Senate committee to consider bill clarifying definition of self-defense

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ST. THOMAS - The Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety will take up a bill today to update and clarify the definitions for violent acts of self-defense.

According to the V.I. Code, all citizens have the right of "lawful violence."

Self-defense is legal "where violence is permitted to effect a lawful purpose," according to the V.I. Code.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes is the sponsor of the proposed legislation to repeal the existing language and substitute new language. He said the code that relates to self-defense is outdated and vague.

His measure would protect anyone acting to protect either themselves or someone else from bodily harm. It would also allow a person protecting their property to claim self-defense.

"The purpose is to clarify it," Sanes said. "If you read what's presently in the V.I. Code, it's a short little paragraph and it doesn't break it down into how self-defense can be used or how it's interpreted."

He said he looked at the self-defense laws in other jurisdictions to draft the legislation.

If a violent action is deemed self-defense, that person cannot be charged with a crime such as assault.

Sanes acknowledged the bill is not perfect, and said V.I. Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. will testify today about ways to improve it.

Sanes said he also is in the process of clarifying the territory's "Good Samaritan" law, which is designed to protect someone who gives reasonable assistance to a person who is injured, ill, in peril or otherwise incapacitated. The purpose of such laws is to reduce a person's hesitation to assist another, for fear of being sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death.

That law, like the self-defense law, also is decades old, according to Sanes.

"We really have to revise the V.I. Code," Sanes said. "With our crime rate as high as it is, people have a tendency to defend themselves, and we need to bring our code up to par."

Three other bills will be heard in today's committee meeting:

- A bill to institute an emergency call box system for the territory.

- A bill to clarify the definition relating to the criminal charge of interfering with an officer discharging his or her duty.

- A bill to increase penalties for vehicle weight violations.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email

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