When is deadly force justified?
In the Granite State, the answer hinges not just on “when,” but also “where” deadly force is used. It’s known as the Castle Doctrine (as in, “a man’s home is his castle”) and the N.H. House and Senate are taking up two bills in the coming week to change it.
The Castle Doctrine says that someone in his or her own home is permitted to use deadly force in self-defense or to protect another person from a rape, kidnapping, or other serious crime. According to currrent law in New Hampshire, if you’re not at home, you must retreat if you’re able to do so safely. The doctrine does not apply to people who pick fights (otherwise known as “initial aggressors”) in situations involving deadly force.
where you have a reasonable right to be
House Bill 210 would bring the doctrine outside the domain of the “castle.” Permission to use deadly force in self-defense or to protect another person would be granted to anyone “who is in any place where he or she has a right to be or reasonably believed he or she had a right to be….”
House Bill 210, sponsored by Rep. Richard Okerman (R-Windham), passed the House along mostly partisan lines by a veto-proof 270-92 majority on March 15. Its second public hearing will be held Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
duty to retreat
Meanwhile, a related bill passed the Senate last week by a veto-proof 17-7 majority. It will receive its second public hearing in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 12.
Senate Bill 88, sponsored by Sen. David Boutin (R-Hooksett) would remove a person’s “duty to retreat” from an encounter involving deadly force. It also adds that a person who brandishes a firearm or other means of self-defense — as long as they have a right to be where they are — is not guilty of criminal threatening.
The fiscal note for HB 210 includes observations by a few state agencies that suggest their costs may go down thanks to fewer criminal cases or incarcerations. Or they could go up, due to more potential homicide investigations.
Neither the Judicial Branch, Judicial Council, Department of Justice, Department of Corrections, or N.H. Association of Counties were able to predict the number of their current cases that would have been changed by a different Castle Doctrine, much less the number of future cases that may be subject to it.
Gov. John Lynch vetoed a similar measure in 2006. But with veto-proof votes so far on both bills, he may have to be very persuasive to not have a veto overridden, should he choose to use it.
This Daily Dispatch was written by Michael McCord.
Have you ever had to use force protect yourself or someone else — or have you been protected by someone who used force to help you? Would it have made a difference where you were?
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