Killing another person is the most serious crime you can commit. The Declaration of Independence says that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and “life” comes first for a reason.
However, sometimes killing someone else is considered justified by law. After all, there are dangerous people in the world, and sometimes they attack others.
Defending yourself in those circumstances is only natural. Minnesota law recognizes that and has included the possibility of justifiable homicide as a murder defense.
This defense has strict requirements, though, to prevent murderers from slipping through the cracks. If you or a loved one has been in this charged scenario, it helps to understand how Minnesota defines justifiable homicide.
What Is Justifiable Homicide in Minnesota?
In essence, justifiable homicide occurs when you kill someone to defend another person. This other person can be yourself, a family member, or a complete stranger. Whether homicide is considered a reasonable response to a threat depends on the circumstances.
Using Reasonable Force
When facing a threat, you are legally allowed to use “reasonable force” to defend yourself.
This force is supposed to take the severity of the threat into account.
If a tiny old lady is yelling at you, for example, the amount of reasonable force you can use is seriously limited. However, if the threat leads you to believe you or someone else is in danger of serious bodily harm, a stronger response is warranted.
When Killing Someone is Considered Use of Reasonable Force
In justifiable homicide, you take someone’s life to prevent them from killing or causing serious harm to someone else. You may also use reasonable force to prevent someone from committing a felony in your home.
Should this lead to the invader’s death, it is also considered justifiable homicide. Finally, if the attacker’s death was obviously an accidental result of reasonable force, it is more clearly justifiable.
Current Minnesota Law Regarding Your Duty to Retreat
Before you are permitted to use reasonable force in public, you are obliged to attempt to retreat. Minnesota has a requirement that before engaging in active self-defense, you have a duty to retreat.
When You Have a Duty to Retreat
If someone attacks you, you must try to get away before attacking in return. If you simply attack and potentially kill the person threatening you, you have not fulfilled your duty to retreat.
This makes the justifiable homicide defense inapplicable. In fact, even if you don’t kill your attacker, you could be charged with assault, believe it or not.
When You Do Not Have a Duty to Retreat
The state of Minnesota acknowledges that retreating isn’t always a possibility. You do not have a duty to retreat in your own home. Also, if retreating in public is impossible or would put you in more danger, you don’t have to retreat.
In these situations, you have done all you can to avoid returning aggression. Therefore, you are legally justified in using reasonable force to defend yourself.
This duty to retreat has been a part of Minnesota law for a long time. However, some legislators are working to remove it.
Minnesota Legislators Rethinking the Duty to Retreat Doctrine
The bill MN legislators are proposing would allow self-defense without requiring you to retreat first. This would make using justifiable homicide as a defense much simpler. It might also make Minnesota safer, by discouraging would-be attackers from going after other people.
Every life has value. Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to defend your own life, and that may cost your attacker theirs. This is always a difficult legal situation.
If you or a loved one is facing homicide charges, you should find good legal representation. That can be the difference between a successful defense and years in jail for murder.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).