On Monday, June 6 a homeowner in Anaheim confronted a suspect on his property who was burglarizing his vehicle. According to a police spokesman, a confrontation ensued that resulted in the burglar getting shot. He ran a short distance away and later was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The shooting is being investigated by the police and will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.
I spent some time pursing social media and reading the comments, insights and debates taking place. As can be expected, people have very strong opinions. It was obvious most opinions were based on unverified hearsay and speculation.
Do you have a right to confront criminals on your property, and to what extent can you use force to protect yourself and your property?
The simplified answer is “yes.”
This is often referred to as the “castle doctrine,” or defense of habitation. It isn’t really a law but a legal principal that provides a person the right to defend himself in his home, vehicle or workplace.
According to California Penal Code Sec 198.5, an individual can be presumed to have “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury” and thereby use whatever force necessary to protect themselves within their home, workplace or even vehicle.
Over the years, I’ve been directly involved in a number of investigations where homeowners have confronted burglars and intruders. In some cases, they’ve had to resort to using deadly force.
In every one of these cases, prosecutors decided not to charge the homeowners.
This isn’t unique to Orange County, but around the country you would be hard pressed to find any prosecutor who has charged a homeowner for making the split-second decision to use force on a suspect.
I suppose it’s really hard to convince a jury that the “bad guy” is the “good guy.”
In addition, jury instructions in California are very specific in cases such as this. “A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/great bodily injury/insert forcible and atrocious crime) has passed.”
Another part of the social media discussion has revolved around the question of whether the homeowner should have even gone outside.
“Call the police and let them do their job.” That’s probably good advice. But in all honesty, I couldn’t see myself doing it.
For some of us, I think there is something deeply embedded in our psyche that compels us to confront those who violate the sanctity of our homes, workplaces or property.
The urge to protect our families, homes and property can be overwhelming. In the moment we don’t consider the possible repercussions.
People who break into your house or car have already made one really bad decision. It won’t take much for to cross the line and use violence in order to get away or finish the job. It happens all the time.
Last month, a homeowner in Merced got woken up to discover an armed 15-year-old ransacking his house in the early morning hours. A shootout ensued with the 15-year-old barely missing the homeowner. The suspect was taken to the hospital by friends where he later was arrested.
Let’s face it, the average person who confronts a would-be bad guy in the middle of the night is not a police officer. They are just everyday people who are for all intents and purposes seeking to mitigate a threat to themselves, their family or property.
I can sympathize with the burden this homeowner now carries. Just like any officer- involved shooting, he will be interviewed, scrutinized and even criticized for his decision to use deadly force.
It’s a decision he will have to live with for the rest of his life.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.