Crime should not pay


POSTED: Monday, May 17, 2010

A right to defend one's home against intruders has been law going back to British common law, and Gov. Linda Lingle has signed into law the specifics of Hawaii's version. It allows a homeowner or tenant to respond with force to trespassers in appropriate circumstances without later being sued for injuring or killing the criminal. Burglars, be warned: This is a reasonable and justified response to crime.

Under the new law, the intruder must be convicted of a felony during the incident ranging from violent crimes to murder for the property owner to be immune from lawsuits. An added provision supported by personal injury lawyers protects people who had no criminal intention, such as entering the wrong house by mistake, to sue the property owner.

The issue of a perpetrator suing the victim outraged Americans when an Iowa gas attendant entered an unoccupied old farm house to steal antique bottles and fruit jars and was shot in the leg by a 20-gauge shotgun rigged with a wire to go off when a door was opened. The farmer, Edward Briney, was ordered by the state court in 1971 to pay the intruder $30,000.

That led to a series of new statutes across the country known as “;Briney Bills,”; “;Castle Laws”; and “;Make My Day Laws,”; alluding to Clint Eastwood's line, “;Go ahead, make my day,”; in the 1983 movie “;Sudden Impact.”;

In testimony before a Hawaii legislative committee, the National Rifle Association cited the case of an Oklahoma dentist who fired a shot that killed one of two men who were stealing items from his garage in 1987. Even though the lawsuit was dismissed, Oklahoma legislators quickly enacted a Make My Day Law, which is credited with reducing burglaries by nearly half in that state in the dozen years that followed.

Property owners provided the liability immunity in Hawaii courts include the state and counties. Sen. Mike Gabbard, an advocate of the measure, cited the case of an 19-year-old recent graduate of a California public high school who fell through a skylight above the school's gymnasium while trying to burglarize it in 1982. He was paralyzed but won a settlement of $260,000 and a $1,200 life-long monthly stipend, paid with tax dollars.

The infliction of injury or death is protected by the new Hawaii statute from lawsuits by intruders who end up being convicted of felonies involving violence, physical harm or the use of a firearm or any “;dangerous or deadly weapon.”;

If armed burglary being illegal isn't much of a deterrent for perpetrators, this new immunity for victims using self-protective deadly force should be. Here's hoping it will reduce such crimes in Hawaii, as it did in Oklahoma. Convicted felons, or their surviving families, should not be allowed to profit from their crimes at the victims' expense.