DA: La. statutes give homeowners rights to defend themselves, but no ‘license to kill'

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Shootings and homicides during home invasions make up a small percentage of the total number of shootings and homicides throughout a given year, according to the Baton Rouge Police Department.

WAFB reached out to the East Baton Rouge District Attorney to clarify the legal rights of homeowners and how law enforcement investigates these cases.

DA Hillar Moore says Louisiana has a statute for justifiable shootings (La. R.S. 14:19) and a statute for justifiable homicides (La. R.S. 14:20).

If a homeowner shoots an intruder during a home invasion and the suspect survives, investigators must prove that the homeowner's use of force was "reasonable and apparently necessary," according to La. R.S. 14:19.

If a homeowner shoots and kills an intruder during a home invasion, investigators must prove the homeowner "reasonably believes that he (or she) is in imminent danger," according to La. R.S. 14:20.

It must also be proven that the action was "necessary" for the homeowner to defend themselves.

In 2006, the Louisiana Legislature enacted "Stand Your Ground" language to the two statutes.  In 2014, the Legislature added language that clarified a citizen's protection to "a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle."

With those changes to the statutes, there is a "presumption" that the homeowner or someone inside a business or car "held a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary."

Moore explained that under the Stand Your Ground language, the defender has "no duty to retreat," meaning that someone has the right to defend themselves if they believe they are in danger.

Southern University Law Professor Russell Jones agreed. "If there's a window to escape, a window in which you can avoid the confrontation, you have no obligation to avoid the confrontation or to retreat away. It basically says that you can stand your ground."

Jones added the threat doesn't have to be a real threat, but a perceived threat. He said your home is your castle and the homeowner can use force to protect it or family.

These laws, according to Jones, not only apply to a home, but the car that's sitting in your driveway. "But you have to be present inside of the vehicle. Someone can't be inside of your vehicle... you catch him in your vehicle and then you shoot him," Jones said. "If you're present inside your vehicle and there is a threat and the person refuses to leave the vehicle, then you can use deadly force."

Moore says in cases of home invasions, the law favors homeowners if they are lawfully inside of their home or car and not engaged in any criminal activity.

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The law specifically states violence in self-defense cannot be justifiable if the defender is engaged in "the acquisition of, the distribution of, or possession of, with intent to distribute" illegal drugs.

Moore says his office thoroughly investigates each home invasion just as impartially as any other case.

"We take a look at all of these home invasion cases just as a normal homicide [or shooting] and work directly with our local law enforcement agencies."

Moore firmly added the law "does not give someone the right to just kill. It's not a license to kill."

"Killing is the last resort," Jones added. "Killing is the last resort, but at the same time, you have a right to protect yourself, you have a right to protect your family, you have a right to protect your home, and if it comes to that, you can," he said.

Moore referenced a 2011 Louisiana appellate court ruling, State v. Ingram, that upheld the manslaughter conviction of a man who shot and killed his ex-wife after she broke in and fought with his current wife in his home.

The appellate court agreed that the ex-wife's entry into Ingram's house was unlawful, but the court found that Ingram's justification defense "fell short" when the prosecution offered proof that the use of deadly force was unreasonable under the circumstances of the case.

The court agreed that "there are many levels of force less than deadly force that Ingram (the defendant) could have used once he saw his ex-wife and had the opportunity to discover that she was unarmed.

The appellate court warned that "the presumption of reasonableness in La. R.S. 14:20(B) is not a license to kill."

To see the full statutes defining "justifiable" defense and "justifiable homicide" read the following document below:

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