What is Self-Defense and Justifiable Homicide?

By Hannah Smith - 18 Jul '19 09:39AM

Self-defense and justifiable homicides are two forms of defense that a lawyer will try to argue on behalf of their client when they kill another person with a gun. Statistically, 48% of gun owners claim that they have a gun for self-defense, but only 0.9% of gun owners used their firearms to defend themselves between 2007 and 2011.

There are 25 states which have "stand your ground" laws that allow anyone to respond against threats or force without fear of criminal charges being pressed. Self-defense laws are what allowed George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin without being convicted of murder.

Each state has its own rules with Minnesota, allowing "stand your ground" laws and even justifiable homicide in a person's home, tent, boat, and motor home. 

Duty to Retreat

Duty to retreat laws must also be followed, and these laws require that a shooter stop once the threat has been eliminated. Some states have this law alongside a "stand your ground" law. The law is meant to stop a homeowner from repeatedly shooting a person breaking into their home.

For example, if someone enters the home, a shot is fired and the person is left bleeding on the floor.

The person has no visible signs of a firearm or weapon. 

In this case, it may be illegal to continue shooting the suspect because the threat no longer exists and the homeowner can safely retreat. The laws change from state to state, and some states do not have retreat laws in place.

Justifiable Homicide, and Times When It's Not Justifiable

Attorneys will try to claim that homicide is justifiable to get their clients out of jail and off of murder charges. The problem is that there are times when shooting, even in self-defense, is not allowed.

The jury will have to decide on the matter, but it may include:

  • Failing to carry a permit to carry in the state
  • Illegal possession of the firearm or not permitting the firearm if required

Each state will have specific laws on whether or not a permit is needed. In some states, the right to carry is universal, so anyone can carry a firearm openly. Permits for ownership are also not required in many states.

The argument of homicide being justifiable is also difficult to prove when there are many variables at play. If a victim does not have a firearm or weapon on them, it may be difficult to prove that their killing was "justified."

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