A number of states have what are known as “stand your ground,” “castle doctrine” or “shoot first” laws that essentially allow people to take lethal action against an intruder in their home if they reasonably believe they’re under threat without being held criminally responsible.
Here in Colorado, we have the “make my day” law. It also allows people to use lethal force against someone who illegally enters their “dwelling.”
One case, which began with a fatal shooting in January 2017 here in Colorado Springs, has made its way to the Colorado Supreme Court. The justices agreed earlier this year to hear it.
The case involves a homeless man who entered the basement of an apartment building where he was allegedly acting belligerently. The defendant reportedly told the man that if he didn’t leave by the time he counted to five, he would shoot him. When the man didn’t leave, the defendant shot and killed him.
The defendant was arrested for second-degree murder on the grounds that the basement apartment didn’t qualify as his “dwelling” under the “make my day” law. An appeals court disagreed and ruled that he should be immune from prosecution. The question before the state’s high court is whether a basement of an apartment building falls under the definition of “dwelling” under the statute.
The 1985 law’s wording can lead to ambiguity because it was “meant to give people in their homes broad authority to kill,” according to one University of Colorado law professor. Others have expressed similar criticism of the law.
In a 1992 case, a defendant was convicted of murder –- a conviction upheld by an appellate court -– for killing someone in an apartment stairwell landing. The appellate court ruled that this was a common area and not part of the defendant’s dwelling.
Colorado’s gun laws, as we’ve noted before, are more lenient than in many states. Therefore, it’s not unusual for someone to be carrying a gun as they move throughout their apartment complex -– or to have one within easy reach in their own home. Sometimes people have guns in their homes they’re not legally allowed to possess that they may feel compelled to use for self-defense. If you or a loved one is facing charges, it’s crucial to seek legal assistance.