Monday, January 30, 2006

Good News For The People of Alaska

The Anchorage Daily News

Alaska lawmakers are eyeing legislation to loosen the limits on when people can justifiably kill attackers and to shield them from lawsuits if they do.

Proponents say the state's standards for self-defense don't do enough to protect law-abiding citizens, leaving them vulnerable to attack and liable to prosecution if they fight back.

Some police agencies and prosecutors, however, worry that the proposed new law could make it easier for murderers, gang members and other criminals to elude prosecution by claiming self-defense.

Under the current law, unless you're in your home, you are legally obligated to try to flee from an attacker if you can do so "with complete personal safety and with complete safety as to others." Lawyers refer to this as the "duty to retreat."

Rep. John Coghill Jr., the House Majority leader, and Sen. Gene Therriault have each introduced bills that would do away with the duty to retreat.

"The burden of having to flee from bad actors has caused people to be fearful of protecting themselves," Coghill said.

"What I want to do is say, 'Look, you've got the right to stand your ground.' "

The legislation also says that those who kill or wound in self-defense would be immune from civil liability, and they'd be entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees, court costs and lost income incurred in defending against any civil lawsuits filed against them.

Coghill, R-North Pole, said he drafted his bill, HB 314, after Florida passed comparable legislation last year. The National Rifle Association is pushing for similar laws in states across the country.

"We firmly believe that all citizens have a duty to protect the community from criminals and shouldn't have to run away or defend themselves in court simply because they refused to run from someone who was attempting to injure or kill them or some member of their family," said Wayne Ross, an Anchorage attorney and a long-time NRA board member.

Police in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and state prosecutors, fear the proposed legislation might have unintended consequences.

Anchorage police spokesman Lt. Paul Honeman said the proposed law might do more to protect criminals than law-abiding citizens.

"The advantage goes to the bad guys," he said. "A law-abiding citizen honestly trying to defend themselves 99.9 percent of the time won't be prosecuted."

Anchorage in recent years has faced a growing problem with gangs and youth violence, and the proposed change in the law could hinder prosecution because more people would be able to claim self-defense, Honeman said.

In Fairbanks, Police Chief Dan Hoffman said he had mixed feelings about the proposed changes.

"I certainly understand the need for people to protect themselves, and I don't think it's realistic for us to say, 'Oh, just leave that to us,' because obviously there aren't going to be enough police around to protect everybody in every instance," Hoffman said.

"At the same time, I'm concerned with some sections that upon first review look like they might create circumstances where it would be viewed to be OK to chase after somebody and shoot them down," Hoffman added.

"The whole business of having a duty to retreat, there's certainly a lot of common sense that comes into play there."

Dean Guaneli, a chief assistant attorney general, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Coghill's bill on Friday, also pointed to its potential to protect criminals as well as law-abiding citizens. He said the Law Department planned to work with Coghill and Therriault to make sure any bill that passed does not do so.

"We ... want a workable law of self-defense so that the wrong people -- gang members, criminals, drug dealers -- don't rely on self-defense as an excuse to shoot up neighborhoods in Alaska," Guaneli said.

Anchorage Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, the House minority leader who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said he hadn't studied the proposed legislation, but he was concerned about removing the duty to retreat from the law.

"It seems to me that every gangster involved in a shooting would have this as a defense, and I would imagine that every defense attorney is applauding the bill," said Berkowitz, a former state prosecutor.

"This seems to promote vigilantism, gun slinging and gangland activity without consequence," Berkowitz said.

Cindy Strout, a longtime Anchorage criminal defense attorney, said she wouldn't expect the proposed change to have much affect because the current law sets a high bar for determining when someone would be required to flee an attacker.

"Under the current law, the duty to retreat is if you can do so 'with complete safety to yourself,' " she said. "In most self-defense circumstances, it's a pretty rare situation where someone can retreat with complete safety to themselves."

Coghill said the worry about his bill helping criminals get away with their crimes is unfounded.

"It's kind of like saying you've got speed limit laws out there, and people still speed and get away with it," he said.

"Can you have a safety net of laws that works perfectly in every circumstance? I dare say after arguing laws down here for the last eight years, you're not going to. Does that mean you shouldn't give people the right to protect themselves? No."

Coghill and Therriault, R-North Pole, each introduced word-for-word bills at the beginning of the session, and both have been changed slightly.

The House and Senate would need to pass matching bills before a new law could take effect.

I thought it was so good I posted the whole thing. I hope this carries. Our police and government need to be more concerned with victem rights and criminal rights.

posted by David at 5:11 PM :: Permalink ::

Comments on "Good News For The People of Alaska"


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