The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Norman Shooting Considered Justifiable Homicide; No Charges Expected

Posted: Friday, January 06, 2017

Police have said they do not expect any charges to be filed in the fatal shooting of a man who was breaking into a Norman home. 

According to reports, the occupants of a home in the 1800 block of Virginia Street awoke early on New Year's Eve to find an armed man standing in the hallway of the home, holding a gun. The home's occupants said the man did not have permission to be there, and according to Norman Public Safety Information Officer Sarah Jensen, they were "kind of shocked to find him there."

The suspect began fighting with one of the occupants of the home, while the other occupant went to retrieve a gun. As the two men scuffled, the third man shot the intruder, fatally injuring him.

The home invasion suspect, identified as Leonard Dewayne Cole, 45, died of his injuries at a local hospital.

Although Norman police say the investigation is ongoing, they do not expect to present charges to the Cleveland County District Attorney.

Oklahoma law supports the "Castle Doctrine," which supports the right of individuals to be safe in their own homes. Named for the old adage that a "man's home is his castle," the Castle Doctrine is a belief that people have the right to use lethal force in the protection of their loved ones inside their own homes.

Oklahoma's Castle Law is found in 21 O.S. ยง  1289.25 of the state penal code as part of the Oklahoma Firearms Act of 1971:

A. 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.

B. 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.

There are exceptions to this law, however.  A person cannot simply shoot and kill anyone he or she does not want in his or her home and expect it to be considered self defense. The Castle Doctrine does not apply under the following circumstances:

1. 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;

2. 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

3. The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or place of business to further an unlawful activity.

It is also important to remember that Oklahoma respects commensurate force. Lethal force is not acceptable if a person is not in reasonable fear for his or her own life or the lives and safety of other occupants of the home. For example, if a homeowner catches a burglar in the act of breaking and entering, and the startled burglar turns and flees the home, it would be considered an act of murder to shoot and kill the intruder as he or she ran away.

Similarly, once any apparent threat is neutralized, the use of lethal force is no longer acceptable. You may remember the case of Jerome Ersland, the Oklahoma City pharmacist convicted of first degree murder after killing a teen who attempted to rob the pharmacy. Ersland's actions in shooting the teen the first time were considered justified; however, because he ran past the injured teen to fire at his fleeing associate and then returned to fire the fatal shots at the teen lying injured and unarmed on the ground, he was convicted of murder. 

Read more about Oklahoma self defense laws.

Image Credit: Paretz Partensky

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