CAN I USE LETHAL FORCE TO DEFEND MY HOME?

Every State has different laws regarding what amount of force you can use to defend your home. Some States require you to retreat before you use any force. Others do not. Some States limit the amount of force you can use depending on the circumstances. Others do not.

In Minnesota, the law permits you to defend your home, even with lethal force, under certain circumstances. Here's what Minnesota's Jury Instruction says with regard to Defense of a Dwelling:

No crime is committed when a person takes the life of another person, even intentionally, if the defendant's action was taken in preventing the commission of a felony in the defendant's (dwelling) (place of abode).

In order for a killing to be justified for this reason, three conditions must be met. First, the defendant's action was done to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling. Second, the defendant's judgment as to the gravity of the situation was reasonable under the circumstances. Third, the defendant's election to defend (his) (her) dwelling was such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger perceived. All three conditions must be met. The defendant has no duty to retreat. The State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.

Here's what this means in English: It's not a crime to kill someone intentionally if you do it to protect yourself in your home and you meet three conditions:

  1. You have to be preventing a felony in the house (burglary, robbery, rape, and assault with a weapon are some examples);
  2. Your judgment about how serious the situation is must be reasonable under the circumstances; and
  3. Your decision to defend your home must also be reasonable given the perceived danger.

How Do I Know If I'm Preventing a Felony? This sounds trickier than it really is. For one, a burglary is a felony. So if someone breaks into your home and it appears that they intend to steal, rob, or assault you (or your guests), that qualifies as a burglary as defined by Minnesota Statute 609.582. You don't have to wait for them to actually assault you before you take action, as long as you meet the other conditions.

Seriousness of Situation: Obviously, if a child wanders into your home because they're lost, or if you get into an argument with a guest at your home but you're not fearful that they will seriously harm you, then it's not reasonable to view the situation as a serious one. On the other hand, if a stranger uses a crow bar to pry open your door and comes into your house, it is reasonable to think the situation is serious.

Decision to Defend: This is a judgment call, but it must be reasonable. If an 80 year-old frail man breaks in and it's obvious that he is not armed, and you are a strong, 25 year-old man and 4 of your friends are with you, then it's probably not a reasonable decision to defend your home by shooting the 80 year-old intruder. If that same 80 year-old man has a gun, then it's probably reasonable to shoot him.

These are just some examples. The best thing to do is call 911 if you have the time and are able. But if you find yourself in a situation where your safety is on the line, it is good to know that you are able to defend your home with force, and that you do not have to retreat first. It would be fun to see some comments to this blog post with other fact scenarios, and I would be happy to give you my opinion on whether it's okay to use deadly force based on the facts that you give me, so please feel free to post a comment. If you have been charged with murder, manslaughter or assault, feel free to call Ryan Pacyga Criminal Defense at 612-339-5844 for a free consultation, or visit my website at www.arrestedmn.com You can also follow me on Twitter @arrestedmn