Thursday, June 20, 2024

Royal Alexander: Use of Deadly Force: ‘Stand Your Ground’ in Louisiana

by BPT Staff
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The recent fatal shooting of a 12-year-old male in Shreveport has brought this issue back to light.  The facts are still developing, but the allegation is that the individual was trying to break into a parked car in Southern Hills when the owner of the vehicle fired a weapon.

In Louisiana, the use of force to repel an attacker is essentially covered in two statutes:

The first is entitled “Use of Force or Violence in Defense”:

(1)  The use of force or violence on another person is justifiable under either of the following circumstances: 

(i) when committed for the purpose of preventing an attack against the person or … property in a person’s possession, and the force used is reasonable and apparently necessary to prevent the attack. Or, (ii) when the force is used by a person who is inside their home, place of business or motor vehicle and the person reasonably believes that the use of force is necessary.

That’s pretty straightforward.  

If I am attacked personally, or property in my possession is being taken from me, I may use force to repel the attacker.  This includes if I am sitting in my home, business, or car.  However, the law is clear that in either circumstance, the use of force or violence must be based on my “reasonable” belief that I must do so to protect myself. 

This law applies if there is no homicide.  If there is a homicide we turn to a different statute, entitled ‘Justifiable homicide” which states that:

“A homicide is justifiable: 

1) when committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and the killing is necessary to save himself.  Or, (2), when committed against a person who is attempting to make or has made an illegal entry into the dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle, and the person committing the homicide reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to repel the attacker.”

Summarized, justifiable homicide essentially means first, that I am justified in killing another individual while defending myself if I am in imminent danger of either losing my life or suffering great bodily harm; And, two, if an attacker has either made, or is trying to make an illegal entry into my home, business or car, I may use deadly force if I reasonably believe it is necessary to save my life or prevent grave injury to myself.

Those are strong provisions.  However, there is more.  Both of these statutes contain two other very important provisions.  

The first is that when an innocent party acts with the reasonable belief that they are in imminent danger to their life or body, the law provides that there “shall be a presumption” they were legally justified in using deadly force.  Legal presumptions are very important in the law and often can decide a case one way or the other.  Second, both of these statutes also ensure that an innocent party who is where they legally have a right to be—whether home, business, or car—has “no duty to retreat” before using deadly force. 

The guarantees contained in these two statutes are the reason Louisiana is considered to have one of the strongest Stand Your Ground laws in the country.

I close with a request for judgment and prudence. 

If a DA brings charges based upon the use of deadly force there will be a jury of 12 people who will ultimately decide whether an individual who shot and killed another individual did so in a way that was objectively reasonable, and whether the danger was truly “imminent.”  

This means that when those jurors deliberate and discuss the case to reach a verdict, they will likely ask a question along these lines: “If I were in the shoes of the person who shot and killed this individual, including in my car, my home or my business, would I, myself, have felt so fearful, felt the danger to my life and health was so immediate that I had no other option but to kill the individual?”

The critical factors are the reasonableness of my believing that my very life could end, or I could suffer great bodily harm—immediately.  If so, not only does the innocent party not have to retreat from the attacker but they have the benefit of a legal presumption that they acted correctly.

Shreveport attorney, Royal Alexander, worked in D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly 8 years for two different Members of Congress from Louisiana. 

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