Virginia would allow deadly force in self defense

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 09, 2012 6:08 PM
Virginia would allow deadly force in self defense

By Matthew A. Ward

PORTSMOUTH, Va (Reuters) - Citizens of Virginia could legally use deadly force in self defense against a home intruder under a proposed law approved on Thursday by the state House of Delegates.

The Republican-majority House voted 70-28 in favor of a state law that any physical force, including deadly force, is justified self-defense against an intruder.

The intruder must commit an "overt act" toward the occupant or other person in the dwelling which makes the occupant reasonably believe that they or the other person is in imminent danger of bodily injury.

In another piece of legislation the House passed Thursday, an occupant would be immune from civil liability for injuries or death caused to the intruder.

A number of states enacted what became known as "make my day" laws in the 1980s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Laws on self defense, property and premises vary, but most states have some form of legal protection, according to an NCSL research paper.

Under Florida's 2006 law, a person being attacked has no duty to retreat and can return "force with force" with immunity from criminal prosecution.

Some states, such as Delaware, permit deadly force in the defense of property even when an occupant is not at risk of being harmed.

Opponents said the laws harken back to the so-called "Wild West" when nearly everyone carried a gun, and are unnecessary because those they seek to protect are already protected by common law.

The Virginia measure would turn the state into an uncivilized society, Democratic Delegate Scott Surovell said on Thursday.

"It turns it (Virginia) into a spaghetti western (movie)," he said.

Republican Delegate Anne Crockett-Stark, citing the story of an 82-year-old female constituent who pulled a gun on an intruder in the dead of night, said the measure was just extra protection for law-abiding citizens.

"He (the intruder) took her (the constituent) to court for shooting at him, and he won," Crockett-Stark said.

The state Senate passed its version of the legislation last week, but the House version approved on Thursday would still need to pass the Senate before going to the governor.

Republican Governor Bob McDonnell has not said whether he will sign it into law.

(Editing by Greg McCune)