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Self-defense bill would expand 'Stand Your Ground' law

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INDIANAPOLIS – Legislation that would expand Indiana’s “Stand Your Law” to cover civil lawsuits would lead to more deaths of Hoosiers, opponents of the proposed bill told a Senate committee Wednesday.

House Bill 1284 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee 7-3 over the objections of Sens. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, and Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson.

“You don’t think a bill like this will be an open market when it comes to African Americans to shoot first and ask questions later?” said Randolph.

HB 1248, authored by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, would provide civil immunity for a justifiable use of force in self-defense or in the defense of others.

Under Indiana’s current “stand your ground” law, residents can use reasonable force­­, including the use of deadly force to protect themselves, their property or someone else. While that protects them from criminal charges, the current law does not protect people from a civil lawsuit.

HB 1248 was crafted with people like Kystie Phillips in mind.

Phillips was home in February 2017 when an off-duty conservation officer pulled into her driveway responding to a 911 call. The call was about a man who was parked in front of Phillips residence so the officer investigated.

When the man attacked the officer, Phillips retrieved her gun. As the fighting escalated and the man pinned the officer to the ground, Phillips fired, hitting the man, who later died.

“I can’t take back my actions, nor would I,” Phillips told the committee, “because if I did I have no doubt that an innocent man would have been murdered in front of my eyes.”

The Ohio County prosecutor determined that the use of force was justified, but Phillips was then sued by the dead man’s family, forcing her to defend her actions in civil court. The case was dismissed Feb. 1.

HB 1248 passed the House in February by an 80-13 vote.

The Senate committee heard from groups who believe that expanding the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law is the wrong move.

“Just because someone claims stand your ground doesn’t mean that they acted lawfully in every case,” said Cathy Weinmann, a member of Moms Demand Action. “This bill goes against everything our legal system is designed to do.”

Moms Demand Action is an organization formed in the aftermath of school shootings and composed of people who want to tighten gun laws. Weinmann said she believes that HB 1284 would only encourage more violence, justify shootings and hinder people’s ability to file a civil suit in Indiana courts.

Brad Yoder, a board member of Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence, agrees that the bill will make Indiana a more dangerous place to live. Yoder said current Indiana law provides adequate protection for self-defense claims.

“On average, we lose 763 people every week to gun violence,” said Yoder. “Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence believes that we need to see gun violence as a public health problem.”

Taylor, Randolph and Lanane raised questions about the bill, such as who should be responsible for the burden of proof or would the proposed law take discretion away from judges.

“I can’t envision a plaintiff’s attorney who would take a case under these circumstances,” said Lanane. “Are we in some way invading the province of the Supreme Court here?”

Taylor and Randolph said they believe that HB 1284 presents an opportunity to hurt individuals without facing consequences by claiming self-defense, especially when minorities are involved.

 “This gives more immunity to an individual than that of a police officer,” said Taylor. “It’s sad that we know that this has led to so many deaths of people that look like me.”

The bill now moves onto to full Senate for further action.


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