WHEELING - A national effort to repeal Castle Doctrine laws in 26 states is falling on deaf ears in West Virginia.
State Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, who authored the law as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2008, said the statute codifies West Virginia's long-standing common-law tradition of residents' right of self defense.
"I don't see any appetite in the Legislature to revisit our existing Castle Doctrine," he said.
Photo by Fred Connors
Reviewing West Virginia’s Castle Doctrine law, Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith is opposed to any effort to have the law repealed or watered down.
Kessler's comments are in response to a May 23 mailing to all West Virginia legislators and to 4,000 lawmakers in 25 other states, including Ohio, by the Second Chance on Shoot First campaign asking for repeal or reform of existing laws.
Second Chance Campaign Director Ginny Simmons said the organization is led by the National Urban League, ColorofChange.org, the NAACP, National Action Network, the Lawyer's Committee on Civil Rights, VoteVets and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Experience shows that these laws encourage vigilantism, sow confusion among police officers and stymie prosecutors," Simmons said. "People carrying guns now feel emboldened to resolve conflicts with firearms even if they could safely walk away; and police and prosecutors are uncertain about which shootings may be instances of legitimate self-defense and which are murders."
Kessler said the West Virginia law is appropriate in that it provides that every person's home is his castle. The law gives a person the right to stand his or her ground in a private residence, a business or any place where that person is lawfully permitted to be.
"It has to be reasonable and proportionate to be a complete defense, just as shown last month in Wheeling when a pharmacist used reasonable and proportionate deadly force to protect himself and his co-workers from a threat of death or serious bodily injury," Kessler said. "I have no intention of repealing or watering down our current law."
The Second Chance Campaign launched two days before a Wheeling pharmacist shot and killed would-be robber Kevin Lee Walnoha, 37 of Wellsburg, at the Elm Grove Pharmacy in Elm Grove. Also, on Dec. 12, the owner of the A&M Quick Stop in Weirton shot and killed 18-year-old Dakota Givens as Givens was entering a window in a robbery attempt.
Ohio County Prosecutor Scott Smith also is against changing the law.
"I am not in favor of repealing the law, but I think we need to educate the public more on what the law means," he said. "Legislators pass laws they hope will apply to all situations involving people. However, it's impossible to use words that will apply to every ... situation. The fact that people are ignorant about the law doesn't mean we should change it. We should educate them about the requirements of the law."
He said a Castle Doctrine self-defense seldom reaches the courts because prosecutors carefully review all cases where deadly force is employed before bringing charges against the shooter.
"Prosecutors are always trying to figure out how the law applies to human behavior," he said. "This is no different than what we do every day with all crime statutes."