State Senate passes deadly force measure

Published 2:38 am Friday, February 25, 2011

The state Senate on Thursday voted 37-13 to approve a bill authorizing expanded use of deadly force against intruders.

Sources in the capital said the bill applies to the “castle doctrine” – as in “a man’s home is his castle” – and to people who feel a need to defend their homes, vehicles and workplaces.

“If someone forcibly breaks into your home, car or place of business, they’re not there to help you,” Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement.

“Victims simply do not have time to call a lawyer and figure out a criminal’s intent,” said Berger, Senate president pro tempore. “The split-second response to an intruder could mean the difference between life and death. Criminals are not entitled to the benefit of the doubt at the expense of their victims.”

Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, said he voted against the bill. White represents Beaufort County and seven other northeast counties.

“I believe a man’s home is his castle, and I believe he should be able to defend it with whatever force is necessary to protect that and his family,” White said in an interview.

The proposed legislation “got way too broad when it said you could actually use deadly force when you’re in your automobile or when you’re in your place of business,” he added.

Hypothetically, if someone knocks on a person’s car window an occupant “can shoot them the way this bill was written,” White said.

“If you perceived a threat you could shoot them,” he continued. “And I just didn’t think that was right.”

Democrats were opposed to a third reading of the bill, which means it will come back up for consideration next week, according to White.

Senate Republicans signaled a willingness to listen to some Democratic concerns about certain portions of the bill, and those concerns could be confronted Monday or Tuesday, he said.

“I think the leadership who presented the bill realized after the discussion today that some of these problems were significant problems,” White said.

District Attorney Seth Edwards is the chief prosecutor in the 2nd Prosecutorial District, which includes Beaufort County.

Edwards also is president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.

“My general response is that it is a good idea,” Edwards said of the bill. “I am a little concerned about the provision that relates to the workplace.”

Edwards added, “It’s one thing when you’re in your own home. You already can use deadly force if you’re in fear of imminent bodily harm and somebody’s breaking into your home. That’s been the law.”

Edwards advised he’s “more worried about someone taking a gun to Wal-Mart, having a gun on them and someone comes in and has a few harsh words and he says, ‘I’m in my workplace, I’m in danger, I’m going to shoot them.’”

The bill’s definition of a workplace is “very broad,” he said.

“I guess I am a little concerned about the broad definition of workplace,” Edwards concluded.

The state conference of district attorneys hasn’t taken a position on this bill, Edwards shared.

The bill was sponsored by a number of senators, including Sen. E.S. “Buck” Newton, R-Wilson.

“Citizens should not be treated like criminals for defending their home, themselves or their family,” Newton said in the statement released by Berger’s staff.

“No one should be required by law to retreat from an unlawful intruder under any circumstances,” Newton said.

The measure would take effect Dec. 1 of this year.