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West Michigan

Michigan’s Castle Doctrine

Recent events in the news, such as the Amber Guyger case in Texas, have brought about great attention to the “Castle Doctrine.” Michigan law provides that when certain facts are fulfilled, a person may use either non-deadly or deadly force against someone who has invaded your home. This law also protects people under certain circumstances from being prosecuted if the intruder was killed. The law does this by protecting someone with a presumption that the homeowner acted in self-defense.

The Castle Doctrine Line In Michigan Reads

“(1) Except as provided in subsection (2), it is a rebuttable presumption in a civil or criminal case that an individual who uses deadly force or force other than deadly force under section 2 of the self-defense act has an honest and reasonable belief that imminent death of, sexual assault of, or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another individual will occur if both of the following apply:

(a) The individual against whom deadly force or force other than deadly force is used is in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling or business premises or committing home invasion or has broken and entered a dwelling or business premises or committed home invasion and is still present in the dwelling or business premises, or is unlawfully attempting to remove another individual from a dwelling, business premises, or occupied vehicle against his or her will.

(b) The individual using deadly force or force other than deadly force honestly and reasonably believes that the individual is engaging in conduct described in subdivision (a).”

When it comes to using deadly force, the rule of thumb a person needs to remember is the force used must always be proportional to the threat. A homeowner would not be justified using deadly force on a person who broke into their home and was found passed out on the floor. I person would not be justified using deadly force at home against a young 13-year-old kid who broke into your house.

Deadly force is only allowed under the law when self-defense is needed to prevent great bodily harm that could lead to death, rape, known as criminal sexual conduct and death. If you use deadly force, you must have a belief that you are preventing one of the three things listed above. Your belief must actually be reasonable when examined by all the facts that caused you to make the decision of using deadly force. To put it another way, a jury of your peers would have to believe you were preventing rape, a real threat of being killed and great bodily harm that could cause death.

How Michigan’s Court Apply the Law

Anyone who wants to make sure they will not be charged themselves for using deadly force needs to be aware of factors the courts consider in these types of cases. Michigan case law has interpreted the law to hold that the use of deadly force must be based on objectively true facts such as a breaking and entering or an attempted breaking of entering or an invasion of a house is taking place. If you have a honest and reasonable belief that a breaking and entering is going on at your house, but it turns out you are wrong in your belief and after all the facts come to life it is shown that a breaking and entering was not happening at your home, you will not be allowed to use this defense.

A unpublished but well known case called, People v. Wafer, created this narrow and “objective requirement” for this defense. In Wafer, the Michigan Court of Appeals declared that a justified claim of self-defense “requires a finding that the defendant acted intentionally, but the circumstances justified his actions.”  The court then found that the facts of that case did not justify the homeowner’s actions. As you have read above, the statue that creates a “castle doctrine” in Michigan reads that “an honest and reasonable belief that imminent death or great bodily harm to himself will occur” if both requirements of the law are found to be true.

So how do you apply this case and law to your defense of your house? In order to justify shooting an intruder in your home, you better be positive that the person trying to get into your house is:

  • Breaking and entering your home or business, or engaging in home invasion
  • Has entered or broken into a business premise, house or committed home invasion and is at that very moment still inside the dwelling or business
  • Unlawfully removing or trying to remove a person from the business premises or home
  • Has no legal right to be in the house.
  • NOT a parent, grandparent or a child’s legal guardian who is being removed from the home.
  • And NOT a police officer who is engaging in the performance of their legal duties.

Before The Castle Doctrine Law

Before the passing of Michigan’s castle doctrine law, a homeowner who used deadly force to stop an intruder would be facing criminal charges, the chance of being sued by the invader or the family of the invader. The reason for this is because the use of deadly force is not allowed when only property is being protected. The invader of a home could argue that they were only going to steal personal property and therefore the use of deadly force was not justified.  Under the new law, this argument is still possible. A person breaking into a house may not be a deadly threat and thus the use of deadly force would not be justified. However, given the new law creates a presumption in favor of the owner of the home or business it is much harder for a prosecutor, judge or jury to rule against the personal protecting his business or home.

Just because the new law gives the homeowner the presumption of innocence doesn’t mean a person has a license to kill. The presumption given under this law is rebuttable.

This means that a negligent person who uses deadly force against someone who was not clearly a threat will still probably face criminal charges and a civil lawsuit. A person should ONLY use deadly force against another person when it is a last resort. Under Michigan law, a person does not have to retreat in their home.  If you shoot someone in the back while they are running away from you or your house, you do not have a legal basis to use deadly force in Michigan.

Anyone who keeps a firearm in their house and has plans to use it in self-defense needs to be fully informed about the law. Anyone who plans to use a firearm in self-defense also needs to be properly trained by an expert in using firearms.

Examples of the Inappropriate Use of Deadly Force

In Benzie County, a 79-year-old homeowner found someone in his poll barn. He warned the person to get off his property and ended up shooting the invader in his legs. The county prosecutor said, ““In the state of Michigan people certainly have a right to defense themselves, but you cannot defend property with lethal force,” said Benzie County Prosecutor Sara Swanson. “So I would encourage people if a situation arises like this, and there is somebody in your yard or outside call the police and let them handle the situation lock your doors and hunker down on the inside.”

“Once a homeowner goes out and fires a firearm, now unfortunately there is now an investigation whether or not it was justified, and it could have been avoided. So with the Castle Doctrine I think with the confusion comes in, is if someone is in your home you can’t just shoot them because they’re in your home,” Swanson said. “I think when we think of some of the examples, we can’t assume just because someone is in our home, they’re going to hurt us.”

“I think a perfect example of that, is in Benzie County, sometimes in Frankfort and sometimes in Traverse City where people come up in the summer and they have a rental home, and then they go to the bars and drink, and then forget which home they rented and walk to the wrong home,” the prosecutor said. “That person is not there to hurt anybody. It’s annoying, it’s an inconvenience, and it might’ve been a scary, but you don’t wanna shoot that person and kill them, they don’t deserve to lose their life over that.”

“Michigan does not have a ‘Stand Your Ground’ law like, say Florida has, Michigan has the Castle Doctrine which says that in your own home you do not need to retreat, so if the perpetrator had to come into the victims home it means [the homeowner] doesn’t have any ‘duty’ to exit the home to get away from the circumstances anything like that,” Swanson said.

Here is another bad example of a person using deadly force when it was not justified, in June of 2016 a man in Jackson County was arrested for two counts of second-degree murder. The man shot two teens who were trying to break into his vehicles on his property. Mr. Lawrence reportedly hit two boys in their back as they were running away from him.

Self-Defense Lawyer in Michigan

At the Criminal Defense Law Center of West Michigan, Shawn and his team of lawyers know you need a customized defense that is designed to ensure you are not wrongfully convicted of a crime for using self-defense.

Shawn and his lawyers have a great track record of defending the rights of our clients all throughout West Michigan. Do not wait to call a lawyer, call Shawn now at 616-438-6719! The call is free! Will you be? 

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