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Michigan’s Castle Doctrine – The Law of Self Defense Inside Your Home

Sep 19th, 2018 OWI Michigan’s Castle Doctrine – The Law of Self Defense Inside Your Home

Sometimes called the “castle doctrine, Michigan law provides that under certain circumstances you may legally use both deadly and non-deadly force against an intruder in your home. Also, under certain circumstances, if you kill such an intruder, you will be protected against prosecution by a presumption that you acted in self-defense.  A paraphrase of the Michigan law of self-defense in a home says:

If a person is in the process of breaking and entering your home (or business or vehicle), [to remove a person or property] or has already broken and entered your home and is still present in the home, or is unlawfully attempting to remove another person from your home against their will, you may use deadly force if (and only if) you honestly and reasonably believe that the individual (you shoot dead) is engaging in the described conduct.

Before you use deadly force there are several important things for you to know.  The courts have interpreted the law paraphrased above such that in order for you to lawfully use deadly force, it must be objectively true that a breaking and entering or attempted breaking and entering, or home invasion is taking place. This is referred to as an objective rather than a subjective standard. Consequently, it’s not enough for you to simply have an honest and reasonable belief that a breaking and entering is taking place. If you’re wrong in your belief, and it’s later determined that a breaking and entering was not taking place, then the defense will not apply.

This unfortunate and narrow “objective requirement” for this defense of home law arises out of the well-publicized and albeit unpublicized case of People v. Wafer.  In this case, the court began with the proposition that a successful claim of self-defense “requires a finding that the defendant acted intentionally, but that the circumstances justified his actions.”  The court then went on to find that the circumstances did not justify Mr. Wafer’s actions. In doing so, the court interpreted Michigan Compiled Laws sec. 780.951(1), which is paraphrased above.  The text of this law specifically indicates that a shooter is entitled to a rebuttable presumption they acted in self-defense if they have “an honest and reasonable belief that imminent death . . . or great bodily harm to himself . . . will occur” only if both of the following apply:

(a) The individual against whom deadly force or force other than deadly force is used is in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling or business premises or committing home invasion or has broken and entered a dwelling or business premises or committed home invasion and is still present in the dwelling or business premises, or is unlawfully attempting to remove another individual from a dwelling, business premises, or occupied vehicle against his or her will.

(b) The individual using deadly force or force other than deadly force honestly and reasonably believes that the individual is engaging in the conduct described in subdivision (a).

The court reasoned that these two subsections differ in that subsection (a) focuses on the conduct of the person against whom the deadly force is used, whereas subsection (b) focuses on the state of mind of the person using deadly force.

Ultimately, the court found that although Mr. Wafer may have met subsection b because he appeared to “honestly and reasonably” believe that a breaking and entering was occurring, however, the defense failed because the facts did not support subsection a because this subsection required an objective finding that a breaking and entering was actually occurring.  Therefore, the court found that Mr. Wafer was not entitled to the defense or the presumption.

Applying this case to your own home defense, this means that before you shoot an intruder in your home, you had better be darn sure they are either:

  • in the process of breaking and entering a dwelling or business premises [or committing home invasion] or,
  • has broken and entered a dwelling or business premises or committed home invasion and is still present in the dwelling or business premises,
  • unlawfully attempting to remove another individual from a dwelling, business premises, or occupied vehicle against his or her will.

Another thing to know is this; even if you have self-defense based on the above criteria, there are instances when the presumption still doesn’t apply.  For example:

  • The person against whom the force is being used has a legal right to be in the house – no presumption;
  • The person is the parent, grandparent or legal guardian of a child who is being removed from the home – no presumption; or,
  • If the person is a police officer who has entered or is attempting to enter the home in the performance of his or her official duties, then again, no presumption.

The law of self-defense of home is complicated and use of deadly or non-deadly force is always fraught with legal peril.  If you keep a firearm in your home and intend to use it in self-defense, it is important that you be well informed about the law, and well trained in the use of force. You may also wish to consider the use of force insurance to cover the cost of your legal defense in the event that charges are brought.