It is not only Chicago that is grappling with the issue of self-defense in the law. The public interpretations of the law vary considerably, and some of them are not strictly accurate. This is one of those issues that has the power to raise other polarizing matters such as racial disparities when encountering the criminal justice system. On the other hand, there is a legitimate interest in ensuring that criminals cannot terrorize the wider population on account of the fact that they are the ones with the guns. If they are genuinely frightened for their lives, most reasonable people would agree that property owners have a right to defend themselves. This self-defense argument can go right up to the case of justified killings.
Of course, we cannot always predict what is in someone’s mind. For example, a racist person may shoot any black person they see on their doorstep without any genuine fear. That is when the courts are left in a dilemma. The person may say that they were frightened, but that may mask their true intention. It also does not help that the moment such cases come to the media attention, America is once again divided along class and racial lines. All of a sudden, you have very successful Go-Fund-Me campaigns for the suspect, which makes a mockery of the system and gives the impression that America is an incurably racist society.
Private Property and Private Rights
Some would argue that the moment you enter another person’s property without invitation, you are setting yourself up for trouble and should bear the consequences of your actions. However, that assertion ignores the fact that many people come to our doorsteps on a regular basis to deliver mail, messages, and inquiries. It would certainly be a lawless society if people were allowed to shoot anybody on site, the personal safety issues notwithstanding. That is why the legislation in Chicago contains a clause that pertains to reasonable force and genuine fear. The defense works if you can prove both those elements and not just one of them or none of them.
The suspect who wants to use this as a defense must first prove to the court that they believed the intruder posed a genuine threat to their life. Note that it is only life and serious bodily injury that count as threats in this instance. The threat may be to the homeowner themselves or someone close to them. At other times, the threat is to another member of the public, and the shooter acts as a good Samaritan, trying to save the other person from possible death. This then veers into public safety issues that are tackled by other laws.
Difficulties in Deciphering Intentions
The main challenge when dealing with these laws is the need to decipher the intention behind an action. The Mens Rea is a critical aspect of a successful prosecution, but it presents challenges and opportunities depending on whether you are on the prosecution or defense side. Technology has not yet given us a definitive insight into intentions. Therefore, we have to consider the preponderance of evidence in order to decipher intention. As any defense lawyer will tell you, this is where many cases are won and lost.
By contrast, the element of proportionality is easier to prove. We all have a very good idea when the response exceeds the stimulus by a significant level. The courts will normally have no mercy for those who engage in extreme actions. If you shoot at an elderly woman who is asking for directions, the chances are that you will not be able to make use of the stand-your-ground defense. Some advocacy groups are calling for reform in order to bring more clarity to the law. For expert assistance on your self-defense case, contact David Freidberg, Attorney at Law at 312-567-7100.
(image courtesy of Andreas Weiland)