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Distinguishing the Three Oklahoma Self-Defense Doctrines


The “Castle Doctrine”, “Make My Day Doctrine”, and “Stand Your Ground Doctrine” are all self-defense claims that extend immunity from prosecution to individuals that used reasonable force to protect themselves from grave bodily injuries or death.

In Oklahoma, these doctrines are embedded within the definition of Oklahoma Statute Title 21 section 1289.25 of the state penal code, also referred to as the Oklahoma Firearms Act of 1971. Each doctrine is an expansion of its previous version, with “Stand Your Ground” being the more recent one. Although these doctrines are viable as a defense in homicide and battery cases, it is important to understand that the elements for self-defense must first be present.

Self-Defense Requirements

Self-defense is appropriate under certain circumstances when one is faced with danger to their life or personal security. Under Oklahoma law, a self-defense claim requires an objective and subjective standard. Perryman v. State, 1999 OK CR 39, ¶ 9, 990 P.2d 900, 904.

First, under the objective standard, the fact finder must determine whether the person invoking the defense believed that he or she was faced with imminent danger of death or great bodily harm before the use of physical and/or deadly force. Id. Second, under the subjective standard, the fact finder must determine whether the defendant’s belief was reasonable. Id.

When evaluating the second requirement, courts view the situation from the subjective perspective of the defendant and the defendant’s belief must be found to be objectively reasonable. The bare belief that one is about to suffer death or great personal injury will not, in itself, justify taking the life of one’s adversary. Id. (citation omitted). Oklahoma courts have held that an aggressor, or one that enters into a confrontation armed, may not later invoke a self-defense claim, unless he retreats and then is attacked.

The Castle Doctrine

The Castle Doctrine is a self-defense rule that allows a homeowner to use deadly force against an intruder when there is a reasonable belief that there is a danger of great bodily harm or death. This English common law rule, now adopted by Oklahoma as part of the Oklahoma Firearms act of 1971, recognizes that Oklahoma citizens have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes or places of business.

However, it is important to note that Oklahoma has placed a limitation of this doctrine in domestic abuse cases by requiring that the person invoking the doctrine first attempt to retreat before responding with deadly force. This requirement attempts to remedy the contradicting notion that a person may invoke this doctrine against a spouse who is also legally in the dwelling and no intrusion has actually occurred.

Make My Day Doctrine

The “Make My Day” doctrine was an attempt by Oklahoma courts to expand self-defense protections of the Castle Doctrine to other persons legally in the dwelling, not just the homeowners. “Make My Day” doctrine was explained in State v. Anderson, 1998 OK CR 67, 972 P.2d 32, where the Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma held that a person who is legally in the dwelling of another is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly force, against another person who has made an unlawful entry onto that dwelling.

As an example, the court used a babysitter to explain that, although not the true homeowner, a baby sitter may invoke the “Make My Day” doctrine to protect herself and the children in the dwelling. In contrast, the court explained that the baby-sitter would not be allowed to use any type of defensive force under the principles of the Castle Doctrine because the baby-sitter is not the homeowner or resident. The baby-sitter would not be offered any immunity.

Although these self-defense protections have now been extended to other persons that do not reside in the home, the “Make My Day” doctrine still requires that the person invoking it must have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or another when using the defensive force.

Stand Your Ground Doctrine

“Stand Your Ground” replaced “Make My Day” doctrine in Dawkins v. State, 2011 OK CR 1, ¶ 9, 252 P.3d 214, 218, and further expanded self-defense protections beyond the confines of one’s home. “Stand Your Ground” laws say that a person has no duty to retreat if confronted by someone engaged in criminal activity, and that they can protect themselves with lethal force if they believe that their own lives are in jeopardy.

Unlike the “Make My Day” doctrine which provides protections in one’s home against intruders, “Stand Your Ground” doctrine does not require that the person invoking it be at their dwelling, but only that they have a right to be legally present at the location of the confrontation. Furthermore, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma concluded that the Legislature intended the “Stand Your Ground” provisions to protect law-abiding citizens, and therefore the court held that the benefits of this statute exclude persons who are actively committing a crime—except minor infractions like persons who are illegally parked or have an outdated vehicle registration. Id at ¶ 11.

Oklahoma Statute Provision

All three doctrines are part of the Oklahoma Firearms act of 1971 and are delineated in the Oklahoma Statutes Title 21 section 1289.25 of the state penal code which provide:

The Legislature hereby recognizes that the citizens of the State of Oklahoma have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes or places of business.

A person or an 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:

  1. The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or a place of business, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against the will of that person from the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or place of business; and
  2. The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred. . . .

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.

A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle of another person, or a place of business is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

A person who uses force, as permitted pursuant to the provisions of subsections B and D of this section, is justified in using such force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force. As used in this subsection, the term "criminal prosecution" includes charging or prosecuting the defendant.

A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of force, but the law enforcement agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force that was used was unlawful.

Although these self-defense doctrines are available, unreasonable force is not acceptable or justifiable in Oklahoma courts. A prime example includes Pharmacist Jerome Ersland who was convicted of first-degree murder for shooting an attempted robber at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy. Although Ersland acted within the scope of the law when he shot Antwun “Speedy” Parker the first time, he exceeded the amount of force when he returned to shoot the injured assailant five more times after he was incapacitated. Ersland’s actions were deemed excessive and he was sentence to life in prison. Beginning on November 01, 2018, 21 O.S. § 1289.25, Oklahoma Firearms Act of 1971 will read as follows:

PHYSICAL OR DEADLY FORCE AGAINST INTRUDER

The Legislature hereby recognizes that the citizens of the State of Oklahoma have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes, places of business or places of worship and have the right to establish policies regarding the possession of weapons on property pursuant to the provisions of Section 1290.22 of this title.

A person, regardless of official capacity or lack of official capacity, within a place of worship or a person, an 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:

a. The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, place of business or place of worship, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against the will of that person from the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, place of business or place of worship.

b. The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred; or

The person who uses defensive force knew or had a reasonable belief that the person against whom the defensive force was used entered or was attempting to enter into a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, place of business or place of worship for the purpose of committing a forcible felony, as defined in Section 733 of this title, and that the defensive force was necessary to prevent the commission of the forcible felony.

The presumption set forth in subsection B of this section does not apply if:

  • The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not a protective order from domestic violence in effect or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person;
  • The person or persons sought to be removed are children or grandchildren, or are otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used; or
  • The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, place of business or place of worship to further an unlawful activity.
  • 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.
  • A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle of another person, place of business or place of worship is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
  • A person who uses defensive force, as permitted pursuant to the provisions of subsections A, B, D and E of this section, is justified in using such defensive force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such defensive force. As used in this subsection, the term "criminal prosecution" includes charging or prosecuting the defendant.
  • A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of defensive force, but the law enforcement agency may not arrest the person for using defensive force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the defensive force that was used was unlawful.

The court shall award reasonable attorney fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection F of this section.

The provisions of this section and the provisions of the Oklahoma Self-Defense Act shall not be construed to require any person using a weapon pursuant to the provisions of this section to be licensed in any manner.

A person pointing a weapon at a perpetrator in self-defense or in order to thwart, stop or deter a forcible felony or attempted forcible felony shall not be deemed guilty of committing a criminal act.

K. As used in this section:

"Defensive force" includes, but shall not be limited to, pointing a weapon at a perpetrator in self-defense or in order to thwart, stop or deter a forcible felony or attempted forcible felony;

"Dwelling" means a building or conveyance of any kind, including any attached porch, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people;

"Place of worship" means:

any permanent building, structure, facility or office space owned, leased, rented or borrowed, on a full-time basis, when used for worship services, activities and business of the congregation, which may include, but not be limited to, churches, temples, synagogues and mosques, and

any permanent building, structure, facility or office space owned, leased, rented or borrowed for use on a temporary basis, when used for worship services, activities and business of the congregation including, but not limited to, churches, temples, synagogues and mosques;

"Residence" means a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest; and

"Vehicle" means a conveyance of any kind, whether or not motorized, which is designed to transport people or property.