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Published March 06, 2012, 10:11 AM

Minnesota Governor Dayton vetoes deadly force bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday vetoed a bill that would have expanded the cases in which people could use deadly force, siding with objections from law enforcement who said it could legalize murder in some cases.

By: ALEXANDRA TEMPUS, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday vetoed a bill that would have expanded the cases in which people could use deadly force, siding with objections from law enforcement who said it could legalize murder in some cases.

In his veto letter, Dayton cited opposition to the bill from police groups.

"When they strongly oppose a measure, because they believe it will increase the dangers to them in the performance of their duties, I cannot support it," Dayton wrote.

The bill didn't have enough votes to suggest an override of the veto would be successful.

The state already has what's known as the castle doctrine, a provision that allows the use deadly force in defending a home or dwelling. The new bill would have expanded the definition of dwelling to include a hotel room, tent, car or boat.

The legislation also would have created a presumption that a person who uses deadly force did so believing they were in danger of harm or death. Current law says deadly force may be used if it is what a reasonable person would do, and if there is no way to safely retreat. The bill would have removed the obligation to retreat.

Dayton said state law already allows law-abiding citizens to use deadly force to defend themselves or others — either inside or outside of their homes — as long as the use of deadly force constitutes "reasonable force."

"That, I believe, is a reasonable standard," the governor wrote.

The bill passed in the House last year. It passed through the Senate last month with a change that the House approved before sending it to the governor.

Last year's House bill was authored by Rep. Tony Cornish, former Lake Crystal police chief. The Republican from Good Thunder had said the governor previously seemed open to the bill.

But Cornish said Monday night he was not surprised by Dayton's veto.

"I think that he's been led astray by the talking heads for some of the law enforcement groups, not the rank and file," Cornish said. He said the issue is too complex to handle as a constitutional amendment, which would not require the governor's approval for lawmakers to place before Minnesota voters. He said supporters will have to bring the issue back to the Legislature each year until it becomes law.

"Hopefully people will realize you have a right to defend yourself not only in your home, but your business or car," Cornish said in a telephone interview.

Senate author Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, argued that the bill granted people more freedom of personal protection by not requiring them to retreat from a dangerous situation.

"While current law enables the aggressor, my bill focused on protecting the victim. Unfortunately, with the governor's veto, violent criminals will continue to have the advantage over law-abiding citizens," Hoffman said in a new release.

The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, and Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association all had spoken out against the measure. The groups worried the bill would make it legal for a homeowner to shoot a police officer entering a property.

Hoffman added a change to the bill that takes away the protection of the presumption if the homeowner has reason to believe an intruder is a police officer.

Prosecutors with the Minnesota County Attorneys Association were concerned the legislation shifted the current "reasonable person" standard to a more subjective standard, making it harder to prosecute someone who used deadly force inappropriately.

The National Rifle Association said it was disappointed by Dayton's veto. The NRA said the bill contained "vital common-sense reforms that would have enhanced self-defense laws" for law-abiding Minnesotans.

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