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El Segundo – Self Defense Laws – What Are Your Rights?

Self Defense Laws

In 1996, a blind man named Courtney Beswick was minding his own business, when he was suddenly attacked. His attacker was Anthony Ervin, who no doubt believed that stealing money from a blind man would be simple. However, Beswick refused Ervin’s demands for money, so Ervin attacked him. Little did Ervin know, that Beswick was a trained martial artist. Beswick used a martial arts move to toss Ervin over his shoulder when he attacked. The fall broke Ervin’s neck, and he died.

After this occurred, the subject was brought up of civil and criminal charges being filed against Beswick for killing Ervin, even though Beswick acted in self-defense. However, the police eventually decided not to file charges. [1]

The Truth About Self Defense Laws

Oddly enough, Beswick’s avoidance of criminal charges isn’t as common as you may think. Though the law advocates self defense, the parameters are a bit strict. Technically, you are allowed to use necessary, non-deadly force in self-defense anytime you believe that unlawful force will be used against you. The important distinction there is “non-deadly force”. The only time that deadly force is permitted, is when the victim reasonably believes that their life is in immediate danger. The term “reasonable belief” is another important part of self defense law.

Self Defense By State

Many states have different definitions for “reasonable force“, “deadly force“, “non-deadly force” and “reasonable belief“. From 2005 – 2006, 15 states have modified their self-defense laws to allow victims to use deadly force when their lives are in danger. However, these expanded laws usually apply to victims that are within the boundaries of their own homes or vehicles.

“The Florida law, which served as a model for the others, gives people the right to use deadly force against intruders entering their homes. They no longer need to prove that they feared for their safety, only that the person they killed had intruded unlawfully and forcefully. The law also extends this principle to vehicles.” [2]

Essentially, this means that citizens are allowed to use “deadly force” to protect their property. Further exploration into these modified laws also addresses what people should do if attacked in a public place.

“…The law does away with an earlier requirement that a person attacked in a public place must retreat if possible. Now, that same person, in the law’s words, ‘has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.’ The law also forbids the arrest, detention or prosecution of the people covered by the law, and it prohibits civil suits against them.” [2]

The states that expanded their self-defense laws from 2005-2006 include:

  • Alaska
  • Idaho
  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Kansas
  • Oklahoma
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Michigan
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky
  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Virginia
  • South Carolina
  • Georgia
  • Florida

Each state’s self-defense laws are different, however. It’s always best to read your specific state’s self defense laws, in order to avoid a situation in where you could be prosecuted for defending yourself.

Castle Doctrine

A “Castle Doctrine” (also called “Defense of Habitation” ) is a law that focuses on giving individuals the right to defend their “castle”, or home. It also gives people the power to protect from illegal trespassing, violent entry, or other activities on their property that may cause them harm. A Castle Doctrine also gives people the ability to protect other innocent people in their home from harm when necessary. If an intruder or attacker is subjected to lethal force by a person defending their home, and the criminal dies, it could potentially be classified as “justifiable homicide”.

However, the Castle Doctrine is subject to a number of restrictions. The person on your property must be committing an illegal act in order for you to act in defense. In addition to this, the occupant of the home must reasonably believe that the intruder or trespasser intends to do them harm, or commit an illegal activity. [3]

Currently, the following states (listed in alphabetical order) have officially adopted the Castle Doctrine Law:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio, Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

States that are not listed here may have modified versions of the Castle Doctrine, may be in the process of adopting the Castle Doctrine, or may have special laws regarding self defense rights.

Sources:

[1]http://www.ittendojo.org/articles/general-4.htm

[2]http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/07/us/07shoot.html

[3]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castle_Doctrine

This post is originally authored at the home security blog at family + home security.

Category: Home Security