Saturday, March 24, 2012

CASTLE DOCTRINE -- DA MADE THE RIGHT CALL: Time for reason and common sense

The Washington County District Attorney declined to prosecute a Slinger homeowner who shot and killed a drunken young intruder who entered the enclosed porch of his home wearing dark clothing at 2 a.m.  The young man had a blood alcohol concentration of .19 -- seriously inebriated -- and had just left an underage drinking party.

The shooting and the District Attorney's decision not to prosecute the homeowner brought about a hue and cry over Wisconsin's "Castle Doctrine" -- a legislative expansion over the privilege to use deadly force.  Over the past week I've read comments from those who blame the homeowner and the law. 

I blame the intruder.  The prosecutor made the right call.

First, it's unfortunate that this young man died.  But who put him in harm's way?  It was his own conduct that did him in -- a fact sorely missed by those who seek to defend him and attack the new law.  What was the homeowner to do?  Wait until the intruder got inside?  Wait for the police who, when seconds count, often take minutes to get there?

This young man chose to go to an underage drinking party.  He chose to get drunk.  He not only broke the law but also chose to assume the risks associated with it.  The homeowner wasn't required to engage the intruder in a 2 a.m. debate over what his intentions were at the time.

I understand the homeowner's dilemma.  Recently a young man with a criminal past stole a vehicle and, when spotted by a sheriff's deputy, turned around and got into a chase that ended literally in front of my home when the thief bailed out of the moving stolen vehicle, which crashed against a tree, and ran away with the lone deputy in foot pursuit. 

The chase went past our bedroom window -- my wife could hear the commotion -- and when I called the police for help for the deputy, who was on a dark and isolated street, I literally was put "on hold" for a minute.  When I went outside to help there was now dead silence and it took several minutes for the furst backup officers to arrive on the scene.

Fortunately, the deputy caught the suspect and brought him back to the scene.  But what if the thief did something to the deputy?  What if he had broken into my home or endangered my family? 

Those who want to engage in Monday morning quarterbacking of that armed homeowner have probably never been in or close to the situation he was in.  It's easy to offer up theories and platitudes but reality isn't always so warm and fuzzy.  Further, we simply cannot rely on the police to be everywhere whenever they are needed.

Law enforcement isn't just the responsibility of law enforcement officers.  Everyone in Wisconsin has the right to make an arrest for a felony of misdemeanor breach of the peace (including drunken driving) in their presence.  This is a shared responsibility (and, in fact, I have been teaching this aspect of Wisconsin law to our officers for the past few years).  As much as I love our officers they can't do it all alone.

Would I have done exactly as the Slinger homeowner did?  Maybe ... maybe not.  But I wasn't there in his shoes at that precise moment.  I have, however, had to evaluate whether the use of deadly force was justifiable. 

For example, two armed robbers walked into a shop, having pulled their shirts up on the way in (not realizing they were already being video recorded, by the way).  They charged the shopkeeper who pulled out his gun and shot one of them.  The would-be robbers spun around and high-tailed it out of the store with the wounded one collapsing shortly thereafter.

The total time from when they pulled their shirts up, entered the store, charged the owner and left the store was less than four seconds.  The shopkeeper had even less time to evaluate the threat, draw his weapon and use it.

Those who have the luxury of debate can ponder this for hours.  The shopkeeper had a second or two at the most.

The Washington County District Attorney made the right call.  Those who sympathize with the dead intruder should first ask who put him in that position and the answer is that he alone put himself in harm's way.


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