Oklahoma mom kills home invader: Why the law was on her side
Sarah McKinley, an Oklahoma mom who shot and killed a knife-wielding intruder, was cleared of any wrongdoing by prosecutors on Thursday – vindication of the 'castle doctrine,' proponents say.
Sarah McKinley, the Oklahoma mom who shot and killed an intruder after asking a 911 operator if it was okay to shoot, was cleared of wrongdoing Thursday. Also this week police declined to bring charges against a Pennsylvania man who killed a romantic rival with a bow and arrow. And in South Carolina, a woman who shot a homeless person squatting in an empty rental home was also not charged.Skip to next paragraph
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As these cases show, the so-called “castle doctrine” is being tested in a variety of new ways, as states have steadily expanded the rights of citizens to protect their homes and property.
After Florida's passage of a castle doctrine law in 2005, 31 states followed suit and now protect the right of homeowners to defend their property from intruders. And the expansion of such laws continue.
Washington State is currently debating whether or not to add a castle doctrine law, North Carolina just expanded its law to include vehicles, and Pennsylvania last year expanded its law to include porches. Ohio passed a law last year expanding its castle doctrine to include business property, and now allows self-defense even in cases where an intruder is unarmed.
Common law in non-castle doctrine states also protects homeowners from prosecution for standing their ground in their own homes.
The reasons for having castle doctrine laws vary. Some states cite post-9/11 security concerns or the perceived vulnerability of domestic abuse victims. Others point to a distrust in the criminal justice system. Still some point to political motives that would expand gun rights.
Debate continues in the legal community about whether expanding castle doctrine to more public areas has a deterrent effect on crime or whether it makes society more dangerous.
“There is a wide range of potential outcomes” to expanding castle doctrine, according to a 2007 report by the American Prosecutors Research Institute. “People may feel 'safer' because they have a right to defend themselves in more situations. On the other hand, people may feel less safe because of uncertainty about who might be carrying a weapon, who might interpret behavior as threatening, and the potential for the use of deadly force.”
Opponents also say castle doctrine laws are unnecessary because there are few, if any, recorded cases where US prosecutors have charged anyone engaged in self-defense of their home.
Over 600 criminal defense lawyers opposed the new Ohio law on the grounds that “malevolent, reckless or paranoid people who shoot trick-or-treaters or repairmen on their porch will be presumed to be acting in self-defense.”