Was the use of force justified in these situations? a. A 19-year-old woman was raped by two men. She subsequently invited them for a return date, at which time she killed one with a shotgun, while...

Was the use of force justified in these situations?

a. A 19-year-old woman was raped by two men. She subsequently invited them for a return date, at which time she killed one with a shotgun, while the other man fled.

b. A 62-year-old retired army officer was awakened by noise in his home. He got up, and armed with a pistol, walked into a hallway where he saw two men coming toward him. He fired his pistol, killing both men, who were in the act of burglary.

Does it matter if the burglars were unarmed?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The problem with the first scenario is:

1. The lady's actions were pre-meditated and planned, which in some states carries an automatic first degree sentence, as it was intentional.

2. She is practicing the vigilante paradigm which is illegal (taking matters into her own hands)

3. She had not reported the authorities (according to what I am reading) within the 12-48 hour period required to obtain physical evidence. For all we know, 2 weeks could have been spent shopping, eating, and sleeping normally, or in a psychiatric ward following a rape. She ELECTED to wait and plan a muder as a vigilante.

4. If she had purchased that shotgun after the offense was committed, she will undoubtedly get first degree for malicious intent.

5: IOW: She made the wrong choice and there is no insanity plea available once a premeditation has been identified.


The man had trespassers coming into the house. In order to be given 2nd degree involuntary manslaughter, the owner has to prove that he was acting in self defense. If he shot the burglars simply because they were stealing, the argument for the prosecution will be how come he didn't use the weapon to threaten and scare, rather than to kill.

If the homeowner can produce a reasonable proof that he indeed used the gun primarily to chase them away, and that they acted violently agaisnt him, then it will be provocation, tresspassing, burglary and much more if the prosecutor is good. Then it would be a good evidence that the owner was being attacked and that he acted in self defense.

It is a huge mistake when people think that they can just pull the trigger at anyone who breaks in. The truth is that criminals these days have very crooked and nasty lawyers who bend the significance of rules to their own convenience and there have been cases where the burglars have been in a defensive position for being attacked while they had not provoked an attack. Hence, there is a silent protocol to follow in the event that you are a victim of crime. Just make sure that you indeed appear as "the victim" and not "the vigilante"

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What matters in this case in terms of self defense law is was there a reasonable belief on the part of the defendant that his/her life was in danger?  From the link below:

Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force. However, a person must use no more force than appears reasonably necessary in the circumstances.

Force likely to cause death or great bodily harm is justified in self-defense only if a person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

In the first case I would have to argue no.  While certainly horrible and tragic, the crime was not taking place at the moment she killed one of the men, it happened long after the fact.  It would be hard to make a case for self defense, though the public and a jury may wish to believe it to be.  In fact, since she invited the men to return, she would probably be charged with premeditated murder, which might be reduced given the crime the victim suffered.  Usually courts want to make a statement in those cases to set an example against taking the law into your own hands.

The second case is easier to claim self defense in.  There are variables to consider.  Since he is 62, in some states it may be easier to claim feeling that his life was in danger.  Since the men were moving towards him, he had no way of knowing if they are not armed, and therefore a reasonable belief that his life is in danger, PLUS they are inside his house, on his property.  It doesn't matter necessarily whether or not they were armed, since murder can happen with any instrument lying nearby or with a person's bare hands.  Reasonable belief is the litmus test.

Very important to note: self defense law varies greatly from state to state.  There is no blanket application of the law in each of these scenarios, only likelihoods.

ggunkel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Legally, use of force was not justified in either case. However, looking at each case from the standpoint of societal good, it could be justified. None of the 3 perpetrators killed would would ever commit another crime.

In the first case the woman was undoubtedly reacting on emotion. In the second case, the man did not know if the burglars had a weapon, so it could be argued that he acted in self-defense. Although property comes second to human life under the law, the man may have felt that his life was in jeopardy.