In California, you have the right to protect your property from harm. However, there are limits to that right. You may only use the amount of force deemed reasonably necessary when protecting your property. In most cases, shooting someone attempting to break into your vehicle would extend beyond the reasonable force requirement.
California law leaves much up to the interpretation of the judge or jury when it comes to what counts as reasonable force. Jurors must examine the evidence and determine whether they believe a reasonable person would have acted in the same manner to defend their vehicle from a break-in.
What If You’re Inside Your Vehicle?
The only time when shooting someone who is breaking into your car is likely to prove a solid defense of your actions is when the vehicle is occupied. If you are in the automobile at the time of the attempted break-in, you could feel that your life is in danger. In this case, the use of deadly force, including shooting the potential carjacker, will likely be viewed as reasonable self-defense.
Similarly, even if you are not in your car at the time, but a friend or family member is inside, shooting the person breaking into your vehicle will likely be viewed as reasonable force. However, if the criminal was unaware that anyone was inside, and witnesses can attest that you gave no warning before shooting, your self-defense/defense-of-others claim could fall apart.
Self-defense claims can often be tricky. Hiring a lawyer with experience arguing self-defense in cases involving the discharge of a firearm will greatly increase your chances of avoiding a conviction.
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Defining Reasonable Force Under California Law
Reasonable force is the amount of force that a reasonable person would deem necessary to protect their property or themselves. Using deadly force can be justified when you or a loved one are in danger. However, when it is simply your property that could come to harm, there is no justification for deadly force in California.
Using a gun to defend your car from a thief will likely only be considered reasonable force if you simply fire a warning shot. Even firing your weapon at a carjacker’s leg will likely be viewed as using deadly force. Although the aim is merely to stop the criminal, since you used a deadly weapon, it would likely be viewed as an unreasonable force.
On the other hand, if the weapon you shot the thief with was a BB, pellet, or paintball gun, your actions may indeed be viewed as reasonable.
Your Burden of Proof in a Break-In Case
It is important to remember that if you are facing assault with a deadly weapon or manslaughter charges for shooting a person attempting to break into your vehicle, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. They must show that your actions were unreasonable for the situation.
If you attest that the car thief came at you with a weapon after you confronted them and that this action resulted in you discharging your weapon, then the prosecution must prove that your version of events is incorrect. You always have the right to protect yourself from imminent harm.
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Consider Hiring an Attorney in California to Help You Fight a Break-In Charge
The best thing you can do if you are facing any charge for shooting someone who attempted to break into your car is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. At the Simmrin Law Group, we have worked with many clients who were wrongfully arrested while attempting to protect themselves, their loved ones, or their property from real criminals.
Do not let an already traumatic event further ruin your life. Give us a call or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation today. A member of our team will review your case and advise you of all your legal options. We will do everything in our power to protect your rights and help you avoid a conviction.