Asked in Criminal Law for District of Columbia

Q: Do I have a right to defend my property using deadly force?

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2 Lawyer Answers
Daniel Gross
Daniel Gross
Answered
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Washington, DC
  • Licensed in District of Columbia

A: The law will generally not allow one to assert the defense of self defense when deadly force is involved to protect property. In Washington, there are several elements to self defense. The most important to your question is that deadly force can only be used to defend yourself or another if there is an immediate threat of serious bodily harm from the attacker. If you are only protected property, it would be hard to show such threat.

Please note that this is only general information and should not be relied upon as legal advice in any way.

Ann Thayer
Ann Thayer
PREMIUM
Answered
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Fairfax, VA

A: No. Property owners cannot resort to the use of deadly force to defend their property. This general rule is based on the principle that no property is worth more than a human life, even if the human life happens to belong to an intruder. A property owner may only use reasonable force to prevent someone from entering his or her property or removing something from his or her property. While the use of deadly force is not permitted, defending property by means that might otherwise constitute battery or other intentional torts is lawful if the means are a reasonable use of self-help (e.g., tackling a thief in your backyard or locking an intruder in the basement until the police arrive). In most states, however, a property owner’s use of deadly force is allowed if an intruder is a threat to the property owner’s safety or is committing a forcible felony.

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