WWMT reporter Sam Knef recently contacted Patrick Barone, Michigan Gun Crimes lawyer at the Barone Defense Firm, to discuss Michigan’s self-defense laws. These laws are complicated and often misunderstood by the public, and Mr. Knef wanted to help his audience understand what is and is not legal in the State of Michigan.
In these tumultuous and chaotic times of pandemic and protest, the topic of self-defense is on people’s minds today more than ever. People around the Country are wondering what their right to self defense is if a protestor or anyone breaks into their home. And what happens if you’re driving and you’re suddenly surrounded by angry protestors? To address these concerns, Mr. Barone explains Michigan’s self defense laws, including the castle doctrine and the stand your ground law. The title of Mr. Knef’s article is Lawyer explains Michigan’s castle doctrine law: When you can and can’t shoot an intruder.
The self-defense laws in Michigan consist of protections covering what happens both inside and outside a person’s residence, business or car. When dealing with self-defense in all places other than a person’s home business or motor vehicle, Michigan’s Stand your Ground law applies. Based on this law, a person may use deadly force if they honestly and reasonably believe that they or another person are in imminent danger of death, serious bodily injury or sexual assault. There is no duty to retreat, but an ability to retreat may impact on how the determination of reasonableness is made by a police officer, prosecutor, judge or jury.
This law, and the duty to retreat, was thoroughly evaluated in the case of People v. Riddle. According to Riddle, the “touchstone” of this law is necessity. The use of deadly force must be necessary under the circumstances. Regarding the duty to retreat, except when a person is the victim of a sudden violent attack, a person’s failure to retreat may indicate a lack of reasonableness or necessity. In such circumstances it may be appropriate for a prosecutor to bring such facts before the jury.
In summary, Riddle explains:
When it is possible to safely avoid an attack then it is not necessary, and therefore not permissible, to exercise deadly force against the attacker.
The opposite of this is also true, one subjected to a “sudden, fierce, and violent attack” never has an obligation to retreat because, again, the use of deadly force is necessary. This is why the concept of “imminence” is so important. The fear of death, great bodily harm and sexual assault must be based on an immediate fear. The fear must be based on something happening in the moment and not something possible or imaginary or threatened in the future.
There is one narrow exception to the concept of stand your ground. If a person is engaged in “mutual” non-deadly combat with another person, and then escalates the nature of force from deadly to non-deadly, that person must retreat. This is largely because they essentially caused or instigated their exposure to the deadly force.
When dealing with someone inside your home, business or auto, Michigan’s Castle Doctrine applies. According to this law, if a person is attempting to or has completed a breaking and entering of your home or business, a home invasion or a carjacking, and is still present, a person may use deadly force to terminate the threat. Under these circumstances it will be presumed that they had an honest and reasonable belief that the deadly force was necessary. Regarding the duty to retreat, again according to Riddle,
It is universally accepted that retreat is not a factor in determining whether a defensive killing was necessary when it occurred in the accused’s dwelling
There are other exceptions to when the Castle Doctrine applies, and these exceptions are beyond the scope of this article. Consequently, anyone seeking to arm themselves in self-defense is advised to study these laws, and to consult with a lawyer before ever taking justice into their own hands. As Mr. Barone points out in the referenced news piece, the Castle Doctrine and the Stand Your Ground laws provide defenses to prosecution. They do not bar prosecution. Even when you’re justified you may still be prosecuted. In these situations, the best thing to do is lawyer-up and remain silent.