Every now and then someone will decide I need to be informed about a particular legal loophole or fact that I somehow missed during my police career. While I am always eager to learn, I usually find myself inserting mental air quotes around such “facts.”
For instance, did you know that if you put a penny in your mouth you can defeat a breathalyzer?
Yes, I’ve heard about that. Piece of advice, though- when you get popped for your DUI and are directed to empty the contents of your mouth, call Mary at the public defender’s office. She’s cranky at 2AM, but very nice in court. And tell her I said hello.
Despite almost rupturing my eyeball from excessive eye-rolling everytime I hear this myth, it’s not too dangerous.
But then there’s this one: Did you know that if there’s a trespasser in your house you can shoot him?
This question, which gets asked repeatedly at block watches by citizen meetings or by friends at parties, came up recently as a result of the Trib story (8/18) regarding the North End burglar shot by a contractor. While that particular incident remains under investigation, the idea that your residence is a safe zone that can be defended by deadly force in any situation is simply not true.
Like anything else involving force, from a simple shove to running someone down with a semi truck, everything depends on the perceived threat at a particular moment. Because I enjoy using scenarios, I’ll try throw a couple at you.
In the first scenario, a hooded figure breaks through the slider door in your living room, slips inside and starts to unplug the TV. You see him from the kitchen, yell at him and pull out a firearm. He tries to race back out the rear slider, in a direction opposite to you, and you fire. He is shot and falls to the carpet. The police arrive and you tell the story. They see the ejected shell inside the kitchen, see the blood pooling by the slider door, with the bloody handprint on the lock. The burglar, the police surmise, was committing a felony property crime and was trying to flee when you shot him.
Probable end result: Get a lawyer, you’re in trouble.
Let’s change it up. The scenario is the same only you don’t shoot the burglar, who then flees out the door. You call him a few choice names as he runs through your yard, but then he stops. You’ve pissed him off, and now he’s turning around and advancing on you with his hands empty. You’re older, smaller and frailer than this tough young burglar, and you’re afraid he may get the gun away from you. You shoot him when he’s ten feet away and still in your back yard.
Probable end result: Self defense.
The difference between these two scenarios is simple. In the first instance, you would have an extremely tough job convincing anyone (much less twelve people) that your life, or someone else’s, was in imminent danger if you had failed to pull the trigger. Unless you could add background to your story, such as details not readily apparent that would add to the threat you perceived, then this would fall short of imminent danger. In the second instance, you are faced with an attacker who has already committed the felony crime of burglary, and you have a legitimate concern that you might be overpowered and seriously harmed. That would be tough to argue.
There really is no one safe place, no physical structure that will serve as your home base when it comes to keeping people out by the use of deadly force. The only “place” that is considered to be free and inviolable is a person’s body.
So if you or someone else is in jeopardy, it’s time to act. But if some idiot is getting away, unless he’s a serial killer carrying his latest victim, then you need to keep in mind that the court considers his safety more important than your TV.