Informational briefing on the right to self-defense Monday

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Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

Senator Therese M. Terlaje and the Committee on Justice will be holding a virtual informational briefing on the Right to Self-Defense on Guam on Monday, June 15, at 9 am.

Primary stakeholders have been invited to present on the topic which including the Attorney General, Chief Prosecutor, Guam Police Department, Public Defender, and the Guam Bar Association.

This hearing will serve to further build a foundational understanding of the basic right to self-defense, and the allowed use of deadly force, which follows a previous hearing held in April of 2018.

During the 2018 hearing, the Attorney General, Chief of Police, and Executive Director of the Public Defender Service Corporation were united in opposition to a Stand Your Ground, also known as “Shoot First”, bill which would have expanded the allowable use of deadly force in self-defense beyond homes, cars, and places of work to public spaces and private establishments such as streets, restaurants, bars, grocery stores or any place a person had a right to be present.

Attorney Stephen Hattori, the Executive Director of the Public Defender Service Corporation, testified that under current law, “You can use self-defense everywhere, you have a duty to retreat, unless the incident occurs in your home, vehicles, or place of work. This bill would expand the zone of protection. A Stand Your Ground law makes everywhere you step your castle.”

Both Hattori and former Chief Prosecutor Joseph B. McDonald provided research to committee members, which included a study by the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground, published in 2015. The Task Force conducted a broad investigation of Stand Your Ground laws across the United States that revealed several important findings, which include:

  1. Based on recent empirical studies, Stand Your Ground states experienced an increase in homicides.
  2. Multiple states have attempted to repeal or amend Stand Your Ground laws.
  3. The application of Stand Your Ground laws is unpredictable, uneven, and results in racial disparities.
  4. An individual’s right to self-defense was sufficiently protected prior to Stand Your Ground laws.
  5. Victims’ rights are undermined in states with statutory immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suits related to Stand Your Ground cases.

Senator Terlaje hopes that the Legislative Committee on Justice will be fully informed of the current state of the law and the effects of self-defense law on the prosecution and rates of homicide, as the 35th Guam Legislature considers several criminal penalties bills and a Stand Your Ground bill introduced this term.

“In other jurisdictions, Shoot First laws have increased homicides in the community. This bill may affect our criminal justice system’s ability to ensure justice. Every senator and our entire community must fully understand our existing right to self-defense, and must carefully consider the intended and unintended potential consequences to our way of life by expanding the allowed use of deadly force on our island,” stated the senator in a news release.

This informational briefing will immediately proceed to a public hearing for Bill No. 47-35 (COR) authored by Senator Joe S. San Agustin which would expand the “Castle Doctrine” justification for acts of self-defense and eliminate the requirement of retreating before the use of force in the face of imminent danger.

The virtual informational briefing and public hearing will broadcast on local television, GTA Channel 21, Docomo Channel 117/60.4, and stream online via www.guamlegislature.com.

A recording of the hearing will be available online via Guam Legislature Media on YouTube after the hearing.

(news release)

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