Most people think of the term "homicide" as describing the most serious violent felony. However, the term simply means the killing of a person, and this act is not always illegal. Oklahoma law defines both "excusable homicide" and "justifiable homicide" as killings which are not unlawful, but instead may be necessary in the protection of one's personal safety or in protecting the safety of others.
However, any killing in self defense is carefully scrutinized. Despite Oklahoma having permissive self-defense laws, including both the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws, simply claiming "self-defense" is not enough to support a finding of justifiable homicide. Police and district attorneys will scrutinize any act of homicide to determine if a killing was indeed justifiable, or if a person acted outside the realm of the law and utilized unnecessary force.
If an investigation determines that there is enough evidence to support a criminal charge, the defendant may be charged with murder or manslaughter, even if he or she feels justified in using force to protect oneself or one's family.
It is important to understand what qualifies as excusable or justifiable homicide so that one can accurately interpret and abide by self defense laws in Oklahoma.
Homicide is considered by state law to be "excusable" under the following conditions:
If a death is pure accident without negligence, or if it is an accidental death arising from defending against a sudden attack, the person who commits the act is held harmless by criminal law.
In certain situations, a police officer or other law enforcement agent may find it necessary to use lethal force in order to protect his or her personal safety or the public safety when dealing with a violent criminal. Not all incidents of deadly force by a law enforcement officer are lawful; however, in many cases, the killing of a suspect or inmate may be justified:
The United States and the state of Oklahoma support due process and the right of every person to obtain justice through a fair trial. However, if a law enforcement officer is in grave risk of serious injury or death in trying to effect that process and to protect the public welfare, the law allows him or her to use necessary force to prevent such harm. Oklahoma is not a police state. Law enforcement agents must act reasonably, responsibly, and lawfully when using deadly force.
While "excusable homicide" is an accidental death from lawful, non-negligent actions not intended to bring about death, justifiable homicide is the intentional use of lethal force in order to protect oneself or one's family. State law defines justifiable homicide as follows:
While the law states that justifiable homicide occurs in an attempt to resist a felony, in fact only in the case of violent felonies against a person is lethal force justified. Oklahoma's self-defense laws allow a person to use deadly force against a person who jeopardizes personal safety, but not in defense of property.
If a "self-defense" claim is asserted, investigators will carefully work to determine whether the use of lethal force was necessary, reasonable, and lawful. If someone shoots and kills a masked intruder breaking into his or her home in the dark of night, it would be considered reasonable for the homeowner to have assumed that his or her life was in jeopardy. If a homeowner frightens a burglar away and shoots the suspect in the back during an attempt to flee, the use of lethal force is unnecessary and the shooter will likely be charged with murder.
Oklahoma self defense laws uphold the theories of the Castle Doctrine , based upon the belief that "A man's home is his castle," and that every person has the right to be safe in his or her own home. This doctrine is explicitly stated in law in 21 O.S. § 733 (1) when it says that homicide is justifiable when it occurs in the attempt to prevent murder or a violent felony "in any dwelling house in which such person is." This right is explained in more detail in the Oklahoma Self Defense Act in 21 O.S. § 1289.25, Physical and Deadly Force Against Intruder:
B. A person or a owner, manager or employee of a business is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:
If a person illegally and forcibly enters another's home, vehicle, or place of business, the Self Defense Act says that such a person is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit and illegal act of force or violence; therefore, occupants of such place have the right to protect themselves and others against this presumed imminent danger.
Stand Your Ground laws have come under close scrutiny in recent years, but Oklahoma holds fast to its belief that its citizens have the right to protect themselves. The state's "Stand Your Ground" clause is written in the Oklahoma Self Defense Act:
"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."