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First 'Castle Doctrine' hearing Thursday

What are differences of Castle Doctrine bills under consideration?

Three “Castle Doctrine” bills to reinforce the right to self defense have thus far been filed in the North Carolina General Assembly, the most recent of which was introduced on Monday. In contrast to previous legislative sessions, November election results predispose the current legislature to pass some form of the proposed law. The big question for North Carolinians is what version will pass.

Depending on varying definitions, “stand-your-ground” laws have been adopted by at least thirteen states. A larger number of states have “castle laws” whose more limited scope stipulates no duty to retreat when attacked in the home, such as North Carolina’s § 14-51.1. “Castle Doctrine” bills being introduced across the country generally include both.

But as the GRNC Castle Doctrine Feature Summary depicts, not all Castle Doctrine laws are created equal. Some states offer few protections outside the home. With the state finally ready to pass something, North Carolinians should become versed on what does or does not make an effective law.

THREE VERSIONS UNDER CONSIDERATION

On February 4, the NRA issued an alert backing SB 34, sponsored by Senators Andrew Brock, Doug Bergerand Kathy Harrington. While the pro-gun sponsors have the best of intentions, SB 34 and its companion bill, HB 52, (Reps. Tim Spear, Bill Owensand Jim Crawford) are dangerously flawed.

SB 34 and HB 52 are substantially similar to SB 928, which passed the Senate in the last session but was killed in the House when Rep. Deborah Rossand former Rep. Hugh Holliman. (Holliman was defeated largely through the efforts of Grass Roots North Carolina in the last election after denying SB 928 a committee hearing. Significantly, Rep. Rayne Brown, who defeated Holliman, is one of the primary sponsors of GRNC-backed HB 74 above.)

The problem is that SB 928 passed the gun-hostile Senate in a greatly weakened fashion: Although Edition 1of the bill offered victims protection both inside and outside the home, including in motor vehicles, the amended Edition 2offered protection only within the home, meaning it offered little beyond what currently exists under § 14-51.1.

By contrast, HB 74, filed by Representatives Mark Hilton, Shirley Randleman, George Cleveland, and Rayne Brown, offers significantly greater protection than SB 34/HB 52. Not only would it offer protection against violent crime in motor vehicles and elsewhere outside the home, but also better protection against civil and criminal liability.

COMMITTEE MEETING ON THURSDAY, FEB. 17

The first bill to get a hearing will be SB 34, which will be heard by the Senate Judiciary II Committee on February 17. Grass Roots North Carolina is promoting amending the bill via a “Proposed Committee Substitute” to change its language to reflect the stronger HB 74. GRNC suggests interested parties contact all members of the committee to encourage adoption of the HB 74 language.

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BILLS?

Although state laws vary widely, the best offer some version of the following:

Stand your ground
This provision states that if faced with a reasonable threat of imminent death or great bodily harm, you have no duty to retreat before using deadly force. The most comprehensive laws stipulate no duty to retreat both in the home and abroad, typically anyplace you have a legal right to be. While HB 74 ads a new § 14-471 with the “no duty to retreat” provision, neither SB 34 nor HB 52 contain any reference to the measure, presumably because it already exists within the home via § 14-51.1.

Presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm
Absent a castle law, even if someone breaks into your occupied dwelling you must prove you had a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm before responding with deadly force. Under the “presumption” portion of Castle Doctrine, when an attacker unlawfully and forcibly enters a home or (preferably) a dwelling, he is presumed by the law to present a “reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily harm,” freeing the victim from proving it.

In HB 74, a new section § 14-472 includes the measure both for dwellings and occupied vehicles. The far weaker SB 34/HB 52 say only that the attacker to a home – and only a home – is “presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence,” neither of which even justify the use of deadly force under § 14-51.1, meaning that once again, the bills offer nothing beyond current law.

Protection against kidnapping
Like many state laws, HB 74 creates the presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm if the attacker has removed or is attempting to remove another, against his or her will, from a residence or occupied vehicle. Exceptions are made if the person against whom defensive force is used is the parent or lawful guardian of the one being removed. SB 34 / HB 52 offers essentially the same language but again, only to the invasion of a dwelling, not an occupied vehicle.

Protection against malicious prosecution
Some state laws offer immunity for prosecution for justifiable use of deadly force, as do SB 34 and HB 52. HB 74 goes a step further, however, and matches South Carolina law by prohibiting law enforcement agencies from arresting a defender unless there is probable cause to believe the force used was unlawful.

Protection against civil suits
While SB 34 and HB 52 match a number of state laws in giving defenders immunity from civil action (such as by the attacker or his survivors), HB 74 mirrors South Carolina in allowing a lawful defender to recoup legal costs from the plaintiffs who filed the suit.

CONCLUSION

While SB 928 might have been the best bill attainable in the last, gun-hostile session of the legislature, you have worked hard to produce a pro-gun majority this year in both chambers, and you deserve better.