A bill justifying the use of force in certain instances of self-defense passed the Indiana House of Representatives Feb. 12 and has advanced into the Senate.
House Bill 1284, if passed, would provide civil immunity for people who use force to defend themselves and others during the event of a forcible felony, which involves the threat of force or harm, burglary or residential entry. It’s a variation of a "stand your ground" law, a type of law becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.
Jody Madeira, IU law professor and Second Amendment expert, said "stand your ground" laws come in several varieties. The castle doctrine, derived from English common law and adopted by almost every state including Indiana, says people are allowed to use force against an intruder in their own home.
Some versions allow someone to defend themselves wherever they are legally allowed to be, such as the workplace, Madeira said. These laws have become more common in the past 20 years.
Indiana has both the Castle Doctrine and allows people to use force if there is a threat of imminent deadly force, Madeira said. She said this bill is cementing protection for people who lawfully use force in self-defense.
“If you are using self-defense lawfully, you can prove that this is justified in a lawsuit,” Madeira said.
Madeira said the proposed bill cuts off the possibility of a lawsuit in certain situations, reaching the end result sooner without the defendant racking up legal fees. It also deters lawsuits by making the plaintiff pay the defendant’s legal fees if the case is thrown out.
However, there are exceptions to this proposed law, Madeira said. The original aggressor, someone committing a felony or someone using deadly force cannot claim self defense.
Madeira said one part of the proposed bill is different than other states who have this immunity and could cause trouble. If a person uses self-defense and isn’t charged with a crime, that can be used as an assumption of innocence in a civil lawsuit.
Nidhi Krishnan, Bloomington South High School senior and co-founder of the local Students Demand Action chapter, said she fears the bill may create more cases like the one involving Trayvon Martin, a black youth killed while walking down the street in Sanford, Florida.
“Stand your ground laws in general are used to marginalize people of color,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan said some of her fears were put to rest when she spoke with her state representative.
“I’m still not a huge fan of it, but I think it’s a lot better than it could be,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan said this bill will most likely have little effect due to pre-existing laws, since civil suits in these situations commonly end in the same result.
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