November 28, 2014

Elyria
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Killing of alleged burglar highlights ‘castle doctrine’

ELYRIA — While police investigate the death of Jeffrey Carson, a 29-year-old Elyria man shot by a homeowner who said Carson broke into his Water Street home, community commentary centers on a Ohio’s version of the “castle doctrine” to justify the shooting.

Carson

Police are still investigating the shooting that happened just before 3 a.m. Friday.

Carson died in the home of Jack and Linda Dillon. According to a police report, the Dillons were asleep inside their home — Jack Dillion was sleeping downstairs on a couch with a gun nearby — when Carson entered through a window, police said.

The noise awakened them, and they found Carson inside the home, presumably there to steal electronics, they told police. Jack Dillon told police he called out to Carson, who lunged at him. He shot Carson, who died soon after at EMH Elyria Medical Center in Elyria.

Police have been tight-lipped about the investigation as has the county coroner, who has not released a cause of death. Still, the shooting begs for an explanation about the castle doctrine and how it works.

Dean Carro, a law professor at the University of Akron, said the law, which has only been on the books in Ohio since 2008 when then-Gov. Ted Strickland signed Senate Bill 184, is an extension of the affirmative defense of self-defense.

A defendant can claim self-defense if he or she has a bona-fide belief that he or she is at risk of death or serious bodily injury. He or she cannot be at fault — meaning the individual did not cause the situation that resulted in the need to defend himself or herself — and when he or she are out in public he or she have a duty to retreat before resorting to self-defense, Carro said.

“But you don’t have a duty to retreat in your home and that is what you are talking about with the castle doctrine,” he said. “If you act against a trespasser in your home under the right circumstances, you are presumed to be acting in self-defense. The benefit is in law you want a presumption. Just like every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, the government can present evidence against the self-defense presumption and at that point the defendant can argue his case.”

Claiming self-defense does not mean criminal charges will not filed. Just like police officer-involved shootings are investigated, Carro said claims of self-defense are also put under the microscope. If a prosecutor believes charges are warranted, they can be filed and let a court of law ultimately decide.

Doug Deeken, director of Ohioans for Concealed Carry, said the castle doctrine stems from the term that “every man’s home is his castle.”

“But it’s not a 100 percent cure all,” he said. “It shouldn’t even take a law to say that, but that is what is needed in our society. We got the law in place to protect ourselves in this litigious society we live in.”

Deeken said it extends to a person’s car as well as his or her home, which would cover a shooting in the event of a carjacking. But those who elect to use a gun to defend themselves do so knowing they face some legal jeopardy.

“There is no guarantee you won’t face charges. It just helps,” he said. “It helps in a criminal action, but it also helps with civil liability in case a home invader or his family gets a lawyer and attempts to come after you in a civil action.”

Deeken said it doesn’t matter whether a homeowner has a concealed carry permit or not because a homeowner who legally purchases a gun can have one in his or her home without such a permit.

“It just forces law enforcement and civil action to presume the homeowner was in the right to defend their home and loved ones,” he said.

It’s hard to say how often the castle doctrine is used in the state or country. Statistics on justifiable homicide do not go into great detail on the subject. But according to FBI figures from the most recent study, law enforcement reported 665 justifiable homicides in 2010.

Of those, law enforcement officers justifiably killed 387 felons, and private citizens justifiably killed 278 people during the commission of a crime.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.