‘Stand your ground bill’ advances at Capitol

One of the first floor debates of any significance in the Minnesota Senate this session isn’t going to be about football stadiums. It’ll be something far more important: Do Minnesotans have an obligation to flee when faced with danger?

A Minnesota Senate committee this morning sent the so-called Defense of Dwelling and Person Act to the Senate floor on a party-line vote.

There are many elements of the bill (full text here), but this is the big one:

Subd. 2. Circumstances when authorized. (a) The use of deadly force by an individual is justified under this section when the act is undertaken:

(1) to resist or prevent the commission of a felony in the individual’s dwelling;

(2) to resist or prevent what the individual reasonably believes is an offense or attempted offense that imminently exposes the individual or another person to substantial bodily harm, great bodily harm, or death; or

(3) to resist or prevent what the individual reasonably believes is the commission or imminent commission of a forcible felony.

(b) The use of deadly force is not authorized under this section if the individual knows that the person against whom force is being used is a licensed peace officer from this state, another state, the United States, or any subordinate jurisdiction of the United States, who is acting lawfully.

Subd. 3. Degree of force; retreat. An individual taking defensive action pursuant to subdivision 2 may use all force and means, including deadly force, that the individual in good faith believes is required to succeed in defense. The individual may meet force with superior force when the individual’s objective is defensive; the individual is not required to retreat; and the individual may continue defensive actions against an assailant until the danger has ended.

In many ways, the legislation wouldn’t be possible, if not for a man in Apple Valley who shot a gang friend to death.

In 1999, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that there is no such requirement in Minnesota to retreat inside a dwelling. It ruled in the case of Tony Carothers, who shot a gang enforcer six times in his mobile home in Apple Valley after an argument over $20 in a card game in 1967. He was given a 14-year sentence.

In instructing a jury, a trial court judge said Carothers had a duty to first flee a self-defense situation, but Justice Russell Anderson overturned the conviction, warning, however, that it’s not a license to kill:

We emphasize that a person claiming defense of dwelling is still subject to strictures insuring the reasonableness of his or her behavior. Defense of dwelling and self-defense within the dwelling serve a defensive and not offensive purpose, and do not confer a license to kill or to inflict great bodily harm merely because the offense occurs within the home. It may be more reasonable for a person to advance towards or retreat from a danger within his or her home in different circumstances, and that decision should be left to the jury. When faced with a defense of dwelling claim, the jury must determine (1) whether the killing was done to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling, (2) whether the defendant’s judgment as to the gravity of the situation was reasonable under the circumstances, and (3) whether the defendant’s election to defend his or her dwelling was such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger to be apprehended.

This is the Castle Doctrine. Anderson’s decision gave Minnesotans the right to kill someone invading a home, removing the obligation to flee first. The latest legislation extends the protections in the home to a person outside of it.

The bill was heading to the Senate floor last year, too, until several police chiefs and county attorneys held a news conference objecting to it.