Right to shoot: What are your rights when it comes to self-defense?

ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - It's a situation no one wants to be in: having to use lethal force to protect yourself or someone else. But what are your rights? What are the lines between self-defense and murder?


First, let’s look at the law. Criminal defense attorney, Mike Small, said it's pretty straightforward.

"A homicide is justifiable when committed in self-defense," said Small.

Small pointed to Louisiana’s criminal code.

"By one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm," said Small.

Also, if you see someone else's life in danger, you are legally allowed to intervene.

"If he's in danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily danger, under that situation can clearly justify the use of deadly force," said Small.

But to really understand Louisiana’s self-defense laws, you need to know about the "stand your ground law."

Louisiana is with the majority of states that implement the law in some form. It basically means if you are in a lawful area and you feel your life is threatened, you can meet force with force.

"They'll say you don't have to retreat and the judge and the jury can't consider the possibility of it in determining your subjective belief that deadly force was necessary," said Small.

Other states use "duty to retreat" laws, which essentially means it's only justifiable homicide if you can't retreat.

Let’s look at a controversial case that began in 2012 in Little Falls, Mn. Byron David Smith was found guilty of first and second-degree murder of two teens after they broke into his home. Prosecutors argued Smith, who was the victim of several burglaries prior, lured the teens to break in again by moving the vehicle from his property and waiting for them to come back before shooting the two several times. Smith even waited a day to call a neighbor, who in turn called the authorities. Smith argued he was afraid because firearms were previously stolen. However, Smith is now serving a life sentence.

That case sparked controversy over "castle doctrine laws." Here in the bayou state, that means any Louisianan can use force, deadly or otherwise, to protect oneself on his or her property.

"But if I’m lawfully inside my dwelling and or place of business or motor vehicle for that matter, and someone unlawfully enters, under that circumstance it's different," said Small.

Now from the law, to the lawman. Sgt. Chris Wolf with the Alexandria Police Department said if you have to kill in self-defense, expect a thorough investigation.

"Those decisions made in split seconds last a lifetime,” said Wolf. "Those decisions are going to be scrutinized and put under a microscope that it may take months for an investigation to be completed to find out exactly what happened."

But be prepared, learn how to safely and properly use a gun.

"Just because you have a guitar, doesn't make you a musician," Wolf said. "So it's absolutely incumbent on them to have the training that goes along with that."

Also, try to avoid a dangerous situation. Set up safeguards to prevent the worst.

"A simple well-lit area, secure doors, alarm systems, dogs and animals," he said.

But if you do find yourself in a harm's way, know right from wrong in your right to shoot.

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