Legislation inspired by Florida’s Trayvon Martin case failed in a Senate committee Tuesday amid concerns that it would cloud state law.
Senate Bill 719 by state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge, would have rewritten Louisiana’s justifiable homicide law. Under the change, the law would not apply when the person committing the homicide is the aggressor.
“What I don’t want to happen in this state is that we have permission to murder,” Dorsey-Colomb told the state Senate Committee on Judiciary C.
Critics of the change complained that the measure would lead to confusion and possibly result in people provoking aggressive behavior in order to have an excuse to kill.
“I’m just afraid if we do this, and you’re the aggressor, you’re fair game,” said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central.
The bill overwhelmingly failed with only Dorsey-Colomb voting in favor of advancing it to the Senate floor.
Another instrument still is alive in the House to address the uproar over the case of neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, fatally shooting an unarmed teenager in Florida. The victim, Trayvon Martin, was on an errand to the store when he was shot.
At issue in the Florida case is whether the volunteer can claim self-defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law, which does not require someone to retreat during a confrontation. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in Martin’s death.
In Louisiana, a homicide is considered to be justifiable when someone believes he is in “imminent danger of losing his life.” Intruders can be shot inside a home, business or a car, regardless of whether there is a threat.
State Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, filed House Bill 1100 to no longer allow a person to pursue an aggressor “if the aggressor retreats before deadly force is used.”
Michelle Ghetti, a professor at the Southern University Law Center, told legislators Tuesday that Burrell’s bill is much more specific to the issue than the legislation filed by Dorsey-Colomb. “This bill, even in amended form, is not clear,” Ghetti said in reference to SB719. “I would be at a loss on how to instruct a judge on how to craft a jury instruction.”
Dorsey-Colomb told legislators that she was not trying to dismantle Louisiana’s castle doctrine, which allows a homeowner to protect his home.
She said also she was not trying to take away the right to bear arms since she carries a gun herself.
“Withdraw is the key to this,” she said.
Dorsey-Colomb said she wanted to make it clear that someone cannot be the aggressor and then claim self-defense under the state’s justifiable homicide law.
Chris Rager, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the law change was unnecessary. “I’m unaware of any problems Louisiana’s having with self-defense,” Rager said.
Dorsey-Colomb briefly suspended debate on her bill to work on the language. She returned to the table without any amendments and simply asked the committee to vote in favor of her legislation.
The bill failed with four legislators voting against it.
Voting FOR changing the state’s justifiable homicide law (1): State Sen. Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, D-Baton Rouge.
Voting AGAINST advancing SB719 (4): State Sens. Jonathan Perry, R-Abbeville, Elbert Guillory, D-Opelousas, Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville, and Bodi White, R-Central.