Using Deadly Force to Defend Your Property

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In our continued effort to educate you on Michigan's self-defense laws, we're answering this question: Do you have the right to use deadly force on someone you caught trying to break into your car?

As our legal expert tells us, the difference between self-defense and a possible murder charge is very small.

The scenario was this-- you've caught a thief breaking into your car.
You tell him to stop, but he makes a break for it. What can you legally do next?

Since Michigan is a common law state, meaning we get our laws from courts not the legislature, the answer lies with a court case from 1990. And as Professor Patrick Corbett of Cooley Law explains, that case was not addressed under the Michigan Self Defense Act of 2006.

What that case found was it is legal to shoot the person running away from the car under these guidelines: "The deadly force has to be necessary to prevent the escape of the fleeing felon, or it's got to be necessary to meet deadly force (idea of using deadly force to repel deadly force)," Corbett explains. "The force has to be reasonable-- meaning not excessive-- one shot, you've disabled him, now call the police. The person who the deadly force is used against has to actually be a felon."

That is extremely important, because many factors decide whether a car break-in is a misdemeanor or a felony.

"You can't be wrong," warns Corbett. "He has to really be doing something that's a felony under this particular case law. Even if it looks that way and it turns out you were wrong and your mistake was reasonable-- you don't get the defense."

There is also a difference between defending your property versus defending yourself. If you've caught the robber and he's got his hands in the air but you get trigger happy, Professor Corbett says, you as the shooter, have a problem.

"Because now you're just using deadly force to protect your property and he's given up," said Corbett. "So I would say this is a situation where deadly force is not reasonably necessary."

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