You may have seen recent news, such as this ABC News story posted January 31, 2017 of a homeowner being charged with first-degree murder after shooting an intruder at his business attached to his home.
There’s a thin gray line between self-defense and what could be considered manslaughter, or worse.
A story such as this one impacts everyone; no person should feel the threat of bodily harm within their own home. But what is okay in your self-defense, and what is not?
Washington state, where this incident took place, does not have a “duty to retreat” law. This means you’re not required escape the situation if possible. But, it doesn’t mean that you can defend yourself just because an intruder is on your property.
So when can you defend yourself? Most states agree that you can defend yourself if you are under immediate threat of bodily harm. In the Washington state case, the intruder was taking a shower on the property, and was possibly drunk. Did he pose an immediate threat of death or injury? Probably not.
Wikipedia defines the Stand Your Ground Law as: “a justification in a criminal case, whereby defendants can ‘stand their ground’ and use force without retreating, in order to protect and defend themselves or others against threats or perceived threats.”
One notable case is the case of Dawkins v. State, which took place in Oklahoma in 2011.
Notice the wording “against threats or perceived threats”. Perceived threats is an extremely gray area; is a big, burly, unarmed man a threat against another strong man? Maybe not. Is the same unarmed intruder a threat to a woman? Possibly. This is especially important in the Washington state case.
This law states that a “threatened person cannot stand one’s ground and apply lethal force in self-defense, but must instead retreat to a place of safety. (Wikipedia)” Basically, this law states that if you can flee from the situation, then you must do so without use of force.
But, in some cases, some courts have determined the Duty to Retreat law does not apply to a person in their own home or a place they have a right to be. One such case is State of Washington v. Allery in 1984.
In the case of the shower intruder in Washington, the important fact is that, although the intruder may have shouted threats to the property owner, he was unarmed, and was not likely to be a physical threat to the man who shot him.
A press release by the sheriff’s department stated “that this case did not support ‘reasonable’ or ‘necessary’ self-defense.” In other words, a reasonable person would not have felt sufficiently threatened to use lethal force in their defense.
It’s important for everyone to educate themselves in the laws governing their state, county, and city. Every state in the United States has different regulations, so it’s your responsibility to stay up-to-date on what your area allows.
The case of the shower intruder in Washington state shows us that self-defense is sometimes subjective. It’s easy to see that an intruder does not present a threat to one person, but can pose a threat to another. To find out what the regulations in your state allow, check out this article.
For more information about safe firearms storage at home, please refer to our gun safes guide here.