'Castle Doctrine' Bills Shot Down in Virginia's General Assembly

Author: David M. Williams, Jr., Fredericksburg Personal Injury Attorney

Two bills giving Virginians the green light to use deadly force against intruders into their homes died in the 2012 General Assembly session.

The "Castle doctrine" originated from old English common law rules protecting a person's home and the principle underlying the phrase "a person's home is their castle". The doctrine allows the use of physical force, including deadly force, by a person in his/her home against an intruder who has committed an overt act against him/her or against someone else lawfully in the home. Many states have laws that are based on the Castle Doctrine.[1] One of the Virginia bills would have protected a person from criminal prosecution while the other would have granted immunity from civil lawsuits.

Senator Richard Stuart (R-Stafford), sponsor of SB 4, and Delegate Richard P. "Dickie" Bell (R-Stanton), sponsor of HB 48, pulled their respective bills after concerns were raised that the legislation could weaken protections already established in common law. The bill had initially passed the house.[2] Several pro-gun rights groups, including the Virginia Citizens Defense League and the Nation Rifle Association lobbied against the bills. Both groups said that Virginia's common law is already strong on this issue and therefore the legislation was not necessary because it would not bolster rights that are already established. [3]

The sponsors of the legislation thought it simply codified and strengthened the common law. However, both agreed to withdraw their respective bills to devote additional time to study the issue and resolve any unanswered questions about the consequences of the legislation. It will likely be debated again in the 2013 General Assembly session.[4]

About the Author: Fredericksburg car accident lawyer David M. Williams, Jr. is experienced in the litigation and resolution of car accident claims, wrongful death, medical malpractice and products liability cases.  David has successfully argued multiple cases before the Virginia Supreme Court in more than 15 years of experience with personal injury law.
[1] For a list of states, see South University article, "Castle Doctrine from State to State", in the "Home Issue", Issue 7 (July 2011), at http://source.southuniversity.edu/castle-doctrine-from-state-to-state-46514.aspx.   See also Wikipedia article on the position of various states on the Castle Doctrine, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_doctrine#State-by-state_positions.
[2] See Washington Times article "Va. House passes 'Castle Doctrine' bill", 2/9/12, at http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/feb/9/va-house-passes-castle-doctrine-bill/.  Ed. Note: The included story about the elderly woman has not been confirmed; see article at http://valawyersweekly.com/publishers-blog/2012/02/27/breakfast-with-the-devil/.
[3] See Washington Post article " 'Castle doctrine' bill fails with help from Va. gun-rights group",  3/7/12, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/virginia-politics/post/castle-doctrine-bill-fails-with-help-from-va-gun-rights-group/2012/03/07/gIQAMq3cxR_blog.html.
[4] See WHSV news article, "Castle Doctrine Bill to Get Reworked and Reintroduced", 3/21/12, at http://www.whsv.com/news/headlines/Castle_Doctrine_Bill_to_be_Reworked_and_Reintroduced_143717536.html.
Tel : (804) 353-1200
Fax : (804) 257-7599
37.580754 -77.493777
Tel : (804) 733-8753
Fax : (804) 733-8767
37.225366 -77.406431
Tel : (804) 746-4900
Fax : (804) 746-2315
37.609968 -77.353275
Tel : (540) 786-4100
Fax : (540) 786-9585
38.292658 -77.522033
Tel : (804) 836-1170
Fax : (804) 836-1189
37.65165 -77.615287
Tel : (540) 657-9222
Fax : (540) 657-9522
38.476396 -77.421376
Tel : (804) 745-1200
Fax : (804) 745-8997
37.410489 -77.648702
Tel : (434) 295-4961
Fax : (434) 284-4299
38.087828 -78.471035