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Is an owner of property liable for using deadly force to defend their property?

Generally speaking, an owner of property may not use deadly force to defend the property. Society values human life and bodily integrity much higher than property. Therefore, the life, health and safety of an individual, even an intruder, is considered to be more valuable than the china or stereo which that individual is trying to steal.

An owner is not prohibited, however, from invoking self-help methods in defending property from another. An owner of property is entitled to use reasonable force to prevent someone, or something, from entering onto her property or to remove something from her property. What, under normal circumstances, may constitute a battery, assault, or other intentional tort, will not be considered unlawful in situations where it is performed as a reasonable use of self-help in defense of property. However, the use of force calculated to do great bodily harm, or cause death, is not permitted.

One narrow limitation upon the use of deadly force is authorized. Where an intruder threatens personal safety, as well as a threat to property, or where the intruder is committing a forcible felony, deadly force may be appropriate. For example, if a robber enters a home and, while stealing items, attempts to rape the homeowner, the owner may be justified in shooting the robber. However, an owner who witnesses a neighborhood child stealing a bicycle from the owner’s garage, without any threat of bodily harm, is not justified in shooting that child.

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