By ALEXANDRA TEMPUS, Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- Minnesota residents would have greater freedom to defend their homes with deadly force under a bill headed to the state Senate floor over the objections of police, who said it could endanger officers.
The measure was approved last year by the House. Its passage by a 10-5 vote Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee sends it to the full Senate, where supporters predict it will pass. Gov. Mark Dayton said he hadn't decided yet if he would sign or veto the bill.
The provision, known as the castle doctrine, allows the use of deadly force with a weapon if people believe they are in imminent danger while defending a dwelling.
Current law allows self-defense when a person reasonably believes there's a threat of bodily harm or death. The bill creates a presumption that a person who uses deadly force has such a belief, and it would eliminate any duty to retreat from a threatening situation. It also expands the definition of dwelling to include a home, hotel room or other overnight accommodation, tent, car or boat. The effect of the bill would be to make it harder to prosecute or sue a homeowner for using deadly force.
"It puts the onus on the criminal and not the victim," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, the bill's lead sponsor, told the committee. "We should be able to be someplace lawfully and protect ourselves."
Hoffman said the bill had strong support in both parties, but some Democrats on the committee expressed concern.
Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said that the bill could enable violent felons to use deadly force once they are allowed to carry firearms again.
"We're saying that people that have been violent felons in the past can now also basically shoot people anywhere that they feel threatened," Goodwin said. Her motion to send the bill to the Judiciary Committee for further discussion was rejected.
Dennis Flaherty, executive director of the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said the bill could result in dangerous situations for police officers, who regularly enter homes without permission.
"We're fearful that people will react and shoot and our officers could be mistaken for someone that they believe is someone trying to jeopardize their safety," Flaherty said. He said that there had never been a case in Minnesota where a citizen was prosecuted for killing someone who had entered their home.
"The law is not necessary in Minnesota," Flaherty said.
Hoffman said those concerns are overblown, and said both sheriffs in her district support it.
"I know that the (police) union had opposed it last year," Hoffman said. "Just like when they passed the conceal and carry bill a number of years ago, all their predictions did not come true."
Flaherty said the union expects the bill to gain legislative approval and it is pinning its hopes on Dayton rejecting it.
"Of course we will be communicating," Flaherty said. "The governor is very much a friend of law enforcement and I'm sure he is aware of our opposition."
Dayton said when lawmakers were debating the bill last year, he was "concerned because law enforcement in Minnesota was mostly opposed to it, felt that it gave citizens more freedoms and rights than they had."
But, Dayton said, "I also understand the concern about wanting to protect themselves and their families, so it's something I'll have to look at."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)