Criminal Defense

Justifiable Homicide Laws in Oklahoma

Any act of killing another person, whether intentional or accidental, is homicide. When the act is premeditated, purposeful, or committed through a criminal or criminally negligent act, homicide is criminally charged felony: first degree murder, second degree murder, first degree manslaughter, or second degree manslaughter. In the case of negligent homicide, when a death occurs as a result of reckless driving, a person may be charged with a misdemeanor.

However, there are some acts of homicide which are not considered criminal offenses. These acts are defined by Oklahoma law as either “excusable homicide” or “justifiable homicide.” When a death occurs necessarily in combat, in a law officer’s course of duty, or in self defense, criminal charges are not likely to be charged against the person who commits the killing.

In some cases, however, a person who believes he or she is acting in self-defense may face first degree manslaughter charges if the district attorney determines that the death was not necessary. Understanding Oklahoma’s self defense laws is imperative for anyone who may use lethal force against the perpetrator of a crime.

Non-Criminal Homicide

Oklahoma law defines three types of homicide in which a killing is considered lawful:

State law defines excusable homicide as follows:

  1. When committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act, by lawful means, with usual and ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent.
  2. When committed by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat provided that no undue advantage is taken,  nor any dangerous weapon used, and that the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

In other words, a person is not criminally liable for an accidental death that occurs through pure misfortune without intent or negligence.

Additionally, the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer may be justifiable under certain conditions:

  1. The officer is acting in obedience to and in accordance with any judgment of a competent court in executing a penalty of death; or
  2. In effecting an arrest or preventing an escape from custody following arrest and the officer reasonably believes both that:
    1. such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape, and
    2. there is probable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious bodily harm, or the person to be arrested is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon, or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay; or
    3. The officer is in the performance of his legal duty or the execution of legal process and reasonably believes the use of the force is necessary to protect himself or others from the infliction of serious bodily harm; or
    4. The force is necessary to prevent an escape from a penal institution or other place of confinement used primarily for the custody of persons convicted of felonies or from custody while in transit thereto or therefrom unless the officer has reason to know:
      1. the person escaping is not a person who has committed a felony involving violence, and
      2. the person escaping is not likely to endanger human life or to inflict serious bodily harm if not apprehended.

Although a law enforcement agent has the right to use lethal force in certain situations, he or she must be careful to exercise that authority carefully. In a recent case, an Oklahoma County jury convicted a police captain of manslaughter after he shot and killed fleeing suspect who was later determined to be unarmed.

Justifiable Homicide: Killing in Self Defense

The state of Oklahoma deems it lawful and justifiable to use lethal force in the defense of one’s personal safety or the safety of his or her family. Oklahoma’s self-defense laws are fairly permissive, embracing both the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws, found in 21 O.S. §1289.25.

However, in order for deadly force to be justified in self-defense, the use of such force must be necessary and commensurate with the danger one faces.  If a person kills someone unnecessarily in resisting a misdemeanor, or if such force is unnecessary to deter the crime, he or she may be charged with manslaughter, a felony.

The Oklahoma statutes define justifiable homicide in 21 O.S. § 733.

Homicide is also justifiable when committed by any person in either of the following cases:

  1. When resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is; or,
  2. When committed in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, when there is a reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or,
  3. When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed; or in lawfully suppressing any riot; or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.

In some cases, justifiable homicide is quickly apparent, and a district attorney will immediately decline to file charges. In other cases, the circumstances surrounding the killing may be a bit murky. In these situations, the person who claims to have been acting in self-defense may find himself or herself to be the subject of a criminal investigation. Depending upon the findings of the police and the district attorney, a person who believes that he or she was justified using lethal force may actually find himself or herself to be a defendant in a murder or manslaughter case.

Legal Representation for Self-Defense

Any time one’s actions result in the death of another person, it is imperative to quickly obtain legal representation. You may feel that your actions were legal and justifiable, but having an attorney on your side can mean the difference between freedom and prison.  Call (405) 608-4990 to schedule a free, confidential consultation with an attorney prepared to fight for your right to protect yourself and your family.

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