When is the use of deadly force justified?

By Taylor Kearns - bio | email

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A West Columbia man who shot someone in his yard will not face charges.

Police say Richard Williams shot and killed 44-year-old Mark Howard around 3:00am Monday outside his home on Morningside Drive. Williams told police he shot Howard after he caught him trying to break into his truck.

What would you do if you were in the same situation? When does the law say you can pull the trigger?

Someone breaking into your home in the middle of the night is a scenario most of us don't want to think about. You may have a gun in the house, but at what point can you legally use it?

"There's a lot of old wives' tales," said Ray Hill, a certified concealed weapons instructor at Defender Shooting Sports in Lexington. "We always hear 'you gotta shoot 'em in the yard and drag them into your house.'" 
He says South Carolina's Protection of Persons and Property Act goes a long way in protecting the rights of potential victims. It says as long as you're in a place you have a right to be, aren't breaking the law and are trying to prevent a violent crime, you're justified.

"If you feel like your life is in danger, and any other prudent person under the same circumstances would feel like their life would be in danger, then you would be justified in using deadly force," said Hill. 
For example, if someone's in the process of breaking into your home, garage or other property, it doesn't matter if they present a weapon. If you feel you or someone else might be in serious peril, that justification extends to any place a person licensed to carry a gun may be.

"You could be in a public place," said Hill. "As long as they are in the commission of a violent crime, then you can use deadly force if necessary."
That said, you shouldn't get the impression you can shoot someone for simply trespassing on your property. Hill says they have to be committing a violent crime.

"If you feel like a possibility of great bodily injury, and you feel like any other prudent person would do the same if they're in your shoes, then you can use deadly force against that person lawfully," said Hill.

The protection of persons and property act also makes you immune to criminal or civil after the fact if you're found to have lawfully defended yourself. That said, any firearms expert will tell you deadly force should always and only be used as a last resort.

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