Under Indiana law, there are three formal requirements for a self-defense claim. You must have:
- been in a place you had a right to be;
- not started the fight; and
- been in reasonable fear of bodily harm or death
Trespass, by definition, involves a person without a contractual interest in property being on that property without the owner’s consent. In other words, a trespasser is necessarily in a place they don’t have a right to be—if they were allowed to be there, they wouldn’t be trespassing.
It seems like this requirement would make it so that a trespasser could never claim self-defense, but this isn’t the case. There are certain circumstances that allow trespassers to defend themselves.
The Fourth Element
In addition to the elements listed above, a self-defense claim also requires you to show that you didn’t use unreasonable force. If someone threatens to punch you, you can’t respond by pulling out a gun and shooting them. That’s not self -defense. That’s unreasonable.
So what happens when a property owner comes at a trespasser with an unreasonable amount of force? In that situation, the trespasser may have the right to act in self-defense.
Misconceptions About Self-Defense
Indiana’s Castle Doctrine states that a person is justified in using deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if they reasonably believe that force is necessary to prevent or terminate another’s unlawful entry of their dwelling, curtilage, or occupied motor vehicle.
Things get a little fuzzy, though, when we’re talking about trespassers who aren’t breaking into anything. If there’s a kid cutting through your yard on their way to the playground, you’re probably not justified in pulling a gun on them. Make it angry adult and give them a weapon, and now it looks more like a situation where force might be justified.
Remember, though: If someone’s trespassing on your property and refuses to leave, going for your gun isn’t always your best option. Pointing a firearm at a nonviolent, nonthreatening trespasser might put you in legal jeopardy, and it also might escalate the situation into something deadly.
Anytime you use force in a self-defense situation, it must be reasonable in relation to the threat. Folks who are law-abiding, armed property owners need to be careful about bringing out their guns for a trespasser. The last thing they want to do is give a trespasser a legal justification for fighting back.
The rules are a lot different when someone is breaking into an occupied vehicle, home, or the area immediately surrounding a home—but always remember that the force used must be reasonable in relation to the perceived threat.
If you have any questions, give us a call at 317-632-3642 and remember—always plead the 5th!