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Know Your Rights Against Home Intruders

Many people have traditionally used the term “burglary” to refer to the act of breaking into a property at night with the intent to commit crime. However, most states in the United States have broadened the definition of burglary to include illegal attempts to enter into a building during the day. Some of the laws that one should consider before using force against a burglar include the castle doctrine, stand your ground, and duty to retreat.

What is Burglary?

Burglary is any attempt to gain entry into any structure illegally and with the intent to commit crime. According to US penal code, someone can still commit burglary without physically breaking into a residential or commercial property. Additionally, the act of trespassing through an unlocked or open door counts as burglary. According to figures published by the FBI, the number of burglaries reported by homeowners rose by 14% from 3.2 million in 2010 to 3.6 million in 2011. Most US states have laws that allow homeowners to defend themselves with reasonable force against home intruders. In the UK, the law now allows homeowners to use force when confronted by burglars. Read on to learn more about this topic.

Overview of Self-defense

A shotgun cannot be used against an unarmed home intruderBefore looking at the rights of a homeowner against a burglar, it is necessary to have a good grasp of self-defense. Although it is legal for one to use force when confronted by a home intruder, the force must be proportionate to the perceived harm. For instance, using a shotgun to shoot a burglar who does not have any weapon at all does not count as self-defense. Legal experts call this imperfect self-defense. However, one can use a gun to shoot a home intruder who brandishes a gun or any other dangerous weapon, for example, a machete.

Castle Doctrine

A large number of states in the US allow homeowners to use deadly force against anyone who enters their properties. In addition, states that use the “castle doctrine” do not require homeowners to first assess the potential or ability of an intruder to use deadly force before acting in self-defense. Although state laws vary, some states that can be considered to have adopted some form of the “castle doctrine” include Alaska, Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Idaho, Louisiana, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and North Dakota. These states allow people to use deadly force at home, work, in their vehicles, or any other place where they happen to be legally. In the UK, citizens can use lethal force if they have reason to fear for their own safety or the safety of their families.

Duty to Retreat

In some states in the US, even if they have the “Castle doctrine” citizens must first avoid confronting an attacker or burglar by retreating. However, the law allows the use of lethal force if a burglar or attacker continues to threaten one’s safety. Attorneys call this “duty to retreat”. Examples of states in the US that have enacted “duty to retreat” laws include Hawaii, Wyoming, Connecticut, Maryland, North Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio.

Stand Your Ground

The opposite of a “duty to retreat” is “stand your ground”. The stand your ground law has received a lot attention after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watchman (George Zimmerman) in Florida. States that have enacted “stand your ground” laws allow citizens to use force without first retreating from an intruder. Alaska for instance requires you to not use deadly force if “the person knows that, with complete personal safety and with complete safety as to others being defended, the person can avoid the necessity of using deadly force by leaving the area of the encounter, except there is no duty to leave the area if the person is on premises that the person owns or leases…” So in Alaska although you must retreat if possible away from home you are not required to do so on your property.

“Nevertheless, the “stand your ground” law does not give one the power to use force without probable cause. This means that you cannot attack someone and hope to get away scot-free by claiming self-defense.

States that have some form of “stand your ground” laws include Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Rhode Island. This law does not apply in the UK.

Disclaimer: State laws are constantly changing. The information in this article is provided for general information purposes and should not be relied on as a substitute for actual legal advice.

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