WV gun owner stops home invasion. When can you legally shoot someone?

There was an article yesterday in the Charleston Gazette about a gun owner in Logan, WV who stopped a home invasion in progress at his neighbor’s home.

He shot one of the burglars, and held the other at gunpoint until police arrived.  This brings up a common topic of interest to people – especially in West Virginia, which has one of the largest percentages of gun owners per capita (we are no. 5 I believe).

When can you legally shoot someone in a home invasion scenario?  

In the end, it comes down to whether or not you reasonably believe that you, or someone else (anyone else – it doesn’t have to be a family member) is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.  People tend to get obsessed with the “castle doctrine.”  Just understand that to mean, that if you are in your home, you have no legal obligation to run out the back door, if given the opportunity.  It all comes down to whether you believe you, or someone else, is going to be killed or seriously hurt if you don’t take action.

There is no guarantee that, even if you do believe you’re about to be killed, and you fire your weapon, that the shooting will be deemed justified.  Your fear must have been reasonable – based on something that your peers would likely also consider as significant enough to cause them fear as well.

Everyone should think about these types of things ahead of time.  You should draw a mental line in the sand regarding when you shoot, and when you do not shoot.  What is enough?  What if someone in a ski mask is lurking outside your house?  What if someone in a ski mask is outside your house with a gun in their hand?  What if someone is burglarizing your vehicle in your driveway?  What if someone is burglarizing your neighbor’s home?  Or car?

There is not necessarily a right answer for these types of scenarios.  But you should never pull the trigger unless you really do fear for a life.  It’s not that they don’t deserve a dirt nap.  If it were up to me, all thieves entering your property at night should be executed.  But unfortunately it’s not.

Many people in West Virginia do believe that if someone is breaking into their car at night, that they can run outside and shoot them.  Unfortunately, here we are not allowed to use deadly force in order to protect property.  For this reason, electric companies are not supposed to keep lines active for the sole purpose of deterring trespassers.  Now if the car burglar approaches you, or if he has a weapon and has the imminent ability to use it against you – that is different.

1.  It’s always going to be more difficult to justify a shooting where the person shot was “unarmed”.  I knife, gun, or even a stick could count as a weapon.  It is never a good idea to provide your own weapon after the shooting.  The facts are what they are.  Never try to change them.

2.  It’s always going to be more difficult to justify a shooting where the person shot was shot in the back.  This would indicate that the person was walking, or running, away from you.  That causes a problem because at that point it’s hard to argue that your fear was reasonable when the threat was leaving.  It’s also hard to argue that the threat was imminent.  But, if the person shot was in your house, it’s probably going to be a good shoot, because the threat was still in your home.  Generally when we shoot someone, our natural tendency is to keep shooting.  So there have been cases where the first shot was in the front of the person’s body, and several more shots went into the guy’s back as he turned to run away.  Good shoot, but bullets in the back are always going to make things more difficult.

3.  In your home, it’s game on.  Like I said, draw a line in the sand.  If someone maliciously invades your home, you generally can eliminate the threat with extreme prejudice.  But it still has to be reasonable.  You wouldn’t want to shoot a drunk neighbor who wandered in the wrong house – or a family member sneaking back in from a night of partying.  For this reason, always have a good home defense light.  You have to know your target – and what’s behind it.

It’s outside the home, where most of the grey areas live.  So be very careful venturing outside your castle with a gun in the dark of night.  Know where your line in the sand is.

As for the shooting in the article, the 800 pound gorilla is the fact that was left out of the story.  Did the shooter believe that the neighbors were in the home at the time he saw the attempted home invasion?  If so, good shoot.  If not, he may have a more difficult time due to the fact that we are not allowed to use deadly force in order to protect (only) property.

4.  Lastly, all gun owners who anticipate ever having to use their firearms in self defense should get some formal training, such as in a defensive handgun class.  A basic concealed weapons class does not qualify as training.  This is me at a handgun class a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a lot of fun, and it’s part of our obligation as citizens under the 2nd Amendment.

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Mom Robs Slot Parlor With BB Pistol, Children in-tow

From the Charleston Gazette today:

This is another one of those “only in West Virginia” items…

A St. Albans woman, who has since qualified for the Parent of the Year award and the Intellectual Criminal of the Year award, robbed a video slot parlor with a Crossman BB pistol. She held it to the clerk’s head and stole her cell phone and keys. It didn’t say whether or not she took the clerk’s car with the keys, I’m assuming she did not – since she only had to escape a few houses down.

She was found sitting on a porch a few houses away a short time later by police. She had the cash, the keys and the cell phone – and the kids I’m assuming – with her on the front porch.

She later told police that she just wanted a better life for her kids. Well, this is probably the best thing that could happen to her kids because now they will be raised by someone else – anyone else.

What an idiot.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Black Market Gas in Southern West Virginia

Psst… Hey buddy, want to buy some gas?

Apparently the future of crime in southern West Virginia lies with black market gas. According to an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph today, law enforcement is preparing for thieves stealing tanker trucks and stealing large quantities of gas from gas stations.

I can picture it now… Gas thieves will be the new robin hoods, stealing from the gas companies and selling to the poor at a substantially-reduced rate. You might play up the robin hood theory to the jury. It could work.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Plea Rejected by Raleigh County Circuit Judge

From the Register-Herald today:

Plea rejected for woman accused of robbery

Michelle James
Register-Herald Reporter
A plea hearing went awry Wednesday when the defendant admitted to Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick she was only taking the plea because she wanted to go home, not because she thought she had done anything wrong.

Bridget Rene Sizemore, 33, of Beckley, was expected to plead guilty to first-degree robbery in connection with a March 31, 2006, incident during which she allegedly broke into a Bolt residence and attempted to steal a woman’s purse at knifepoint.

At the time of the alleged crime, Sizemore was on probation for a forgery conviction. By entering a guilty plea Tuesday, Sizemore would have been sentenced to probation for the robbery and her probation for forgery would have been revoked with the underlying sentence of one to 10 years reinstated.

Sizemore, who said she was under the influence of drugs at the time of the incident, did admit to grabbing the victim’s purse but said she was not trying to rob her.

Kirkpatrick told Sizemore he could not accept the plea and told her he believed “it would be best to just set the matter for trial.”

Sizemore was returned to jail and a trial date will be set.

Note: Defendants are forced to take plea agreements all the time despite their claim of innocence. The issue isn’t always is the person “guilty” or “innocent.” There are books and books full of technical crimes. A person could be charged with two or three different crimes for doing the same thing, just depending on what kind of mood the prosecutor was in. One crime could bring a sentence of up to one year in jail… the other crime could carry ten to twenty years in prison – mandatory. Thus, in this woman’s situation, she may not have actually “robbed” the lady, but the State may have a statement from her whereby the police officers carefully got her to unknowingly admit to each and every element of robbery, thus ensuring her conviction of “robbery” rather than simple larceny, which would be a misdemeanor. The point is, that nobody cares about her motives for pleading to a lesser unless the defendant states something in open court that could bring problems if the case ever crossed the bench of an appellate court. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia criminal defense attorney.

Burglar Shot By Homeowner In Beckley

From today’s Beckley Register-Herald:

A Fayette County burglary suspect was shot by a homeowner who police said was burglarized by the same suspect at least one other time.

Nighttime burglary charges are pending against Tracey Ann McQueen, 25, of Kaymoor Road, Fayetteville, Sheriff Bill Laird said. McQueen was taken to Charleston Area Medical Center Wednesday morning for treatment of a single gunshot wound to her left hand. She was under evaluation at the hospital as of Wednesday afternoon.

At 4:45 a.m. Wednesday, the Fayette County 911 Center was notified of a burglary in progress at a Pleasant View Road residence, near Fayetteville, Laird said. Later, the alleged burglar was reported to have been shot in the hand by the homeowner. When deputies arrived at the scene, the homeowner said the female suspect fled.

A short time later, deputies identified the suspect as McQueen, Laird said. McQueen was located at a Kaymoor Road residence and taken to Plateau Medical Center. She was later transferred to CAMC.

The preliminary investigation indicates the female victim was awakened to find McQueen inside the residence, Laird said. The victim confronted McQueen, attempting to hold her at gunpoint while awaiting deputies’ arrival. A struggle ensued, during which McQueen was apparently shot by the victim’s .22 caliber revolver.

Laird said McQueen had been charged with burglarizing the same residence Nov. 4, and she was free on bond when the latest incident occurred. McQueen was also considered a primary suspect in at least one other previous incident at the same residence. Reports indicate the victim’s house had been burglarized on several other occasions during the past few months.

McQueen is believed to have, in the past, lived near the victim’s residence, Laird said. Laird was unsure if McQueen and the victim actually knew each other.

No charges have been filed against the homeowner, Laird said.

Investigations into this incident and all other previous crimes at the residence are ongoing, Laird said. Deputies T.N. Mooney and W.K. Willis and sheriff’s detective bureau are investigating.

Note: The headline used by the Register-Herald was “Sheriff: Burglary suspect shot by homeowner.” I believed this to be a little ridiculous, so I changed it to “Burglar Shot by Homeowner in Beckley.” Sometimes the press can get a little carried away with the words “alleged” and “suspect.” Even a criminal defense attorney can say here with absolute certainty that this person was a “burglar,” not a “suspect.” Also, why is it necessary to indicate in the headline that it came from the Sheriff? The point is, that the media sees the real criminal as any homeowner with the audacity to protect themselves with guns – as we have a right to do in this country (well, in West Virginia anyways; according to Mayor Bloomberg and other fanatical big-city mayors, you lose that right when you cross rust-belt city limits) This point of view is apparent towards the end of the article, where the author, as if she was surprised, notes that “No charges have been filed against the homeowner….” Let’s hope the author of this article never runs for prosecuting attorney. – John H. Bryan, Attorney at Law.