The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

July 22, 2013

‘Castle Doctrine’

CHARLESTON — George Zimmerman’s acquittal of a murder charge in a media-driven trial in Florida has sparked some concerns in West Virginia that this state’s “castle doctrine” law might need a second look.

Not so, says Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, arguably the strongest and most consistent defender of the Second Amendment in the Legislature.

Some interpreted Zimmerman’s fatal shooting of Tray-von Martin as a flaw in the “stand your ground” doctrine, but Kessler points out the West Virginia law is really nothing new and, instead, harks back more than a century.

Kessler penned the “Castle Doctrine” law when he chair-ed the Judiciary Committee to codify common law of self-defense, “which has served us well for over 150 years.”

Actually, the idea harks back to old English law, recognizing, as one once phrased it, “a man’s home is his castle and the wind but not the king may enter.”

“It recognizes that a man’s house is his castle, hence the name ‘Castle Doctrine,’ and that there is no duty to retreat in one’s own home to protect oneself, his/her home, or his family from an intruder or attacker,” the Senate leader said.

Kessler worked in tandem with former Sen. Shirley Love, D-Fayette, to successfully pass that legislation on behalf of the National Rifle Association several years ago.

“Our law provides that a lawful occupant of a home or other place of residence is justified in using reasonable and proportionate force, including deadly force, against an intruder or attacker to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence, or to terminate the intruder’s or attacker’s unlawful entry,” he said.

A homeowner must “reasonably” fear that an invader or attacker might kill or cause serious physical harm to the occupant or others residing in the dwelling, Kessler noted.

The law also is applicable if the occupant feels the intruder or attacker is bent on committing a felony in the residence and, again, that deadly force is the reasonable answer.

What’s more, Kessler said, the West Virginia law also applies outside a dwelling.

“It provides that an innocent person is permitted to use reasonable and proportionate force, including deadly force, to repel an attacker, without a duty to retreat, if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker,” he said.

One size doesn’t fit all such episodes, either.

“Under our law, each situation is reviewed on a case-by-case basis to see if the threat was real and genuine in the eye of the attacked (not the attacker) and whether the use of force to defend oneself was reasonable and proportionate under the circumstances,” Kessler said.

“It has worked well to date here in West Virginia.”

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