by Guy Page
Changes to state law about justifiable homicide signed into law May 13 by Gov. Phil Scott could remove legal protections from citizens defending some attack victims, critics say – including Gov. Scott himself.
The chairs of the powerful House and Senate Judiciary committees say existing ‘Good Samaritan’ legislation and Supreme Court precedent offer sufficient protection.
H145, “standards for law enforcement use of force,” deals mostly with restricting police officers’ use of the chokehold. However, the following amendment (page 7 on the PDF of the law) applies to all citizens:
§ 2305. JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE
If a person kills or wounds another under any of the circumstances enumerated below, he or she shall be guiltless:
(1) in the just and necessary defense of the person’s own life or the person’s spouse, parent, child, sibling, guardian, or ward; or
(2) if the person reasonably believed that he or she was in imminent peril and that it was necessary to repel that peril with deadly force, in the forceful or violent suppression of a person attempting to commit murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, burglary, or robbery.
A clear reading of the new law above strongly implies that “if a person kills or wounds under any of the circumstances” not enumerated, he or she may be found guilty of homicide. Therefore if someone physically defends a non-enumerated person – such as a friend, a non-nuclear family member, a fellow worshipper in church, or just a stranger in need of help, the laws regarding justifiable homicide as outlined in this law do not apply.
Before signing H145, Gov. Scott wrote a letter to the Legislature explaining his concern that the justifiable homicide change could “potentially make someone into a criminal for stepping up to protect the victim of a violent crime if they injure or kill the attacker.”
Nonsense, the Chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary committees told Scott in a May 13 letter: citing several Supreme Court decisions upholding the right to self-defense, Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington) and Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) said “Self-defense and defense of others under the common law are available to intervenors now and will continue to be available once H.145 becomes law…..It was not the intent of the General Assembly to limit the application of these common law defenses, nor does H.145 have the effect of limiting them.”
The National Rifle Association on May 7 warned Vermonters of the legislative history and possible consequences of H.145. “It was amended in the Senate and now represents a striking blow to citizens’ right to self-defense,” the statement said. “The bill had passed the House without the amendment, but the troublesome language was added late in the process before clearing the Senate.”
“H.145, by Rep. Maxine Grad, as currently written, would eliminate legal protections for those engaged in self-defense in the aid of others,” the NRA said. “These protections evaporate if you are fending off a violent attack for anyone other than yourself or an immediate family member. For example, the convenience store manager rescuing a clerk from an armed robber or an individual helping a neighbor who has come under violent criminal attack would now be in legal jeopardy and could face prosecution. It’s also perplexing that the standard under the ‘justifiable homicide’ statute is now at odds with those existing under the ‘aggravated assault’ statute.”