's press conference. He said such people are often reluctant to speak out.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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