Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Can You Legally Shoot A Car Thief In Michigan?

One big story that is being discussed today is the shooting death of an alleged car thief on the southwest side
of Detroit. From statements issued by persons quoted in the story, it appears that some people in our community don't know if it is legal to use lethal force to defend personal property.

In Michigan, lethal force is justified when a person is somewhere he has a legal right to be, is not in the commission of a crime, and has a reasonable and honest belief that he is facing imminent jeopardy of severe bodily harm, sexual assault, or death. If a person uses lethal force outside of those legal boundaries, he is likely to face criminal charges.

From several news accounts of the story, the homeowner claims to have been targeted for theft a few times over the past couple of months. In the aftermath, he claimed that he took extra precautions, such as not leaving anything of value in his vehicle.

On Tuesday morning, the homeowner allegedly discovered two persons in his car which was parked in the back yard. He then fired "warning shots into the air to scare the would-be-robbers away, but when one suspect returned to pick up something he dropped, the homeowner shot at the suspect."

It wasn't until the homeowner talked with local police officers that he discovered that one of the would-be car thieves was killed and another one was shot. This fact does not bode well for the shooter. If you shoot someone, it should be because you intended to do so and have a lawful and articulable reason for doing so.

In my opinion, based on what has been reported in the media, the homeowner will likely face criminal charges. To start, the shooter appears to incriminate himself of the act of firing warning shots into the air. Warning shots are almost never justified. Every fired bullet must come to rest somewhere. Accordingly, those falling bullets presented a potential threat to other members of that southwest Detroit community.

Moreover, the mere act of firing warning shots implies that the shooter was not under an imminent threat because if he was facing a serious threat, his time and energy would have been better served shooting his attackers and not trying to scare them away from his property with gunfire.

The mere act of scaring a person, who does not present an imminent threat to you, with a firearm could result in unlawful discharge of a firearm, felonious assault, and felony firearm charges.

Toss in the fact that he eventually shot two persons - one of which who died - upon their return to allegedly retrieve an errant shoe and the shooter might be also facing an open murder charge. The shooter's fate on the potential murder charges will hinge upon his statement and the statements of the other alleged car thieves.

Unless the shooter has a verifiable or credible story as to how his life was in jeopardy during both stanzas of this lethal force encounter, he's going to eventually end up in prison.

Of course, I suspect that there is more to this story than has been published in the media. Personally, I find it hard to believe that two would-be car thieves who were chased off by gunfire - legal or not - came back to the scene where a known and armed homeowner was located. It doesn't make sense to me.

For the record, you can't use warning shots to protect personal property in the state of Michigan. However, there's nothing technically wrong legally to use less than lethal force to protect your personal property. Thus, if you are ever under these circumstances, use your best judgement that does not place you under danger of being harmed or having to answer to the judicial system for having improperly used lethal force.

I believe the homeowner is going to prison. What do you think?

You are strongly encouraged to not only conduct your own independent research but to also consult with a competent and qualified attorney before acting upon any information in this article. Laws covering self-defense, lethal force, firearms, and the Michigan Concealed Pistol License and their enforcement are always subject to change due to laws being amended, politics conducted in the Prosecutor's Office, and election results at all levels of government. Ignorance of the law, legally speaking, is not a valid excuse for running afoul of it. The penalties and fines imposed upon violators of firearms related offenses are stiff and severe.

About The Author
Rick Ector is a National Rifle Association credentialed Firearms Trainer, who provides Michigan CCW Class training in Detroit for students at his firearms school - Rick's Firearm Academy of Detroit.

Ector is a recognized expert in firearm safety and has been featured extensively in the national and local media: Associated Press, UPI, NRAnews, Guns Digest, Tactical-Life, The Truth About Guns, The Politics Daily, Fox News Detroit, The Detroit News, The Detroit Examiner, WJLB, WGPR, and the UrbanShooterPodcast.

For more info about free shooting lessons for women and Michigan CCW Classes, please contact:

Rick's Firearm Academy of Detroit
Phone: 313.733.74

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Drown021 said...

I agree with what you said pertaining to the law and I am familiar with the story.I think he should have retained a lawyer before he spoke to the police but that is besides the point. No,you cannot use deadly force to protect "property". Now,If he was IN his vehicle and say he was going to be carjacked,he would be within his right to use deadly force under the castle doctrine correct?

Damon said...

Hey Rick,
What do you suggest for "less than lethal force" in this situation?