‘Stand your ground’ law not yet used in W. PA

The shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the ensuing controversy could happen in Pennsylvania because of the states' similarly broad stand-your-ground laws. But it hasn't – yet.

PublicSource checked with district attorneys in 30 Western Pennsylvania counties to see whether the law, also referred to as the Castle Doctrine, has been invoked since its expansion in the state in June 2011.

The law was revised to allow citizens to use deadly force against an attacker outside of the home and in practically any place they have a legal right to be.

The law was cited in area media reports in one deadly case in Somerset County late last year. However, Somerset County prosecutors did not return telephone calls seeking confirmation that the stand-your-ground exception was considered in that case.

Most of the prosecutors in Western Pennsylvania who responded said they had not encountered any cases or made any decisions to charge individuals based on revisions to the Castle Doctrine.

A few district attorneys said it may be only a matter of time before the Castle Doctrine factors into a case, but they clarified that the situations they had seen were not as serious as the Martin shooting.

Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder six weeks after the Feb. 26 killing. The lack of an arrest set off a nationwide protest and accusations of racism. Zimmerman told police he shot the 17-year-old black high school student to defend himself.

The Somerset County case involved an area man who fatally shot his wife's lover with a compound bow. Pittsburgh media reported that Tony Bittinger went to Carl Woolley Jr.'s home with a bat, and Woolley shot him with a bow in self-defense. Prosecutors decided late last year not to charge Woolley with homicide for the killing.

Several district attorneys did not respond to multiple phone calls seeking information about the use of the doctrine. Check with your county District Attorney and let PublicSource know what you find in the comments section of this story or email HStockton@PublicSource.org.

Here are the results of PublicSource’s inquiries with the county D.A.’s:

Allegheny: “We have not had any cases in recent memory where the Castle Doctrine was a determining factor,” said district attorney spokesman Mike Manko.
Armstrong: No cases.
Beaver: Did not respond.
Bedford: No cases.
Blair: Did not respond.
Butler: District Attorney Richard Goldinger said, “We have not had anything in Butler County to this point where we feel the Castle Doctrine may have been invoked to affect a charge, criminal offense or violation.”
Cambria: Did not respond.
Cameron: Did not respond:
Centre: Did not respond.
Clarion: The staff was unaware of any cases, but District Attorney Mark T. Aaron did not return calls to confirm.
Clearfield: No cases.
Clinton: No cases.
Crawford: District Attorney Francis J. Schultz said the county has not “yet” had to evaluate whether the Castle Doctrine applies in a crime.
“We do have a case police are investigating right now that it could come into play,” he said. “No one was killed but there is a situation where a homeowner pointed a firearm at people who showed up to the home.”
The homeowner did not fire the weapon, he said. Schultz said his office will review the complete investigation by police. This application of the Castle Doctrine would have been covered prior to the revision last summer.
Elk: Did not respond.
Erie: Did not respond.
Fayette: The staff was unaware of any cases; the district attorney did not respond to confirm.
Forest: No cases.
Greene: Did not respond.
Huntingdon: Did not respond.
Indiana: District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said there was a case in which a man shot his wife through the door and claimed self-defense. He later admitted he knew she was coming and shot her out of anger; he was found guilty. The woman survived.
Dougherty said his rural county supports the revised Castle Doctrine. “The majority of my constituents are well in favor of it.”
Jefferson: Did not respond.
Lawrence: No cases.
McKean: Did not respond.
Mercer: No cases.
Potter: No cases.
Somerset: Did not respond to confirm reports that the Castle Doctrine was invoked in the decision not to pursue homicide charges against a man who fatally shot his wife's lover with a bow.
Venango: No cases.
Warren: Did not respond.
Washington: Did not respond.
Westmoreland: Did not respond.

Reporting by Halle Stockton, Bill Heltzel and Michael Ringling.

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Task Force Appointed to Look at Florida Gun Laws - The New York Times