5PM Sunday March 25, on the corner of Schmidt and Hwy 33 near the Washington County Courthouse in West Bend there will be a gathering to protest Castle Doctrine law and to stand by the family of Bo Morrison. Read more at the facebook event Protest/Justice for Bo — Link to MAP
In the early morning hours of March 3, 2012 in the
Village of Slinger, Wisconsin Bo Morrison ducked into a 3-season porch after fleeing an underage party. Bo Morrison knew he was breaking the law by drinking at 20-years-of-age and he knew the police were en route. Bo hid between a refrigerator and a dresser on the porch of the very same man who called the police with a noise complaint earlier.
According to the gunman – whose identity still is not available – he heard a noise, retrieved his handgun, loaded it, and then went to explore his house and check the locks. As he came upon his 3 season porch, he smelled a wet smoky scent and saw movement in the corner of his eye.
According to the gunman’s wife, he yelled “What are you doing
in my house?” two times. She also heard her husband say “Stay where you are”
According to the DA’s report Bo “raised a hand towards the homeowner and took a step towards the
homeowner”. The gunman “already had his firearm straight out in
front of him with his arm extended and aimed at the individual”. When Bo took a step, the gunman fired a single shot.
Bo was unarmed. Why would he move forward like that? Why wouldn’t he raise both hands in surrender? We only have the shooter and his wife’s account. Bo was in a dark room perhaps unaware that a gun was pointing straight at him. At autopsy it was discovered that Bo had a blood alcohol level of 0.190.
A lot of people discussing Bo’s death and grieving for him believe that because he was unarmed his shooter should face a criminal charge. They’re also confused about what Castle Doctrine law is. Bo’s sister Kayla Morrison created a change.org petition that seems to draw on old Wisconsin law to explain Castle Doctrine. She says that “Castle Doctrine has a few stipulations. .. The occupant(s) of the home must reasonably believe that the intruder intends to inflict serious bodily harm or death upon an occupant of the home.”
Things have changed.
Under Wisconsin’s former intruder law, it wasn’t “reasonable” to shoot an intruder to defend your stereo (your property). In the past you were only “reasonable” to shoot an intruder to “defend against imminent death or substantial harm” [Section 939.48(1).]
Now under Wisconsin’s Castle Doctrine law, your use of deadly force to halt an intruder is presumed “reasonable” under all conditions assuming also that you are in or on your property and that the break-in is forcible and that you are not engaged in a criminal act or shooting at a “public officer”. I believe that this sends two messages:
that even if somebody came in to rob you of property and not harm your person, that you would be within your rights to kill. The justice system has less power to convict me for murder if I kill on my property / The justice system has less power to convict my killer if I am murdered on his property.*
What is “forcible” is also quite important. In his explanation for why he pressed no charges, Washington County DA Bensen said that though Bo entered two unlocked doors, his entry was forcible by the definition of several previous Wisconsin court cases. But do we know what a jury would consider “forcible” in the case of Bo Morrison – Wisconsin’s first victim of a self defense shooting under Castle Doctrine law? No. Bensen admits this himself when he writes,
“The bottom line is that no one cannot predict precisely how a court would define “forcibly”
under the Castle Doctrine, nor can anyone predict whether a court would simply instruct a jury
that the term “forcibly” should be given its common meaning as understood by the jury.”
Under Wisconsin’s Castle Doctrine law, the court is not allowed to consider a property owner’s ability to flee or retreat before using force.[Act 94 Section 3] Even what is a “Dwelling” is expanded. We’re now talking driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, patios, fences, porches, garages, and basements.
So in the past, if a gunman were frightened of what made a noise on his porch, we might ask if it weren’t more reasonable to retreat – locking a door between the interior of the home and the porch. We might wonder if given the fact that the gunman knew the police were still on the street outside his house as is the case with this tragedy), that he could consider waiting behind the door and allowing the police to come and do the task of investigating the noise on the porch. Such thinking is not bolstered by Castle Doctrine law. (We might also argue that such thinking is not bolstered by the aggressive sale of handguns). Is there anything in Castle Doctrine to compel a homeowner to lock the door and step back? No. Castle Doctrine gives protection to the property owner who wants to step forward, gun in hand.
Family and friends have demanded that the District Attorney of Washington County charge Bo’s shooter and make him endure the fullest scrutiny of the justice system.
The DA refused, coming to the conclusion that a “reasonable” jury would not convict the shooter of a crime. He’s written a substantial 28 page report to explain his case. In so doing, he takes the place of the prosecutor, the defendant, and the jury and also does not allow for the public to fully witness how it is that a Wisconsin jury treats Castle Doctrine. Not only does it protect the gunman from being raked over the coals of public opinion, it also protects the Castle Doctrine law itself from our collective examination. District Attorneys make these judgement calls. This is a very unpopular one and I think it’s the wrong one.
From his report:
“Under a reasonable view of the evidence the homeowner acted reasonably in his use of force
based on the facts and circumstances of which he was aware when he encountered an unknown
intruder (Mr. Morrison) in his residence at 2 a.m. on March 3,2012. Therefore, the homeowner
acted lawfully in self defense when he fired a single shot at Mr. Morrison. In addition, our office
recognizes that the presumption of reasonable use of force under the Castle Doctrine only applies
in a limited number of situations. Under the facts of this case, it appears that all of the
requirements have been met. Therefore, our office concludes that the presumption of the
reasonable use of force would apply in this case. If the homeowner had been charged in this case
and a trial ensued, the homeowner would have been entitled to a jury instruction on the
presumption. While the State could seek to overcome that presumption if sufficient facts existed,
in this case, our office concludes that there are no facts which could be utilized to overcome the
presumption. Since there are no facts in this case to overcome the presumption in this case, no
reasonable jury could convict the homeowner of any crime for his actions on March 3,2012.”
Wisconsin actually has no history of a “reasonable” OR unreasonable jury deciding on a Castle Doctrine case or getting instructions on it. Bo Morrison’s case would be the first. Consider if you will that DA Bensen uses jury instructions prepared for Tennessee to draw conclusions on what a Wisconsin jury would face. It has a very similar Castle Doctrine statute to Wisconsin’s.
With Castle Doctrine on the books, any Wisconsin DA can defer to property owners to dispense justice. Justice is now less likely to be held by a jury of peers and is more likely to be held by lone shooters.
There is a book in my home by Bill Leuders called, “Watchdog”. Leuders has written for years about criminal cases and he’s been confounded by the lack of citizen outcry over decisions made by district attorneys, prosecutors, police:
“Already, we give these people vast powers – to arrest, to prosecute, to overlook transgression, to deprive of liberty – and immunize them from most lawsuits when they screw up. And then, on top of that, we spare them the bother of having to explain themselves.”
The opposite is true here. An increasing number of people are stepping forward to press very hard for justice in Bo’s tragedy and to repeal Castle Doctrine law.
The news report below starts with, “A fatal shooting and the shooter walks free” and includes a brief interview with the DA.
Contains brief interview of the DA:
DA’s report on Bo Morrison shooting.
PRWatch – ALEC Ratified NRA-Conceived Law That May Protect Trayvon Martin’s Killer
Castle doctrine legislation passed by a 27-6 vote in the Wisconsin Senate on Nov 3, 2011 and by a 71-24 vote Nov. 1, 2011 in the Wisconsin Assembly. Scott Walker signed Act 94 into law on Dec. 17, 2011. It was published on Dec 20, 2011.
From Root River Siren: “The Castle Doctrine was brought before the Wisconsin State Senate by former law enforcement officer, Van Wanggaard. It is strikingly similar to ALEC model legislation proposed in the past – and under the perfect storm of GOP control it passed with ease – by a number of Democrats as well – most notably, Gubernatorial Candidate, Kathleen Vinehout.”
*I got to thinking a little more on it, and well, there you go. I wrote two versions – me being the killer or the murdered because I want readers to step into both of those roles.