Monday, February 06, 2012

What would you do?

by C.L. Phillips

Scene : Central Texas suburbs; upscale neighborhood

 2:57 a.m. : Chevy Impala is involved in a single car accident, striking a stone mail box.  The driver exits the car, flees the scene, scales a five foot tall iron fence and crawls under a minivan in a homeowner's driveway.

3:06 a.m. : Three shots fired.  All find their target, the driver of the wrecked Impala.  The shooter?  The homeowner, wielding a .40 caliber Beretta.

3:30 p.m. : The homeowner is charged with murder.

Question :  If you heard the crash, saw the driver crawling under your minivan, what would you do?

A)  Lock your doors and go back to bed.
B)  Call the police.
C)  Go outside with your loaded gun.

In Texas, we have this law called the Castle Law (no, not after Richard Castle of ABC TV fame).  The law says something to the effect that if you believe your life is in immediate danger (mortal risk) AND an intruder is on your property, you can shoot to kill.  No problem.

The problem lies in the details.  Immediate mortal danger.  How do you prove it when the body lies one hundred feet from your front door?

Does your opinion change if the dead man is a twenty three year old Hispanic man?  Does your opinion change when you discover he's not an illegal but a man who grew up in the neighborhood, a stellar student at the local high school?

What if the homeowner/shooter works for the IRS?  What if the homeowner/shooter is Muslim?

Do the details about the victim and the homeowner/shooter change how you view the case?

Whatever you think, two families are shattered, one by death, and one by choice.  I ask again, what would you do?


Joyce Tremel said...

We have a similar law in Pennsylvania that was just passed last year. I think there's only been one case where the homeowner killed someone and he wasn't charged. Details are here.

In the Texas case, it sounds like they determined the homeowner was not in mortal danger. The driver hid under a minivan. He didn't threaten the homeowner in any way. If the driver had been carrying a weapon, then the homeowner might not have been charged.

In theory, the Castle Doctrine is a good law, but there's a good chance it will be abused. Fortunately, most law enforcement people will be able to figure out whether homeowners really needed to resort to using it.

Gina said...

What would I do? I guess I'd have to call the police, since I don't own a gun. I do have some good sharp knives and old karate weapons, but I'm not skilled enough with a shireken to hit, let alone kill, somebody hiding under a car.

Annette said...

What Joyce said.

I'm all for the Castle Doctrine. My Hubby works nights a lot leaving me home alone and not much in the way of neighbors around. But heaven help any fool who might try to break in while I'm here by myself.

HOWEVER, I don't think I'd ever shoot at someone who was just out in my yard or driveway. And definitely not under my car! I can't imagine an instance where that would feel threatening.

Bottom line, it has to be a case by case decision by the courts. ANY law can and will be abused.

Jenna said...

Hell, no. If the "intruder" wasn't trying to get into the house, or shooting at the windows, or brandishing a baseball bat while shouting obscenities... there's no immediate danger. You call the cops and have them take him away. You don't take it upon yourself to blow him to kingdom come. No matter who he is, and no matter who you are, or think you are.

C.L. Phillips said...

Okay, now for part two....what do you think must have been going through the mind of the homeowner/shooter to take this action?

Scattered newspaper reports say his wife woke him, pointed out the man under her car, and that's when he went outside.

It took 12 hours for the police to arrest the homeowner/shooter. I figure that's how long it took to interview the wife, the homeowner, and to investigate the blood spatter, shooting angles, and basic facts.

Such a sad situation.

Thanks for weighing in. Good to know about the PA law. I thought TX was the only state with such a law.

Happy Monday, y'all!

Patg said...

I don't know if OR has that law, but he'd have been arrested instantly here. Only time I've ever heard of no arrest is when there was proof of face to face contact.
Hiding under a car? So much more needs answering. Why go out and just shoot? And why was the driver of the car hiding?
Sad situation, but becoming so common, or at least according to the media.

Mary Sutton said...

I'm with Joyce and Annette. Would I fire (if I had a gun) at someone just hiding under my car? Probably not, but I'd be locking the doors, calling police, and herding my kids to the basement to hide.

But the minute that guy tries to break into my house, fires at my property, or otherwise tries to harm my children OR me, I'm going at him/her with whatever I've got - regardless of race, ethnicity or religious belief.

I support the principle of the Castle Law, but acknowledge that it can be very difficult to determine "just how threatened" you were.

Gina said...

Rereading the original posts and the comments, it occurred to me that the homeowner had no valid reason to feel threatened if he heard the crash and knew there had been a traffic accident. If anything, logic might suggest that maybe a third party caused the crash and the driver was hiding from that person. If this happened in real life, I would probably approach the man hiding under the car and ask if he was hurt/needed help.

Kristin said...

I would probably call the police. I wouldn't want to approach anybody I didn't know in the dark. I would stand guard of my house, though, with anything I could to defend myself until the police got there in case whoever was hiding under the vehicle did decide to try to enter the house.