Killing of unarmed 20-year-old reignites debate over 'castle doctrine' lawThe fatal shooting of 20-year-old Bo Morrison has reignited the debate over Wisconsin's newly enacted "castle doctrine," which presumes property owners are acting reasonably if they use force against home invaders or carjackers.
By: By Dee J. Hall, The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
The fatal shooting of 20-year-old Bo Morrison has reignited the debate over Wisconsin's newly enacted "castle doctrine," which presumes property owners are acting reasonably if they use force against home invaders or carjackers.
Supporters say the law provides commonsense legal protection from prosecution for people defending themselves in their own homes. They note Morrison's shooting probably would have qualified as self-defense even without the new law.
Critics call the law a "license to kill."
Named for the maxim "a man's home is his castle," the law removes the obligation to retreat from danger before using deadly force if someone is threatened on his or her property. According to the National Rifle Association, 30 states have castle doctrine laws.
Under Wisconsin's law, prosecutors must presume a resident is justified in using force against someone who "forcibly or unlawfully" enters that person's property, car or business.
The measure passed on bipartisan votes of 71-24 in the Assembly and 26-7 in the Senate, and was backed by major police organizations and pro-gun groups. It took effect in late December.
Critics say the law encourages vigilantism and a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality, which some people believe led to the fatal shooting of Morrison in Slinger on March 3.
Morrison, of West Bend, was shot while hiding from police on a porch after fleeing a party that included underage drinking.
Calling for repeal
Morrison's death came about a week after the fatal shooting in Sanford, Fla., of Trayvon Martin, 17, by a neighborhood watch volunteer who claimed self-defense under that state's more expansive "stand your ground" law. Both victims were black and unarmed, leading to speculation that such laws may lead to unwarranted attacks against young black men.
Some Wisconsin lawmakers are calling for repeal of the castle doctrine, including state Rep. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee.
"We will never know exactly what happened that night in Slinger," Grigsby said in a statement, "but we do know that the homeowner made a grave error in killing a young man. I fought against the castle doctrine to help prevent tragic gun deaths like this."
But in a 28-page report examining the shooting, Washington County District Attorney Mark Bensen concluded even without the castle doctrine, the homeowner, who was identified as Adam Kind, would have been justified in claiming self-defense because of the circumstances of the shooting.
Bensen cited several factors in his decision not to issue charges.
Around 1 a.m., Kind warned party-goers at a neighbor's house to turn down their music, then he called police.
About an hour later, Kind heard a noise and thought someone was breaking in -- possibly in retaliation for his alerting the police. His wife, two children and one of their young friends were upstairs. Kind loaded his handgun and was "startled" to come face-to-face with Morrison on his dark, three-season porch, which leads directly into his home.
"The homeowner stated that when the subject took a step toward him, that the homeowner shot him once," Bensen wrote.
Even without the castle doctrine, Bensen concluded the shooting was in self-defense. "The homeowner reasonably believed that the force he utilized ... was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself," the district attorney said.
The bill's lead sponsor, state Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, said a homeowner in such a frightening situation should not have to worry about being prosecuted for protecting himself.
"The law was meant so you wouldn't have to second-guess yourself -- that if you felt threatened you could take action," he said.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, called Morrison's death "tragic" but said, "I support the concept of an individual's right to defend themselves and their family members in their homes against a threat from an intruder."
Critics, including state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, said the law encourages hasty decisions that can lead to tragedy.
"I knocked on 22,000 doors when I first ran for office" in 2008, Roys said. "I think how different it would have been for me if the castle doctrine were in place and I had been a young black man instead of a young white woman."
(c)2012 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)
Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com