“A witness called police saying that someone had just shot their wife in the middle of the street,” reuters.com reports, “and that he was trying to get into the house across the street. The homeowner heard the shots and grabbed a firearm. As the man attempted to enter the home, he killed the suspect.” Given the totality of circumstances, the Oklahoma homeowner who terminated his wife-aversive neighbor will not face prosecution. Ah, but the antis would say, “Why didn’t he retreat into the house? He didn’t have to confront the man trying to break in.” No he didn’t. But neither was he obliged to retreat . . .
Like many but not all states, Oklahoma has a “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground” law.
[Click here to see if yours is one of them. It is imperative that you know whether or not your state is on the list. Even if your state has a so-called stand your ground law” it’s equally important that you read and understand the statute. There are key differences between laws which could well mean the difference between a pat on the back and serious jail time.]
Oklahoma law stipulates that an resident has a right to “stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm – provided the self-defender “is not engaged in an unlawful activity” and is attacked “in any place where he or she has a right to be.”
If all those boxes are ticked – as they seem to be above – Oklahoma grants the armed self-defender legal immunity. Of course, whether or not those boxes were ticked in a defensive gun use may be a source of some dispute; if the police and prosecution are not satisfied that an armed self-defender had a right to stand their ground, they may have to prove their innocence in court.
Note: Oklahoma’s law (strengthened in 2011) specifically removes any “duty to retreat.” This is a critical component. As Wikipedia points out, “in those jurisdictions where the [duty to retreat] exists, the burden of proof is on the defense to show that the defendant was acting reasonably.”
If the event described at the beginning of this post had happened in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Hawaii or Wyoming, it might have had a very different outcome for the man who shot the wife murderer.
Or not. As Eugene Volokh pointed out, laws concerning armed self-defense are not entirely straightforward. Again, your state’s law may contain caveats and exceptions that will dramatically effect the outcome of a criminal investigation. “Pennsylvania, for instance, imposes a duty to retreat only when the person whom the defendant is defending against has not displayed a ‘weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.'”
And then there’s your state’s lethal force law – another must-see – and the “reasonable person” standard.
In any defensive gun use, the police and prosecution will consider the totality of circumstances when deciding whether or not to arrest and/or prosecute an armed self-defender who uses lethal force to stop an attack. Those variables include
- your sex, age, height, weight, physical condition and criminal background
- the attacker’s sex, age, height, weight, physical condition and criminal background
- the exact circumstances of the attack (where, when, how and what)
- whether or not your prosecution serves the police and DA’s career progress or political ambitions
Stand your ground laws are an extra protection against unjust arrest and prosecution, a protection that can provide immunity from civil prosecution. Gun control advocates would remove it (story to follow). If you keep and bear arms for self-defense, it’s in your best interest to do everything you can to defend your state’s stand your ground law, modify it if necessary, or work to enact one if one doesn’t exist. Your safety and freedom depend on it. [h/t GR]