Defending Your Home With Deadly Force

By Paul Strater

January 5, 2012 Updated Jan 6, 2012 at 10:51 AM CDT

PEORIA, IL -- It's a fear that many of us have but thankfully, few of us will face.

What happens if you confront an armed intruder in your home?

We talked with local officials and attorneys to find out what the law allows in Illinois.

In Blanchard, Oklahoma, 18-year old widow Sarah McKinley was home alone with her newborn on New Year's Eve when two men with weapons broke into her house.

The words from the 911 call are chilling:

(Dispatcher) Are your doors locked?
(McKinley) Yes, I've got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot him if he comes in the door?
(Dispatcher) I can't tell you that you can do that but you do what you have to do to protect your baby.

After waiting 21 minutes for police to arrive, she fatally shot one of the intruders. McKinley was not charged with a crime under Oklahoma law. But what about the law here in Illinois? Would she have been charged? East Peoria Police Chief Ed Papis says no.

"You see the weapon, as the lady did in Oklahoma, they're trying to break in. They get in through there. She has no other recourse but to protect herself from great bodily harm. And she used absolutely the right amount of force to mitigate the situation," said Chief Papis.

Illinois law does allow for the use of deadly force in defense of your dwelling, but only in specific circumstances. In other words, you can't open fire on everyone who knocks on your door.

Prosecutors say the test is if a reasonable person believes he would be justified in using deadly force.

"The law does allow you to defend yourself in your dwelling. If someone breaks into your dwelling, they're armed, and you reasonably believe that you have a right to use force to prevent harm to another person, then you can use the force necessary to stop that threat," said Stewart Umholtz, Stairwell County State's Attorney

The right of someone to defend their home is far from new, nor is it uniquely American. Peoria criminal defense attorney Arthur Inman says it's called a "Castle Law".

"That comes from old English common law, a man's home is his castle, and he's entitled to defend it," said Inman.

That same law also shields you from a civil lawsuit as well.

Inman said, "The individual who is either wounded or dead, that person or his estate would have no action, no civil cause of action against the person who, under reasonable belief, used deadly force."

Hopefully it's a law that none of us will ever have to seek protection under.

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