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Posted on May 13, 2019 in Attorney Insights

Is It Legal to Shoot an Intruder?

In your home, you expect a certain level of safety, security, and comfort. However, if you face an intruder breaking into your home in the middle of the night, what can you do to defend yourself? Can you legally shoot an intruder in self-defense in the state of Arizona, or will you receive a criminal charge for assault or murder? You have legal protections for self-defense, but you will need to keep a few important considerations in mind.

The Castle Doctrine

The prime legal doctrine that you can use in intruder situations is known as the Castle Doctrine. Everyone has the right to defend themselves with reasonable responses. In most situations, you must meet the following criteria to successfully claim self-defense.

  • You must not be the primary aggressor in the situation.
  • You can only use enough force to combat the threat and not exceed it. For example, if the intruder does not have a gun and you shoot him or her, you may not be able to claim self-defense.
  • You must have a reasonable belief that you needed to use force and a physical attack was imminent.

The Castle Doctrine states that you have the right to use deadly force to protect your home if you were not the aggressor and you did not engage in criminal activity, like in a robbery. You must have the legal right to be where you were at the time of the intrusion, and the intruder must have committed an act of forceful and unlawful entry into your home, business, or vehicle.

Arizona’s Self-Defense Laws

In the state of Arizona, you can use self-defense to protect yourself against an intruder in situations where it is proportional, reasonable, and immediately necessary. However, you cannot use physical force in all situations. Arizona state courts use the objective reasonable man test to ensure that you used physical force in a situation that was reasonable, proportional, and immediately necessary.

First, the jury in your case will determine what the reactions of a reasonable person would have been in your situation. The jury will discuss whether you reasonably believed that you were in danger, or at risk of serious physical injury or death. You cannot use an unreasonable amount of force in combatting the intruder – for example, you can only shoot the intruder if he or she had a gun or you had reason to believe that he or she had a gun.

When Does Self-Defense Not Apply in Arizona?

While you can legally shoot an intruder in some circumstances in Arizona, the law does not apply in all situations. If you face the following situations, shooting an intruder or using physical violence could land you in serious trouble.

  • You cannot use self-defense unless you immediately need to use it. If the threat occurred a few minutes, hours, days, or even weeks before you act, you cannot use self-defense. For example, if the intruder leaves your property and you run outside to shoot him or her, you cannot claim self-defense.
  • You cannot claim self-defense if you provoked the initial encounter. This consideration does not quite apply in intruder situations. For example, if the intruder breaks into your home and you attack him or her, the intruder cannot fight back and claim self-defense if they suffer injuries.
  • You can only use self-defense if the threat is physical. If someone swears at you or insults you, you cannot use self-defense against him or her. However, intruders pose a physical threat to your safety, making this situation an appropriate one in which to use self-defense.

You have the right to defend your family and your property from an intruder in Arizona. However, you could face certain consequences unless you can prove you were acting in self-defense. If you need assistance with a criminal charge due to self-defense, contact a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix as soon as possible.