If you shoot ‘em while they’re in the shower you’ll have much less trouble cleaning up the blood stains, eh? However, it appears that the authorities take on the matter was that the home owner should have called the police and let them handle the intruder rather than leave the premises, arm himself and then come back and blow the dude’s shit away.
Otherwise the state of Washington’s laws on self-defense favor the home owner/ occupant.
Homicide—By other person—When justifiable.
Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:
(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.
Key words and phrases here are “imminent danger” and the resistance of an attempt to commit a “felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is”. If you are not in imminent danger of death and/or grievous bodily and can safely flee without being shot or stabbed in the back, then you should do so and should not use lethal force.
Castle doctrine law means that when a home owner/ occupant encounters an unlawful intruder inside his dwelling the home owner/ occupant is allowed to automatically presume the intruder poses a lethal threat to his person and shoot him on sight. The homeowner/ occupant does not have to warn the intruder or play 20 questions with him to discern his intent or determine whether he is armed or not. Under castle doctrine law it is the intruder who should feel compelled to flee upon encountering someone in the dwelling, not the home owner/ occupant. Washington does not have a castle doctrine law precisely, but the state’s general law on self-defense is so close to castle doctrine as to make little difference.
However, castle doctrine or not, if for some reason the intruder is in such a condition that a reasonable person would discern that he does not pose an imminent lethal threat, then you should not shoot. If the police figure out that you shot anyway then you will likely be charged with a crime. Like the homeowner in this case.
The courts always look at the “totality” of the situation in rendering a judgment. In other words, given everything that was happening and given everything that a reasonable person could have known or suspected was likely to happen, did you need to kill someone in order to preserve your own life? Keep in mind you don’t have to be “right”, you just have to be “reasonable”. In other words even if you acted in error you will still be absolved of blame if the court determines you acted reasonably. For example, if you shot and killed someone who was pointing a realistic looking toy gun at you, even though that person did not actually pose a lethal threat to you, there is no way you could have known that under the circumstances. Thus it would be reasonable to shoot to kill to defeat what logically appears to be an imminent threat to your life in such a situation. In the case described in the accompanying article the authorities determined the homeowner did not act reasonably given the totality of the circumstances. Rather he made up his mind to kill the house-breaker for trespassing and using his shower, when he could have and should called 911 and let the police arrest the guy. Lethal force can only be lawfully used to protect life and limb in most circumstances, not to prevent the theft of property or to punish trespassers. Now reading the state statute, if breaking into someone’s house and using their shower was a felony in Washington, then the home owner might be able to plea self-defense for whacking the intruder. Otherwise not.
Keep in mind also there is always the danger of being sued for wrongful death by the deceased criminal’s family even if you beat the criminal rap, or are not charged to begin with. Like what happened to O.J. Simpson. The rules are different in a civil suit than they are in a criminal case. In a criminal case the prosecution must prove the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to get a conviction. In a civil case the plaintiff only has to prove that the “preponderance of the evidence” proves that the defendant is guilty of wrongdoing to win the case. In other words if the jury in a civil suit determines that the evidence suggests that the defendant was 51% or more to blame for what happened, then he loses and has to pay up. So even if a fine point of the law gives you a license to kill in the situation and rid the world of a habitual troublemaker, you might not want to pull the trigger anyway, if you are not actually in danger. If you believe you are in mortal danger then save your life first and deal with everything else that could happen later. Being aware of what the law allows and what you can be held liable for will really help you avoid trouble after the fact. Avoiding going to court to begin with will save you tons of money and heartache.
Fighting Smart: Boxing, Agonistics & Survival