The impact of Missouri's new 'castle doctrine' law still being debated

Friday, December 28, 2007

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The debate continues over the state's recently enacted law allowing potential crime victims to use deadly force against their attackers.

Officials are still questioning how far people can go if someone enters their home.

In Texas last month, a man spotted two burglars carrying items from his neighbor's house. After calling police, he grabbed his shotgun and killed the burglars.

The new Missouri "castle doctrine" law appears to allow killings like those, according to judges and lawyers.

Advocates praise it as allowing innocent people to defend themselves against criminals, but critics fear the law could cause unnecessary deaths, such as killings of petty thieves.

It appears the law allows a person to kill anyone unlawfully entering a house or a car or committing a forcible felony, such as kidnapping, armed robbery, burglary, arson, assault, rape or sodomy.

The 13-member committee writing jury instructions for the new law accepts a less broad interpretation, said Jackson County Judge Charles Atwell, the committee's chairman.

He said the previous state law included a "reasonableness" standard, meaning a person had to believe that he or another person was in serious danger before using deadly force.

Because that phrase remains in the new law, juries should take it into account, Atwell said.

"That's going to cause a fight," said area lawyer Kevin Jamison, who worked with the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance and the National Rifle Association to help pass the new law.

The NRA has helped spread such laws to more than 15 other states in the last two years, though wording varies among states.

Prosecutors say the eventual impact of Missouri's law will hinge on how those jury instructions turn out.

The instructions are expected to be finished early next year, after which the Missouri Supreme Court will either accept them or order a rewrite. Lawmakers could also change the law again.

Already, the law prompted Jackson County prosecutors to drop a murder charge against a Kansas City man and accept an involuntary manslaughter plea instead.

Prosecutors fear the law will make it more difficult to file and win cases against even hardened criminals, who may twist the law to help them kill others legally.

"Bad people are going to get away with murder because of this statute," said assistant Jackson County prosecutor Bryan Krantz. "A lot of people are going to get away with murder."


Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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