HOUSTON—The controversial shooting of a teenager in Florida has a Texas lawmaker demanding changes to the Texas version of the "stand your ground" law.
State Representative Garnet Coleman feels the state’s Castle Doctrine allows potential victims too much latitude to shoot first and ask questions later. He plans to introduce legislation to amend it.
But some legal experts and supporters of the current law don’t believe the proposed changes stand much chance of passing in Austin.
In 2007, the Legislature eliminated the "duty to retreat before using deadly force" portion of the law.
Coleman, citing the Trayvon Martin case in Florida as an example, says the 2007 change made it too easy for Texans to respond with deadly force when the situation might not warrant it.
"All it takes is a tragedy for people to understand that something needs to be changed," Coleman said. "And I don’t think any legislator in this state wants to be perceived as allowing somebody the ability to shoot someone without good cause."
Coleman also recounted the November 2007 case of Joe Horn in Pasadena. The homeowner, despite being urged by a 911 operator to stay inside his home, chose to go out his front door and confront two burglars who had broken into a neighbor’s home. The investigation showed that Horn shot and killed both with a shotgun as they were running away. A Harris County grand jury refused to indict Horn. He was not charged with a crime.
"The reality is here is now is that it’s all about the perception whether someone is or isn’t going to use deadly force which allows someone to shoot first and ask questions later," said Coleman. "That turns into an affirmative defense against prosecution."
"But what’s even worse is both of these bills expand the power of shoot first ask questions later to an automobile, to a place of business," Coleman said of the Texas Castle Doctrine.
But Prof. Gerald Treece with the South Texas College of Law says he doesn’t believe Coleman’s proposal has much of a chance in Texas.
"I don’t have to retreat before I defend myself," he said of the interpretation of Texas law even prior to the Castle Doctrine update in 2007.
"I don’t have to say, 'Deadly force is going to be used, I think I’ll retreat.' You can be a man in Texas and stand up for yourself without retreating," said Treece.
Coleman, who believes the current Texas law has had a disproportionate impact on minorities, says he will introduce his recommended changes to the Castle Doctrine in the next legislative session.