Can You Shoot Someone for Trespassing? Did the Two Lawyers in St. Louis, Missouri Break the Law?

Can you shoot someone for trespassing in SC? What about in Missouri – could the two lawyers in St. Louis, Missouri have shot the protesters at whom they were pointing their guns?

Based on the video (below) and other videos of the incident in Missouri, and looking at Missouri’s Stand Your Ground law, it appears that the two lawyers in St. Louis did not violate Missouri law. What if they had been in SC?

Can You Shoot Someone for Trespassing in SC?

If this incident had happened in SC, I don’t see any defense for the actions of the two lawyers in St. Louis. They did not appear to be defending themselves – rather, they were pointing their weapons at multiple people who were walking by their residence.

The lady had her finger on the trigger for the entire video, pointed at protesters walking by. The people at whom she was pointing the gun were not attacking her or threatening her – to the contrary, some were filming her, others were pausing briefly in surprise, and others were encouraging everyone to keep moving and not to look at them.

The male can be heard shouting, “Get out of my neighborhood!”

Self Defense Law in SC

In SC, you can shoot an intruder in your home, or shoot a trespasser in your yard, if you are defending yourself:

Once you present evidence of self-defense, the burden shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you were not acting in self-defense. To get a jury instruction from the court on the law of self-defense, you need to show that:

  • You were not at fault in “bringing on the difficulty” (you can’t pick a fight with someone and then claim self-defense);

  • You had a reasonable fear that you were in danger of death or serious bodily injury; and

  • There was no other way for you to avoid the danger.

Did they bring on the difficulty by walking outside with a pistol and an assault rifle? Was there a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury? Could they have avoided the danger by remaining inside until the protesters passed?

There was no indication in the video that the two lawyers in St. Louis were defending themselves from danger of death or serious bodily injury. No one was attacking them, although they later said that someone (not the protesters they are pointing guns at in the video) had threatened them. The man didn’t sound fearful when he yelled, “Get out of my neighborhood!”

The many people that the female threatened with her finger on the trigger were clearly not attacking her – they were walking by peacefully. The lawyers came outside, guns in hand, fingers on the trigger, pointing weapons at the protesters.

Stand Your Ground in SC

SC’s Stand Your Ground law allows a person to use deadly force if someone is “unlawfully and forcibly entering… a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle:”

(A) A person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself or another person when using deadly force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to another person if the person:

(1) against whom the deadly force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcibly entered a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if he removes or is attempting to remove another person against his will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and

(2) who uses deadly force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring or has occurred.

Although other provisions of SC’s Stand Your Ground law authorize you to defend yourself from an attack no matter where you are (if you are there legally), it does not authorize you to shoot trespassers nor does it allow you to use deadly force solely to protect property.

Citizen’s Arrest in SC

SC’s citizen’s arrest laws also do not authorize a person to shoot trespassers unless the trespasser is breaking into a home, stealing property, or is committing a felony in the nighttime:

In the nighttime, under SC Code Section 17-13-20, you can arrest a person who:

(a) has committed a felony;

(b) has entered a dwelling house without express or implied permission;

(c) has broken or is breaking into an outhouse with a view to plunder;

(d) has in his possession stolen property; or

(e) being under circumstances which raise just suspicion of his design to steal or to commit some felony, flees when he is hailed.

If it happens at night, SC law specifically authorizes you to kill the person if necessary:

A citizen may arrest a person in the nighttime by efficient means as the darkness and the probability of escape render necessary, even if the life of the person should be taken

Under SC law, the two lawyers in St. Louis would not be protected by self-defense, Stand Your Ground, nor citizen’s arrest laws. Unless there is additional information not shown on the videos, their actions in pointing their weapons at the individuals walking by their home could result in convictions for assault or for pointing and presenting a firearm.

Can You Shoot Someone for Trespassing in Missouri?

The analysis under Missouri law may be very different, however. I don’t practice law in Missouri and have never looked at Missouri law before today, but it appears that Missouri’s Stand Your Ground law does allow a person to shoot and kill a trespasser…

Assuming that the two lawyers in St. Louis were not attacked and there was no need to defend themselves from death or bodily injury (that’s certainly how it appears on the videos), they would still have a defense to charges of assault or pointing and presenting based on Missouri Code Sections 563.041 and 563.031.

Under 563.041 section 1, you can use “physical force” to prevent “stealing, property damage, or tampering,” and under section 2, you can use deadly force if authorized under other sections of the same law (see 563.031, below):

563.041. Use of physical force in defense of property. — 1. A person may, subject to the limitations of subsection 2, use physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such person of stealing, property damage or tampering in any degree.

2. A person may use deadly force under circumstances described in subsection 1 only when such use of deadly force is authorized under other sections of this chapter.

Like SC law, the Missouri statutes authorize a person to use deadly force when someone unlawfully entering a dwelling, residence, or vehicle that is occupied (it drops the “forcibly” requirement, though). Unlike SC law, however, Missouri’s 563.041 Section 2 (3) goes on to authorize the use of deadly force when a person enters “private property:”

  1. A person shall not use deadly force upon another person under the circumstances specified in subsection 1 of this section unless:

 (1) He or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, or herself or her unborn child, or another against death, serious physical injury, or any forcible felony;

(2) Such force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle lawfully occupied by such person; or

(3) Such force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter private property that is owned or leased by an individual, or is occupied by an individual who has been given specific authority by the property owner to occupy the property, claiming a justification of using protective force under this section.

It appears that, in Missouri, you can legally shoot and kill a trespasser if they are on private property, whether or not they are threatening you or committing a crime at the time. Whether that was the Missouri legislature’s intention is unclear, but the law says what it says…

Criminal Defense Lawyer in Charleston, SC

SC law does not authorize you to shoot (or point a loaded gun at) trespassers unless 1) you are defending yourself or others, 2) they are unlawfully and forcibly entering your home or vehicle, or 3) they are breaking into your home, stealing, or committing a felony in the nighttime.

Call Charleston, SC criminal defense attorney Grant B. Smaldone now at (843) 808-2100 or send us a message to speak with a SC criminal defense lawyer today.