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Senate tentatively OKs presumption for deadly force

Posted February 24, 2011 1:14 p.m. EST
Updated February 24, 2011 10:47 p.m. EST

— State senators tentatively approved a bill Thursday that gives a stronger legal basis for people to use deadly force if they feel their lives are threatened during a forcible break-in at their home, car or job.

Senate Bill 34, which attempts to expand widely what's known as the "castle doctrine," is considered to be a crime deterrent by supporters who say that legally armed citizens should have the right to protect themselves against unlawful entry.

Existing North Carolina law allows the use of deadly force to someone in a home, but the person might have to prove to police afterward he was faced with a reasonable fear of death or bodily injury.

The bill would increase the number of places where people using deadly force against an intruder would be immune from criminal or civil liability. They would also be presumed to have been justified in firing a weapon or attacking an intruder in self-defense. A prosecutor could still challenge that presumption in court.

Under the new measure, the presumption to use force would also include motorists during a carjacking and people at a place of business who believe they are being physically threatened by an intruder.

"If you have a woman driving home at night, someone is trying to come in her car at a stoplight, she doesn't have to stop and think what is going on before she can do something about it," said Sen E.S. “Buck” Newton, R-
Wilson.

The bill must be voted on one more time by the full Senate. If it wins final approval, it would move onto the state House of Representatives for consideration.

Opponents worry the law could be misused to kill someone tapping on a car window for directions.

"They could be shot and the presumption will be it was justified. I think that type of innocent conduct should not amount to an execution," said Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr., D-Durham.

McKissick said he could support the bill if the portion on use of force in a vehicle was removed.