The Castle Doctrine

By Beacon Staff
By Joe Carbonari

In Missoula it seems that Diren Dede, a German exchange student, who was just finishing his senior year of high school, died when shot by a resident who appears to have grossly overdone things while acting in the defense of his home and family.

Dede died shot in a trap. Markus Kaarma, the homeowner who shot him, reportedly fired four shots. Apparently no warning was given. Three of the shots were described as being low across the garage; the other high. Whether he was tracking Dede or firing without target, both moral and legal justification seem questionable.

In a civil society we implicitly agree to some restrictions on how we act. Kaarma would have been just fine had he relied on any number of the less lethal ways of saying “Gotcha!” when he sprung the trap.

He didn’t and others haven’t.

Variations on this tragedy have occurred across both our state and our nation. The so-called “castle doctrine” laws involved need review. They appear to be too loosely written.

In America, broadly shared standards of decency decide what is morally acceptable. Legalists put it into code, and politicians hash out the legislation. For our system to work well we need robust public discussion, wise legal guidance, and courageous political leadership. We have a say, we have a vote; we can make a difference.

By Tim Baldwin

Since a homeowner in Missoula shot and killed a teenager who was trespassing in his garage, some are trying to repeal Section 45-3-103, MCA (known as the “castle doctrine,” which is founded in English common law). Castle doctrine critics in Montana are misreading the statute and are mistakenly blaming the law.

Montana’s law allows a person to use proportional force against a forcible intruder when the victim reasonably believes “use of force is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s unlawful entry into or attack upon an occupied structure.”

The law permits lethal force ONLY IF “(a) the entry is made or attempted and the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent an assault upon the person or another then in the occupied structure; or (b) the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony in the occupied structure.”

This law is not a license to kill as some portend. Every state permits self-defense, and people charged with murder and manslaughter often raise this defense. That doesn’t mean we should repeal the law of self-defense. The Missoula County attorney is prosecuting the Missoula homeowner for killing the teenager, showing that the castle doctrine does not permit murder and manslaughter.

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