Find the right lawyer now

Justifiable Homicide Laws

Find a Local Criminal Lawyer near You

What Is Justifiable Homicide?

Justifiable homicide, or excusable homicide, is a type of defense used in criminal law where in certain circumstances the homicide of another if there is sufficient evidence to prove that it was reasonable to believe that the offending party was under imminent threat of death. In other words, it is homicide that does not qualify as culpable homicide. A death of another would be considered excused and justifiable if the following is proved:

  • One must objectively believe that they were under imminent threat of death
  • Responding with deadly force was reasonably necessary to prevent a greater harm
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt

Is Self-Defense Justifiable Homicide?

Under the traditional law of self-defense, a person can use deadly force only in response to the threat of death or serious bodily injury. In those instances, a homicide committed to protect you from death would be justified.

However, several states have expanded the right to use deadly force to situations where only property is affected. In these states, the requirement that a person be in imminent physical danger has been slightly relaxed. Below are some examples of such state laws:

  • In Louisiana, the use of deadly force is justified when a person lawfully inside a home or motor vehicle uses such force against another individual who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the home or vehicle, as long as the person reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave.
  • In Colorado, the use of deadly force upon an intruder is justified if the user has a belief that the intruder might use physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant.
  • In California, a person who uses deadly force within their residence, against an unlawful intruder, is presumed to have had a reasonable fear of imminent death or bodily injury.

What Is the Duty To Retreat?

Although citizens have the right to defend themselves - and in some states their property - many states have provisions that the person exercising the right to self-defense only use as much force as necessary. If the person has a chance to escape, then the person should and must take make an effort to escape. This is known as the duty to retreat.

What Does It Mean To Stand Your Ground?

The duty to retreat is a hotly debated subject. In response to criticisms, many states have laws which abolish the duty to retreat. These doctrines vary from state to state as to when the duty is suspended. For instance, some states only suspend the duty when life is at risk while, where others might extend the suspension to property as well. The provisions go by a few different names, with “line in the sand” or “stand your ground” being the most popular.

Some provisions only allow deadly force to be used in self-defense within ones own home. These laws are collectively referred to as the “castle doctrine.”. The primary difference between “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” provisions are one extends to the individual outside of their home, whereas the other will not.

The following states have either a “stand your ground” or “castle doctrine” provisions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Keep in mind that in recent years, the law of self-defense has been receiving an increased amount of attention and is liable to change.

What Is the Defense of Necessity?

Necessity is a type of justification that excuses a homicide if the defendant argues that the defendants crime or conduct was reasonably necessary to prevent a greater harm. For example, a drunk driver who drove his car recklessly and drunk because the only way to get away from being kidnapped was driving away, the defendant could argue that even though its a crime to drive drunk, it was necessary to prevent a greater harm of becoming kidnapped.

Do I Need A Lawyer?

If you have used deadly force against someone, and were acting to protect yourself or your property, the defense of justifiable homicide may be available. You should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. An experienced attorney can inform you of the laws of your state, and explain how they may be used in your defense.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 10-06-2016 01:30 PM PDT

Law Library Disclaimer
  • No fee to present your case
  • Choose from lawyers in your area
  • A 100% confidential service
What is LegalMatch?

We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.