February 13, 2007
Shoot! Shoot!

I must confess, it had never occurred to me that Texas' laws regarding the use of deadly force to protect one's property needed to be loosened, but that's what they're fixing to do in the Lege.

Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio and Rep. Joe Driver of Garland have sponsored bills to have Texas join more than a dozen states with the so-called "Castle Doctrine," a sort of shoot-first, retreat-later approach to defending hearth, home, truck and business.

Essentially, the Castle Doctrine is born out of the common-law theory that a man's home is his castle and he has a right to defend it.

And although Texas already has some of the broadest self-defense laws in the country, Wentworth says his bill would expand the legal rights of crime victims to protect themselves, their relatives and their property from intruders in their home, occupied vehicles or business.

It would create a legal presumption that an intruder is there to cause death or great bodily harm and that victims have the right to use deadly force. He says current law in some instances imposes a duty to retreat before using potentially deadly force on an intruder.

"I believe Texans who are attacked in their homes, their businesses, their vehicles or anywhere else have a right to defend themselves from attack without fear of being prosecuted and face possible civil suits alleging wrongful injury or death," Wentworth said.

Like I said, call me crazy, but I thought that's how it already was. Turns out I'm not alone in thinking this:

Jerry Dowling, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University, said state law already protects self-defense of life and property, particularly in one's home, or castle.

"I've lived in Texas 30-plus years and I would be astounded to hear of a Texas jury that convicted someone who blasted a guy who was in his house," Dowling said. "It would just be anathema to the culture down here."

Prosecutors have had mixed reactions to the bill, said Shannon Edmonds, spokesman for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

District Attorneys are waiting for proponents of the change to produce an example of someone wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in Texas for an act of self-defense.

"Is this a solution in search of a problem?" Edmonds said.

I'm going to guess that the answer to that question is Yes. This is apparently part of a national push by the NRA, and it seems to me that if there were an example of such a wrongfully convicted person, his or her heart-tugging story would have been the lede of this article. But if you want to take something nationwide, it helps to score some easy wins first, and if the NRA thought the Texas Lege would be low-hanging fruit for this sort of thing, they were right.

Wentworth's office said nearly all of the 31 state senators have signed onto his bill and more than 100 house members have signed Driver's bill in that chamber.

Well okay then. I don't particularly object to this bill, on the grounds that I figure it won't have any practical effect, but as is often the case, I wonder about our priorities. Don't we have bigger fish to fry?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 13, 2007 to That's our Lege

Where in God's name does the Republican Party find these people? Our legislators are in session for only 140 days every two years. Surely providing more reasons for Texans to kill people has to be down at the bottom of this state's needs. Have Wentworth or Driver ever heard of things like education financing or CHIPS?

Posted by: Dennis on February 13, 2007 9:41 AM

This is a shame - I had more regard for Jeff Wentworth than this. Why should the Lege waste its time on this?

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on February 13, 2007 12:17 PM

Florida was the low-hanging fruit for this particular right-wing solution-in-search-of-a-problem.

Duty-to-retreat, the opposite policy, is favored in them hippie liberal northeast states, you see.

In any case, probably Texas has waited this long in the cycle because our existing self-defense laws were already awfully lax. As you'll recall from the Year of Shooting Foreign Exchange Students and Homeless Guys, the legal status in Texas is basically, if they're on your real estate at night, or if they're threatening to steal your property at any time, you can shoot 'em dead.

(There are more restrictions on killing to protect someone else than on killing to protect your stuff.)

Posted by: Greg Morrow on February 13, 2007 12:50 PM

Case facts: drugged out crackhead (Anglo) goes to 3d ward home of my client (African-American), his girlfriend and their small child one hot summer night as they all sat out on the stoop with their friends.
Crackhead believes this is where he bought crack earlier that day.
It is not. He is informed of his mistake and asked to leave. He gets belligerent, breaks off a quart bottle of beer and jams it into the back of my client. (a bloody surface wound).
Client steps away about 10-15 feet to retrieve his gun kept hidden under the house (away from child) and returns to crackhead gun drawn but not pointed (extra persuasion) for crackhead to leave. But, Crackhead lunges for gun, they struggle, it discharges; crackhead is now parapelegic.
We argue self-defense. Jury gets all tripped up on the duty to retreat crap and client goes to TDC for 25 years.
Another innocent sent to prison; another family on welfare. There's your wronghful conviction.

Posted by: Jim on February 14, 2007 3:34 AM