DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - State Senator Royce West first challenged Texas’ Castle Law on March 23, during a rally at Paul Quinn College. “I’m going to ask the Lt. Governor to have the Criminal Justice Committee of the Senate study the Castle Doctrine in light of the Trayvon Martin assassination in Florida,” the Senator from Dallas told a cheering crowd.
His words sent supporters of the Castle Doctrine reeling. West, however, is reassuring Texans that he will only review the law, not revoke it. “A person has a right to self-defense, but we want to make certain it’s justified,” explained West. “ There’s no way in the world we are going to do away with the Castle Law in the state of Texas.”
Instead, Senator West says he will introduce legislation that requires all cases involving deadly force, including self-defense, to go before the Grand Jury. “To make certain that police and law enforcement are not put into the position of being the judge and the jury and that there’s transparency,” added West.
The Senator’s proposal is in response to the shooting death of Florida teen, Trayvon Martin. In that case, police questioned the shooter, George Zimmerman, and then let him go after deciding it was self-defense. Police did not send the case to the District Attorney for further investigation.
UT-Arlington criminal justice professor and reserve police officer, Randy Butler, says the Senator’s proposed legislation may be unnecessary. “Police officers in general do not want the responsibility of being judge and jury,” said Professor Butler. “We don’t want to be involved in that. That’s not our call,” he added.
Butler says almost all law enforcement agencies in Texas have department policies that typically send self-defense cases to the District Attorney.
In Texas, it’s the D.A. who ultimately decides if a case goes before the Grand Jury. Senator West’s proposal could eliminate the middle man by sending cases directly to the Grand Jury.
Former Dallas County prosecutor, Toby Shook, says bypassing the District Attorney’s Office may not be an issue for prosecutors. “In reality, the District Attorney’s Office uses the Grand Jury to cover themselves,” explained Shook. “That way, if they’re ever criticized, they can always blame it on the Grand Jury for no-billing it.”
Senator West’s proposal would also require police to seize and hold any weapon involved in a self-defense case, pending the investigation. The Senator admits it’s likely to anger some gun-rights advocates.