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Self-defense in the home: Are you immune from prosecution?

According to the Boulder Daily Camera, a 21-year-old college student wandered into a couple’s home in Boulder at approximately 3:30 am. The student was told by the homeowners to leave and warned that they had a gun, but she continued walking into and around their bedroom. One of the homeowners shot her in the hip and called police. The student had a blood-alcohol content greater than 0.2, and the door she came through was unlocked.

The local district attorney did not press charges against the homeowners, citing the “Make My Day” law. Instead, the student ultimately pled guilty to felony trespassing and received a suspended sentence. Experienced criminal defense lawyers will review an assault case for all potential defenses including, self-defense, defense of property, defense of premises and make my day immunity.

Laws regarding an individual’s right to use self-defense and even deadly force have received a lot of publicity, particularly after the case of Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman in Florida. Much has been made of Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law as it related to that case and citizens generally.

Colorado has a law that is similar to Florida’s, but that applies when you are in your home. Sometimes called Colorado’s “Make My Day” law, it allows for immunity from criminal or civil liability if someone uses force to defend themselves if the following conditions are met:

  • The person claiming immunity was the occupant of the dwelling.
  • The person against whom force was used entered the dwelling unlawfully.
  • The occupant had a reasonable belief that the intruder had committed or intended to commit a crime against a person or property (other than the uninvited entry).
  • The occupant reasonably believes that the intruder may use some physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant.

This law can also mean that criminal liability may not be where you would expect. An October 2012 incident is a good example of this. Exactly when these conditions are met, however, is not always clear. For example, the courts have often found someone coming to a dwelling in violation of a restraining order to be there unlawfully. On the other hand, in one recent case, a judge ruled that a woman was not entitled to immunity under this statute in part because, despite the restraining order, she had invited the man she killed into her home.

As a side note, in January of this year, an amendment to the “Make My Day” law was introduced to extend the right to use deadly force against an intruder under certain conditions to include owners, managers, and employees of businesses. The bill has been postponed indefinitely.

As you can see, these cases are highly dependent on the individual facts and circumstances of each case. If you are involved in a use-of-force situation, you should contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.