Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deadly force law in NH: More trust in citizens

On the subject of self defense, New Hampshire is about to enter a new era in which citizens have broader authority to make their own decisions.

On Wednesday, the House overrode Gov. John Lynch’s veto of Senate Bill 88. The Senate had overridden the veto the week before. The bill changes state weapons laws in four important ways.

1. It removes the mere display of a weapon from the state’s definition of what constitutes the use of “deadly force.”

2. It removes the mandatory prison sentence for felonies committed while in possession of or using or attempting to use a firearm.

3. It holds immune from civil suits (but not criminal prosecution) people who use force to defend themselves or someone else.

4. It allows the use of deadly force anywhere one has the legal right to be, not just in one’s home or on one’s own property.

The first two provisions stemmed from the 2009 conviction of Moultonborough farmer Ward Bird, who displayed a handgun and yelled at a woman who came onto his property after he told her not to. The woman claimed Bird pointed the gun toward her; Bird said he did not, but merely held it in his hand. He was convicted of felony criminal threatening, but last year had his sentence commuted after people in his community waged a campaign to have him freed.

Those first two changes in SB 88 are needed to prevent innocent people from being locked up for actions that pose no harm to anyone. Standing on one’s porch or yard while holding a firearm, something very common in this rural state, should not get one thrown in jail.

The third change prevents frivolous lawsuits against people who are justified in using force to protect themselves or others.

The fourth is the controversial one. Current law states that deadly force is not justified if one knows that either party to a confrontation can safely retreat. An exception is made for people who are in their own homes or property. SB 88 expands that exception to “anywhere he or she has a right to be.”

Gov. Lynch says the bill “would compromise safety by emboldening gangs and criminal activity.” It’s hard to see how that would be the case.

The law does not grant blanket immunity for any shooting. It states that if you are somewhere you are legally entitled to be, you don’t have to attempt to retreat, or let a person who is threatening your life retreat, before using deadly force to protect yourself.

If Gov. Lynch is right, and unjustified killings increase after this law takes effect, then obviously this provision should be revisited. But we share the Legislature’s doubt that the law will unleash a rash of criminality in the state.


La.: Unfairly-charged man acquitted: "Hampton Myers celebrated, but his frustration over Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's push to try him on attempted murder charges still simmered after a jury acquitted him Thursday in a shooting last year at his home. The jury found Myers, 28, not guilty of trying to kill Jacob Carskaddon on Dec. 8 after Myers had booted Carskaddon from his home for allegedly stealing a debit card and withdrawing $160.... But a former friend, Phillip Aguilar, told the jury that Carskaddon had become drunk and angry that evening at the Dungeon Bar on Toulouse Street, and that Aguilar "was afraid he was going to do something really stupid." Myers claimed he fired in self-defense as Carskaddon tried to wrest the gun from him. "I kept telling Jacob 'I'm sorry' the whole time, until he was right on top of me, and I felt his breath on my face when he said he was going to kill me," Myers wrote. "I shot him at the very last second, when we were wrestling for control of the handgun, and I had no other choice."

GA: Aggressive ex-boyfriend shot: "Rich offered to give the woman a ride home, and they stopped by a store on the way, according to statements given to officers. When the woman got home, Wells was there, police say. Wells was her ex-boyfriend and was supposed to have moved out that day. The woman told police Wells walked up behind her as Rich was turning his car around to leave. Wells started arguing with her, demanding to know who Rich is. Wells tried to hit the woman, police say, but she backed away and sprayed him with mace. That’s when Wells allegedly walked over to Rich’s car and started hitting him as he sat in the driver’s seat. It was 10:47 p.m. The woman said she heard a gunshot. Police say Rich called 911, admitted to shooting Wells in his upper torso and gave them the gun used to do it. Thunderbolt Chief Irene Pennington wouldn’t comment Saturday on whether the shooting might have been self-defense except to say the investigation is ongoing."

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