When can you Use Deadly Force?

By CTD Suzanne published on in Firearms, Legal Issues, Self Defense

Our founding fathers took a deliberate and unarguable stand for their God-given rights to self-defense and protection of property. As Americans, we have enjoyed that right since the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The right to defend ourselves includes the legal and justifiable right to use deadly force. Though wording is different in each one, every state has self-defense statutes or case law that defines how and when a person can use deadly force.

You witness a kidnapping in the local park. Is it okay to use deadly force?

You witness a kidnapping in the local park. Is it ok to use deadly force?

By deciding to carry a gun for self-defense, you have taken up a great responsibility to protect yourself, your family, your friends, and other innocents around you. You must now practice and maintain self-control and restraint wherever you go. Situational awareness and staying in a sound judgment when you carry is of the utmost importance. Do not let fights or arguments escalate. You have a responsibility to stay out of a potentially lethal situation. No one wants to have to pull his or her gun unless it is absolutely necessary.

Necessity is part of every states’ laws when you must use deadly force. However, all states differ in their language, but in general, the legal use of deadly force in self-defense the following factors must be present:

  • Was it justified?
  • Was it necessary?
  • Was deadly force reasonable?
  • Was death or serious bodily injury imminent?

Therefore, you cannot shoot someone in self-defense if you provoked the attack, you are not in immediate danger, and the attacker must have the ability and chance to hurt you. Many states recognize that deadly force is necessary when someone is committing, or without a doubt about to commit a felony. All states differ on how they define a felony. Some say “forcible felony,” while others specify which felonies, but as a general rule, robbery, burglary, and any other felony that would be punishable with the death sentence is justified reason to use deadly force against another human being.

Of course, the issue is never black and white. Whether you used justifiable deadly force in a situation is up to the law enforcement officer responding to the scene, the lawyers involved, the jury, and the judge all have a say. Some states have laws to protect you against civil court cases for using deadly force. Other states, even though you have proven you were justified, do allow the criminal or the criminal’s family to sue you. Hawaii and New Jersey allow a civil suit against you, even if deadly force was justifiable.

Take a self-defense pistol class and practice as much as possible with your gun.

Take a self-defense pistol class and practice as much as possible with your gun.

Most states allow you to use deadly force to protect yourself, and other innocents as well. Some states specifically define third parties. For example in Oklahoma, these other innocents are “his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, and servant.” Vermont also defines which third parties you may defend, “his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, sister, master, mistress, servant, guardian or ward.”

Another big factor in determining if you have the legal right to defend yourself by using deadly force is the ability to retreat. Some states require you to “escape” the situation if you can. If you knowingly had a way out of the situation, the state could possibly charge you with murder. The Castle Doctrine law that many states have adopted means that you have no duty to retreat if you are in your own home and in most cases, at work. Make My Day Law or Stand Your Ground Law is an extension of the Castle Doctrine, which means you have no duty to retreat anywhere you have a right to be.

 

 

The following states have a duty to retreat law unless you are in your home:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Wyoming

Some states have specific written self-defense laws, some have very few or extremely muddled laws, and yet other states have no written laws and have adapted court cases to provide jury instructions and adopted case law for the use of deadly force. Those states are California, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Virginia, Ohio and the District of Columbia. In fact, Ohio is the only state in which you have to prove your justification on using deadly force.

Some states, like Texas, have a more open interpretation to justifiable deadly force. Texas law states, “A person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.” Though every state details either “imminent” or “immediate” death or serious bodily injury, some states require you to provide more reasons other than just an imminent danger to your life or body. California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Rhode Island all state that you cannot use more force than necessary. Meaning if you could have defended yourself any other way than deadly force would not be justified.

The guy following you demands you give him your purse. Is it ok to use deadly force?

The guy following you demands you give him your purse. Is it ok to use deadly force?

New Mexico and South Carolina take this clause even further by stating that if a sound person, like a juror, would have done the exact same thing. South Carolina’s law states, “A reasonably prudent person of ordinary firmness and courage would have entertained the same belief.”

Of course, I am not a lawyer, so I strongly recommend that you look up your own state’s laws regarding self-defense and justifiable deadly force. The book, Self-Defense Laws of All 50 States by Mitch Vilos and Evan Vilos is an excellent resource for this subject matter. In summary, remember that in all states to use deadly force, you must believe that there was an imminent danger to your life or imminent danger of serious bodily harm.

As always, research your laws, take a self-defense pistol course, and practice, practice, practice, practice.

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Comments (41)

  • Bill from Boomhower, Texas

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    Yeah, well Mr Crusader, it’s been a fourth of a year now, and where are we? Hell we can’t even find guns or ammo on the store shelves, and the whole situation looks bleak. Call or e-mail your state Senator, and tell them how you feel about what’s happening in New Jersey and Colorado now, and ask them how they feel about it. They’ll be conveining after recess in a week or two to vote into law all the frivilous anti gun bills. Bloomberg, Hickenlooper and Obama are taking the country to Hell. In the very first sentence of this thread, our founding fathers stood and upheld unarguable rights to our Second Ammendment and freedom to deffend ourselves. Where, along the way did it become arguable?

    Reply

    • jhk655

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      This country has been taking away your constitutionally guaranteed rights for a while now. In reality the 2nd amendment is more about the people’s right to defend itself against, and overthrow if necessary, a tyrannical government. Yet no one seems to talk about, or even remember that fact. It is unconstitutional for our government to require you to get a license to operate a vehicle. I could go on and on.

      This country has gotten very far away from what the founding fathers originally put in place and on the scale between liberty and tyranny, we tip ever more in favor of tyranny. We do it so people can feel safer from those they would deem untrustworthy with a gun or a vehicle, but that’s not what this country was founded on. The government has no duty to make you safe except in the form of a standing army or militia, and not by limiting the power and rights of its own people. Our inalienable rights are infringed upon and the worst part is people don’t even understand the difference between that, and a laws we agree upon as part of the social contract anymore. Benjamin franklin said it best when he wrote “They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”

      Reply

  • Larry Wilson

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    My mother was almost killed by a burglar with a flashlight. She could have died from the injury easily. What I look at is very simply, Could I be killed or seriously injured. Most laws read..If YOU feel you are in danger of either of these. It doesn’t say if someone else feels you’re in danger. If YOU think you are then you are. That doesn’t mean you can shoot someone 50 feet away from you with a knife. But if they are running at you and don’t stop, you have the right to defend your self…period. So don’t let them make you a victim, stop the attack.

    Reply

  • JACK PUDDING

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    If a punk gets irate at a gas station claiming I “took” a place at the pump that he was going to back into and I simply saythat I’m sorry and did notknow that, then what am Isupposed to do if he threatens me and takes up a boxing stance with clenched fists
    three feet from my face? He is agile, irate and about 30-40. I am relaxed and just getting ready to fill my gas tank. I am wearing soft shoes but have a knife and concealed carry tiny Ruger.

    Reply

  • joe mc

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    OK. I live in Missouri and the other night I did not have my ccw on me at the time but here is the scenario. I followed a friend from a bar to make sure she got home safe. When we arrived, her ex boyfriend was in her house where he was not supposed to be and 90% chance he’s under the influence of meth, he walks towards me stops says to me “I have something for you.” He returns to the house and gets a ball bat then comes at me with the bat; he made one swing at me which I dodged. He then took a second swing which I blocked with my arm but took a good hit to my wrist, I did nothing to provoke this attack all I did was get out of my vehicle to make sure my friend was gona be ok. I left the situation but the thought of if I had my ccw on me at the time he was swinging the bat at me and hit me like he did and I would of put a hot one through him would I had justified the use of deadly force? Every thing seems to fit. I was in direct threat of bodily injury and he was under the influence of meth with a weapon that could with one swing killed or impaired me. It’s a scary subject to wonder if I had my ccw and pulled the trigger, how would the judge and jury see this. Also in that thought does any person who uses deadly force, that is let’s say in my scenario, automatically incarcerated and treated as a guilty person until proven innocent kinda deal. I have a son and am a single parent. The thing I worry most about is in the scenario I have to use deadly force to protect me or him in a situation is that him seeing me in jail or me not being there for him while going through the process of justifying my actions.

    Reply

  • John Baltesj

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    I was driving to my ortho shop to pick up a new leg brace(I’m 100% disabled) when a black Eldorado passed me on the shoulder of an on ramp getting on the highway. After he got clear of my car, he pulled back on the ramp and “locked em up”. I was doing about 45 mph and picking up more speed;but I was able to avoid hitting him cause I just went around him without braking.That p****d him totally off. I get to my exit and got stopped for a traffic light; just to look over and see him in the left lane. He sees me and comes out of his car with a tire iron. When he got about 10 ft from me,I pulled my snubbie out and pointed right at his man parts. He immediately stopped and says” your gonna shoot me?” I said “yep,maybe twice”. He called me a few names,got back in his Cady,and drove off when the light changed. My wife asked me if I would have shot him,and replied “yep,maybe twice.

    Reply

  • dan

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    as in Florida before 2005 …under democratic administrations , if you were attacked..you HAD to retreat…and if you used any means to defend yourself or anyone else and you survived the attacked ..you automatically would be arrested..and YOU HAD TO PROVE SELF DEFENSE….this is what brought about STAND YOUR GROUND in 2005…under a republican administration…..now again we are under ‘attack’ by democrats to again make you ‘retreat’ and prove your SELF-DEFENSE…evil NEVER gives up the chance to control good….SELF – DEFENSE when attacked is a creator given right and responsibility…if you choose not to use it..that should be your choice alone ..not forced on anyone else with the power of ‘law’……imho

    Reply

  • StTrooper

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    Well, in a life or death situation like many of you have encountered, if I have a cw I would use it as long as the judge and jury would look at my case and I’m not found guilty for self-defense. I believe that using your cw is not scary it’s the fear of getting shot, stabbed or even worse- killed by the attacker. The best solution is to avoid a heated argument or just get away from the scenario and avoid having to use your firearm. But if worse comes to then use it.

    Reply

  • kim smith

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    the law changes from state because in va my mother died and my brother and sister came to my house and treated me to sign my part over to them when i didnt sign the tried to fight me and my two children 13 and 15 kept threaten us i told them to leave but they wouldnt go so i swung a ax at them never say anything to them and when the cops came they was going to take me to jail cause i tried to defend me and my kid

    Reply

  • Jim

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    You people are cowards,if someone wants my TV. or money they can have it. You don’t have to shoot first, I have 20 yrs. military experance and a weapon in my house. Last year someone entered my house while me and my wife were sleeping, it turned out to be my neighbors kid that was drunk and entered the wrong house. WWJD

    Reply

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