Stand Your Ground laws, Guarding Your Castle laws and self-defense laws have all come into question because of Florida's Trayvon Martin case. Because of that we want to educate you about Michigan's laws in this area.
We are not encouraging people to buy guns, or to not buy guns--- and certainly not to shoot people. We just want you to better understand the law, because it's not like this hasn't happened in the Lansing area.
Last January, a man was shot dead after forcing his way into a home in the Georgetown neighborhood. And earlier this year a homeowner shot at burglar as he was running to get out. Those two cases are the basis for tonight's first scenario.
It's the middle of the night, you hear a sound-- different than normal. Your heart starts racing. You can't breathe.
You can't move.
You turn and grab the gun from your nightstand.
As you creep down the stairs, your mind races. Who could this be? Is it a burglar? Does he have a weapon? Are the kids OK?
Should you confront him or are you legally allowed to shoot an unsuspecting intruder in the back? What if you order them to stay where they are and they take off? Is it legal to shoot if you're seemingly no longer in danger? And what if you do shoot but not until they're outside your home? Does this situation make a difference under the law?
For the answer we went to law school-- Cooley Law-- and Professor Patrick Corbett.
"The shooter has to honestly and reasonably believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent eminent deadly harm or great bodily harm," Corbett said.
He pointed to the 2006 Michigan Self Defense Act which is pretty clear when it comes to someone who has committed a felony by breaking into a home.
"Under Michigan's new law you have no duty to retreat in any place you have a legal right to be."
"If you're the homeowner and you just happen to be there and you've got somebody breaking into your house," he continued. "You've got an honest belief that the person might cause harm to you."
"Would it be reasonable? That would depend on a jury," he cautioned. "If you didn't use excessive force-- you just shot him once-- then it would be proportional."
Which sounds like all the requirements are present to use deadly force if someone enters your house.
But what if you confronted the burglar, struggled and it spilled outside your house as they tried to get away?
"First of all, if it's a struggle it seems like the same thing still holds," said Corbett. "You're still facing this belief of great bodily harm because you're struggling. So it does appear that our law would allow that."
While the law seems favorable to the old "shoot first ask questions later" saying, Professor Corbett warns, this is not a no-brainer.
"What you'd have to figure out is does the judge think there's enough to suggest that self defense is appropriate here and is it such that the prosecutor can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you didn't have this defense of self defense?" Corbett said. "It still has to be proven in court and that's a gray area so people shouldn't assume it's an automatic thing."