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Legislator Proposes Self-Defense Shield Law

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Oklahoma and Colorado call it the "Make My Day" law. Florida calls its version "Stand Your Ground."

But Delegate Bill Janis (R-Goochland) hopes that after the legislative session convening Jan. 10 Virginians will have a "Castle Doctrine" statute to call their own.

He's proposing a bill that would protect people from being sued if, out of self-defense, they kill or injure someone who breaks into their home.

"When someone breaks into your home, they violate something pretty sacred," Janis says, "which is the sanctity of the home." He says people's homes are their castles, something they have a right to protect.

Virginia's courts have traditionally given some leeway to people who harm others while trying to defend themselves, but it's not the legal guarantee of a state statute.

Without a rule on the books, intruders who are injured in such confrontations can sue in civil court for personal injury, malicious wounding or even wrongful death — cases Janis sees as revictimizing the person whose home was intruded into.

The legislature has said no to similar proposals in recent years. But in the fall Janis decided he'd try to reintroduce such legislation after one of his close friend's sisters returned to her North Side home after a party to find a stranger in her kitchen. They fought near the front door, but the man escaped. He was eventually caught and indicted of several similar crimes. Although the woman didn't injure the intruder, Janis says he wants to protect her right to defend herself.

Other legislators don't think such issues are up to them.

"What if a homeless person comes in your basement? Are you going to shoot him?" asks Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-Henrico), who voted against identical legislation last year.

"If someone kills somebody, they couldn't be sued," McClellan says. "If a person should not be held liable, then they won't win the case. That's something a jury should decide, not the General Assembly."

Results in other states seem to be mixed. Supporters in Oklahoma credit their Make My Day with a drop in home invasions. But critics point to cases such as one in Colorado, in which a man shot his neighbor's barking dog with a pellet gun. In response, the dog's owner used a club to break out the glass in his neighbor's front door. The man who shot the dog then killed the dog's owner with a shotgun. Colorado's Make My Day law shields him from prosecution in his neighbor's death. S

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