Last night in the City of Detroit, a store owner shot and killed a man who reportedly attempting to commit a robbery inside the store. There was no weapon recovered from the victim of the shooting. I was asked a number of questions about the shooting by a young attorney when I was in court today, which made me realize how little most people (even attorneys) understand about the law of self defense.
Citizens in the State of Michigan have the right to use force to defend themselves. However, as a criminal defense attorney in Michigan, I can promise you that the right of self defense is not absolute. In order to legally use force to defense yourself: 1) you must be in a place that you are legally allowed to be; and 2) the force you use must be proportional to the force being applied to you. In other words, if someone shoves you, you cannot pull out a gun and shoot that person. The force used to defend one’s self must only be force that one “honestly and reasonably” believes is necessary to fight off the impending threat. Another important note is that you may not be in the course of committing a crime when you use self defense. This means that someone who broke into a house and was confronted by a homeowner possessing a gun could not take out his/her own gun and shoot that home owner and claim self defense.
When it comes to the use of deadly force, the same rules apply. This means that a person who “reasonably believes” that they are faced with the risk of death or great bodily harm may use deadly force to combat that risk. A person may also legally use deadly force is they reasonable believe that force is necessary to stop/prevent a sexual assault. However, again, if there is neither of these risks, deadly force may not legally be used.
Finally, Michigan is now a “stand your ground” state. This means that so long as you are in place where you are legally allowed to be, there is no “duty to retreat” before using force to defend one’s self.