By: J. S.
House Bill 711 clarifies when force, including deadly force, may be used to protect oneself, one’s property, or another person. Hawaii legislators acknowledge in the bill that law abiding citizens do not have a full range of protections available to them in situations where real harm may occur. The bill aims to make it easier for citizens to protect themselves against violent crimes. Introduced by Republican House Representative Bill McDermott, the bill now sits with the House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs. The bill would be a huge step in clarifying how citizens will be protected by law when they act against intruders and otherwise feel threatened in their own homes, vehicles and workplaces.
Under the current law, things get murky when it comes to self protection in one’s own home. While current law provides some protections for citizens, there are too many loopholes in those protections to leave people feeling secure. This murkiness might even encourage criminals to feel bolstered in committing crimes as the occupants of a home are unprotected not only during the crime but afterwards when dealing with the consequences of defending themselves.
Several caveats are removed from the current law under HB 711. Specifically, the bill would strike out several paragraphs about how citizens would not be protected if they use too much force, say if they over anticipated the level of danger that a predator intended. For example, current law states the use of force against an intruder is not justified when the law abiding citizen knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating or by surrendering possession of a thing to a person asserting a claim of right thereto or by complying with a demand that he abstain from any action which he has no duty to take, with exceptions. How often do individuals know what a person intends when breaking into their home? The law leaves much to be desired.
What would remain in law if the bill were passed? The bill maintains the current wording that the use of force is not justified when acted out against a police officer fulfilling his lawful duty, as well as a private citizen lawfully assisting a police officer. The bill would strike out the current wording that use of force is unjustified against a police officer acting unlawfully.
In 2021, Hawaii’s highest number of violent crimes across the state comes from aggravated assault. Hawaii’s violent crime rate is lower than the national average, though the state has seen a small uptick in violent crimes since 2020 according to the SafeWise Report on the State of Safety in Hawaii 2021.
According to this report, aggravated assault makes up 52% of all violent crimes in Hawaii. Robbery accounts for another 28% statewide. There are several instances in the current law where citizens may not be protected by law when trying to defend themselves from either of these crimes.
Many citizens in Hawaii take measures to personally protect themselves from violent crime, with 32% of respondents to the SafeWise survey confirming they carry safety protective measures such as pepper spray.
Domestic violence in Hawaii increased during the pandemic. The Hawaii State Coalition against Domestic Violence’s 2021 Annual report on domestic violence data found that in one day alone 90 unmet requests for assistance across the state were counted. Victims of domestic violence should not fear that they will be left without any options for self protection in their own home when they need to defend themselves. It is important that the law protect citizens and not hinder them from defending themselves in any way.
To share testimony on this bill or view other current bills, visit capitol.hawaii.gov. To view all of Republican House Representative Bob McDermott’s sponsored bills click here.