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Pursuing a self-defense claim when someone is in your home

Sometimes, you may have hurt or even mortally wounded someone in what you see as self-defense. However, what seems like self-defense might conflict with the legal definition of self-defense in Minnesota.

To show self-defense in many cases instead of something such as manslaughter or murder in the third degree, you must cover four areas:

  1. No reasonable means such as retreat to avoid the conflict
  2. Little or no provocation on your side
  3. The belief that your life or health (or someone else's) was in great, immediate jeopardy
  4. A good reason for believing so

However, it is not necessarily your responsibility to prove self-defense. Rather, the state must try to disprove at least one of the four elements mentioned earlier.

One common situation where self-defense comes into play is when someone breaks into your home. If the act took place in your home, you may be able to show that you were "preventing the commission of a felony." 

For example, suppose you are asleep and awaken to the sound of someone prowling about downstairs. You live alone and can see that the person downstairs is wearing a ski mask and dark clothes. You suspect that the person is likely to be intent on stealing things and/or harming you. Are you legally justified in using what would be deadly force?

Maybe. The answers are not always straightforward. It may not necessarily be a felony when someone goes into your house, and there can be a lot of disagreement on why you felt an intruder may have posed a deadly threat. Maybe it was the way the person was dressed or the person's size and gender compared with yours. In any case, while self-defense can be tricky to prove in such situations, it may be possible.

Where it gets even trickier is situations such as if someone is stealing your bicycle or car when you are in your driveway or your yard. It can be easier for a prosecutor to argue that you must have known your life or health were not in danger even if you know they were. The bottom line is that if you acted in self-defense, you still need a lawyer to advocate for your rights and to sort out the legal nuances in your case.

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