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Justifiable Homicide in California

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Jan 26, 2019

Defending Against Harm to a Person Within A Home or on a Property in Los Angeles

People talk about this all the time.  If somebody brakes into your house and you end up using deadly force against that person, you'd probably be in a good position to have a justifiable homicide if that person was actually killed.  The prosecutors could certainly charge you with a murder if you kill somebody, but if you've got a justifiable reason, then you're able to defend the crime.  Justifiable homicide in California for private citizens is covered under California Penal Code Section 197.

But of course, you want to look at the jury instruction. The relevant jury instruction in Los Angeles California is under CALCRIM 506.  It talks about justifiable homicide related to your property.  It basically says that the defendant is not guilty of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, attempted voluntary manslaughter — so even if the person doesn't die, they can still charge you with attempted murder or attempted voluntary manslaughter, but this defense would apply if you can meet four elements.

Self-Defense or Defense of Another Person

The first element is, the defendant reasonably believed that he or she was defending a home against a certain person and they would name that person who was about to commit an atrocious crime — a violent crime like entering the home with the intent to burglarize it.

Element number two has to do with a defendant who reasonably believed that the danger was imminent, meaning it was going to happen right then.  You can't say that belief in a future harm is not sufficient no matter how great or how likely that harm might be.  That's not going to be enough to use deadly force at that point right there.

Element number three talks about the defendant reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger and it also says the defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

So, that's talking about, if somebody knocks on your door and they're a solicitor and you open the door and shoot them, obviously nobody's dong anything thee.  You've gone too far and you're going to be charged with a murder charge in Los Angeles county.

However, if somebody is sneaking into your house in the middle of the night and they're wearing a mask and they're armed, and you end up shooting that person inside your house, you've got a pretty darn good argument that the danger was imminent.

They were coming in.  They were armed.  You were scared to death.  You didn't know whether they were coming in to burglarize you, to rob you, to rape you, to kill you, so you certainly could use deadly force to defend yourself and that would meet all of the elements that I just mentioned in that scenario.

Reasonable Belief of Danger

So, we're really talking about somebody deciding to use deadly force in their home against another person and then being able to argue that that was a lawful killing.  In other words, that was a justifiable homicide because people are certainly allowed to defend themselves in their own home if they feel and they reasonably feel that they're in danger.

Obviously, people coming into other people's homes in the middle of the night is going to be a very bad situation for the person who ends up getting shot in that circumstance because the person whose home they're coming into certainly has a right to defend themselves and anybody in the home.

Where we have problems is when people are trying to defend property.  This comes from the classic case where the farmer puts the spring gun inside his residence that he's not in for six months out of the year and somebody opens the door to that residence, they're going to be shot.  Now that farmer is purely protecting property with deadly force and that is not going to be permitted in Los Angeles or anywhere in the United States of America.

Reasonable Force Under the Circumstances

So, the bottom line is, as long as you can show that whatever force you use is reasonable under the circumstances and not too much, and you can also make the argument that you're defending yourself within your home and that you're scare and that there's imminent danger, now you're in a position to argue this was a justifiable killing or even if you shot at somebody and winged them and they go away, you're not going to be able to be charged with attempted murder because it's justifiable under the circumstances because you're defending yourself, you're scared, there's imminent danger versus a scenario where you're only defending your property, that's not going to be good enough.

We've got to inject some fear in there.  That's why if somebody's running out with some of your property and you shoot them in the back, there's no longer imminent fear.  That's no longer reasonable.  They're not going to let you use deadly force and kill somebody just because they're taking your property.

You certainly can call the police.  You certainly can use whatever force is necessary to defend yourself, but you can't go too far and use too much force if all you're doing is protecting your property.  But, if in the process of protecting your property, you yourself feel fear because something may well happen to you or one of your family members, now the force starts to become more justifiable.

Contact our Criminal Law Firm

So, if you or a loved one is in this circumstance where you're being charged with a murder charge in Los Angeles county, you think it's a justifiable homicide because some of the facts meet some of the criteria that I've mentioned here, pick up the phone.  Contact our law firm and we'll sit down and discuss your case, assess the circumstances and decide how to best defend the murder charges leveled against you.

Related Resources: 
Justifiable Homicide – Wikipedia
California “Stand Your Ground” Laws

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.