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Deadly Force Laws

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What Are Deadly Force Laws?

Deadly force laws define the circumstances in which the use of deadly force is legal. Deadly force can be defined as any physical force that is capable of causing death or serious bodily harm to another person. When determining whether physical force was deadly or not, the court will usually have to review the totality of the circumstances surrounding the event.

For example, the court may analyze factors such as the victim’s age, weight, and height in comparison with the aggressor’s. They will also analyze whether there were any deadly weapons involved in the incident. Deadly force often comes into play in criminal cases involving assault and battery, self-defense, and various forms of homicide.

When Can Deadly Force Be Used?

Generally speaking, deadly force is illegal unless it is used under the following legally justified settings:

  • Self-defense
  • Defense of a third person
  • When preventing the commission of a crime
  • For law enforcement purposes

However, when it comes to such situations, it is generally held that a person can only use the amount of force that is “reasonably necessary” given the circumstances. For example, in a self-defense situation, the victim has a right to use deadly force only if the aggressor has first used deadly force against them.

Can Deadly Force Be Used to Defend Property?

Jurisdictions may have differing laws when it comes to this issue. Generally speaking, deadly force can only be used when protecting a home if the trespasser or intruder is also threatening use of deadly force. For example, if they are pointing a gun at the homeowner, the homeowner may usually respond with deadly force. In some cases, the homeowner needs to be sure that the trespasser is actually threatening with deadly force.     

Automatic firearm contraptions generally can’t be used to defend a home against intruders. These may include spring-loaded guns, or any other deadly devices that can be triggered without the owner being present. The reason for this is that there is no way to ensure that the intruder has the capability to produce deadly force before the contraption is set off.

Improper uses of deadly force may subject the person to criminal or civil penalties, which may include court fines, jail time, and in some cases, a loss of certain rights.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Deadly Force Laws?

Deadly force laws can be widely different from place to place. However, such laws are very important, because they often define the limits of how much physical force a person can lawfully use under given conditions. If you need help with the deadly force laws in your area, you should speak with an experienced lawyer immediately. Your attorney will be able to explain what your legal options are, and what course of action you should take.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 10-18-2016 10:38 AM PDT

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