The law has changed regarding circumstances, alternatives, options and choices to protect a reasonable person when using defensive force.
When the Missouri Senate approved Senate Bill 62 on March 6, 2007, which joined a bill approved by the Missouri House about a month before, and Governor Matt Blunt signed it into law July 3, 2007, Missouri had its first “Castle Doctrine." The statute became effective August 28, 2007 by repealing several existing sections of statute and enacting ten new sections. Sections 476.038 RSMo. et sequitur take a lot of studying. The key elements of the 19 pages of legislation fortify the notion that a man’s home is his castle. “An Englishman’s home is his castle” can be traced at least as far back as English lawyer Sir Edward Coke in 1644. If this general notion has been so long well-accepted, why was a new law needed in Missouri in 2007? What does it mean to set state boundaries for self-defense in a home or in a vehicle?
“Dwelling” means any building or inhabitable structure, temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof. This includes a tent. If you reside in a dwelling, you are an inhabitant.
If the circumstances require the use of force, you may use that physical force to defend yourself, and potentially others, up to and including deadly force. “Deadly force” is when the actor uses force with the purpose of causing, or which he or she knows to create a substantial risk of causing death or serious physical injury.
The statute now allows that “…. A(a) person who uses force as described in Section 563.061(2) is justified in using such force" and “…. such fact shall be an absolute defense to criminal prosecution or civil liability." V.A.M.S. 563.074.1.
The key is new section 563.031.3: “A person does not have a duty to retreat from a dwelling, residence or vehicle where the person is not unlawfully entering or unlawfully remaining."
You may lawfully use, up to and including, deadly force to remain in a dwelling and/or vehicle you lawfully occupy, rather than retreating, which prior statutes required.
A lot of farm people became keenly interested in these issues decades ago (early 1970’s) when a court case in Iowa (Katko v. Briney, 183 N.W. 2d 657, 1971 Iowa Sup. LEXIS 717, 47 A.L.R. 3d. 624) produced a rather curious result. After multiple episodes of burglary of an unoccupied farm home, the owner of the home set a spring gun to effectively deal with the burglar(s). It worked. The spring gun wounded a burglar when he attempted to again burgle the home.
The wounded burglar then sued the spring-gunner for money damages for his shooting injuries – and won. The Iowa court held that the homeowner could not use greater force in his absence than he could if he were present in the house. The owner in the Iowa case could not prove that the burglar displayed that type of aggressive threat before he was shot by the spring gun.
The new Missouri statute clarifies our law by saying that a lawful inhabitant of a dwelling or vehicle need not consider retreat from the premises before employing defensive force including deadly force, i.e. usually shooting.
CAVEAT (“Beware”) 571.030.1 holds, “A person commits the crime of unlawful use of weapons if he or she knowingly (2) sets a spring gun(;).
Any person would be well advised to study the wording of the statutes dealing with self defense in a dwelling (including a vehicle) before considering the use of deadly force in defense of himself (or herself) or another.
Erwin Milne is a partner in the law firm of Andereck, Evans, Milne, Widger & Johnson with offices in Jefferson City, Springfield, Trenton and Smithville, Mo.