Tahlequah Daily Press

April 9, 2012

‘Make My Day’ self-defense laws under scrutiny

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — In the state of Oklahoma, citizens have the right to expect absolute safety within their own homes, vehicles or places of business.

Some of the state’s lawmakers are currently pushing to expand the “Make My Day” laws which allow the use of deadly force against an intruder to include places of worship. But the recent Florida Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman self-defense case has called into question when the use of deadly force in a public setting is allowed.

According to the Oklahoma “Right To Stand Your Ground” personal defense law, a person “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his/her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he/she is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is attacked in any place where he/she has a right to be, if he/she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself/herself/another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

“In the event we find ourselves in a case where self-defense or defense of property is [in question],  it’s the burden of the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not active in defense of property,” said District Attorney Brian Kuester. “So it doesn’t shift the burden to the defendant. Once evidence is offered, whether it be a part of the state’s case or a part of the defendant’s case, the burden is upon the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, just like any other case.”

 Oklahoma is one of 25 states with the so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that essentially allow law-abiding citizens who are attacked in public to use deadly force if they hold a reasonable fear of peril of death or great bodily harm.

Zimmerman, the 28-year-old Florida neighborhood watch volunteer claimed he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense in the February incident that has sparked racial and gun-control debates.

Lawmakers in Oklahoma want to expand gun permit laws to allow an individual to openly carry a weapon in public.

People who undergo self-defense and gun training are given clear and definite instructions on when to use deadly force when presented with protecting their home.

“[It should only be used] when it’s the last step available,” said Self-Defense Act Instructor Randy Tanner. “I tell my students, ‘Don’t get yourself in a situation that you can’t get out of, because carrying a concealed weapon does not make you a freelance peace officer.’ If you were on your porch and someone came up and attempted to harm you, you still have the option to go inside [the dwelling].”

Tanner added that use of deadly force in the situation of defense of property, or dwelling, can be used only when an individual attempts to gain unpermitted access by way of violent and aggressive action.

“The way it’s printed in the manual that we teach, the law stipulates an illegal entry must be made by a threatening party, and there be such reasonable belief the illegal party may harm someone,” he said.  

An individual who uses deadly force under the law is “justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and  civil action for the use of such force,” states the statute .

“If I’m getting ready for a trial, I’m trying to see what are the potential defenses and what the law says about those potential defenses,” said Kuester.

“It’s easier for me to analyze it that way than put myself in an unknown scenario that someone may present to me and ask me, ‘Can I use deadly force?’ Well, I’m not going to answer your question. Let’s go and see what the law says.”

According to Oklahoma Uniform Jury Instructions on defense of self-defense and justifiable use of deadly force, a person is justified in using deadly force in self-defense if that person reasonably believed that use of deadly force was necessary to protect himself from imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.

Kuester believes it’s important that each case be thoroughly investigated.

“It’s going to be scrutinized. Anytime there’s loss of life, someone is killed it’s going to be scrutinized, and it needs to be scrutinized,” Kuester said. “It’s always going to be put in terms of a reasonable person. What would a reasonable person do in that situation? This is not a new statute. This has been here for awhile [since 1910]. It perhaps may have clarified some thing.”

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