Popular culture tells us that we’re well within our rights to use force when facing intruders or criminals within our property. The words “self-defense” come to mind. However, what do laws around the world tell us? When is it legal to shoot someone or use lethal force on your property? Read on to find out.
US Self-Defense Law
Self-defense is your right to defend yourself using reasonable force. This is where the justifiable use of deadly force comes into play.
According to the Florida Statute Section 776.012(2), “a person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
“Forcible felony” includes:
- Sexual battery
- Home-invasion robbery
- Aggravated assault/battery/stalking
- Aircraft piracy
In simple terms, if you’re on your property, the law favors your right to protect your home and the people and things inside it. However, the law doesn’t allow you to execute or fatally shoot someone merely because they broke into your house.
The police will first decide if your actions are justified, followed by a prosecutor and a judge. Finally, a jury will determine whether or not the use of force is justified. The law presumes that you have a reasonable fear of imminent peril or great bodily harm if the other person is in the process of unlawfully entering your house or occupied vehicle.
This presumption doesn’t apply if:
- The other person has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of your dwelling, house, or vehicle. These may be owners, lessee, or titleholders.
- You’re involved in criminal activity and use the dwelling, house, or vehicle for criminal activity.
- The other person is a law enforcement officer trying to enter your property while performing his or her official duties, especially if the officer identified himself or herself as such.
Duty to Retreat and Standing Your Ground
You can only use deadly force if it’s completely necessary to remove the threat. If the threat involves only a minor force, you can’t use deadly force or threaten to cause grievous bodily harm — your self-defense claim will fail.
On top of that, many states require you to try to escape the situation first before using lethal force. This is called the “duty to retreat”.
On the flip side, many states have enacted “stand your ground” laws. These laws remove your duty to retreat if you’re in a place where you want to be (your dwelling, home, or vehicle) and if you’re not engaged in criminal activity.
Burglary Law in the UK
In the UK, the law on burglary governs whether or not you can shoot someone on your property. This law is set out in Section 9 of the Theft Act 1968 — a burglary has been committed when a person enters a building as a trespasser and one or both of the following is true:
- The person enters as a trespasser with the intention to steal, inflict grievous bodily harm, or commit unlawful damage
- The person enters as a trespasser and steals or attempts to steal, inflicts grievous bodily harm, or attempts to do so.
At the time of the trespass, UK law doesn’t expect the person to rationally weigh up the amount of force he or she can use to prevent the crime from happening. Similarly, UK law acknowledges that, in the heat of the moment, you may use lethal force that seemed necessary but is actually disproportionate upon reflection. In other words, you’re given the benefit of the doubt.
However, the use of disproportionate force is only allowed when you’re trying to protect yourself or other people. You can’t use it to protect property.
If you believe that you’re in imminent danger, you can’t do a pre-emptive strike by setting up traps before the intruder even appears. If you believe that pre-planning traps is necessary because of an imminent threat, it’s better to inform the police first.
Finally, if the intruder is no longer a threat to you and your property, you’re no longer allowed to use excessive force in chasing him or her away. Self-defense is only available when facing a threat. On the other hand, force can still be used if you’re chasing an intruder to:
- Recover stolen property
- Apprehend them and make a Citizen’s Arrest
Even so, a single blow or a rugby tackle would be deemed sufficient. Using excessive force wouldn’t be allowed.
The Canadian Criminal Code
Similar to US and UK laws, Canadians have the right to defend themselves and their properties when facing a threat. If you injure an intruder, however, you should prove the circumstances gave you no other choice.
The use of lethal force is also allowed but only when you have reason to believe that the intruder intends to harm you or the people around you gravely. Section 35 of the Criminal Code says that “reasonable actions” can be taken, but not more.
For example, you can knock an intruder down or use a weapon to deal preventative blows to them if that’s what it takes to stop them from doing harm. However, shooting them would be deemed unreasonable — Canadian law generally prohibits the use of firearms for self- or property defense. By contrast, in the US, the Second Amendment gives people the right to have guns and use them for self-defense.
Generally, self-defense claims are judged on the unique facts of each case. The key is to convince the Crown or court that your actions were reasonable when assessed relative to your circumstances.
Other general laws also apply when claiming self-defense in Canada. The courts will judge the case based on the nature of the threat or force used, the imminence of the threat, and the proportion of the self-defense act to the perceived threat.
About The Author: Michael is an aspiring lawyer who likes to spend his free time researching different topics of law, especially about what is legal and what is not. He enjoys reading articles, watching documentaries, and attending lectures to become more informed about the law. He hopes that one day he will be able to use this knowledge to help people in need. Michael also has a passion for writing which led him to pursue journalism as his minor in college.
Through his studies, he has learned how to write professionally with clarity and precision. He is currently writing a novel about the life of a young lawyer who fights for justice in a world that is filled with corruption. Michael hopes to use his skills in writing and researching to pursue a career as an attorney one day. In addition, he also volunteers at legal aid clinics to gain more experience. From this volunteering experience, he has been able to help people better understand their rights and the legal system.
Michael is a dedicated individual with a passion for law and writing, and these qualities make him an excellent candidate for any legal field. He is eager to use his skillset to prove himself as a lawyer in order to contribute in making the world a better place.