“Stop or I’ll Shoot!”—The Use of Deadly Force in Defense of Property in Missouri

You come home and catch a burglar fleeing your home with your property in hand.
· Can you use deadly force to stop them?
· What if you do not see any of your property in their possession?
· Does it make a difference if it is night versus daytime?
· What if it’s your neighbor’s home you see them fleeing?

These are some of the critical issues facing law-abiding gun owners today. According to U.S. LawShield Independent Program Attorney Deborah Alessi “the answer to these questions is “no” if you are not in imminent danger of deadly force being used against you.”

Ms. Alessi went on to explain the law in Missouri.

Use of physical force in defense of property.

Section 563.041.1. of the Missouri Revised Statutes (RSMO) allows for the use physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such person of stealing, property damage or tampering in any degree.

Note that the use of deadly force under this paragraph is not justified. However, with exceptions that are spelled out in another paragraph of this particular section, deadly force may be justified.

What exactly is considered “deadly force” in Missouri? We turn to the definition contained in RSMO 563.011(1) which defines deadly force as “physical force which the actor uses with the purpose of causing or which he or she knows to create a substantial risk of causing death or serious physical injury.”

Section 563.041.2. allows the use of deadly force only when such use of deadly force is authorized under other sections found in Chapter 563 Defense of Justification section of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Missouri law does not support the use of deadly force against someone who is involved solely in a property crime (RSMO 563.041 2.). Missouri’s protections for self-defense are quite strong, but they apply only to circumstances where force is used to prevent “death or serious physical injury” or to prevent a “forcible felony” (RSMO 563.011(3)) which is any felony involving the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual, including but not limited to murder, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, assault, and any forcible sexual offense.

Firing a warning shot, shooting out tires, or even brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner may be considered by the courts to be use of deadly force. You may be charged with a Class D felony for the unlawful use of a weapon by exhibiting any weapon readily capable of lethal use in an angry or threatening manner. (RSMO 571.030.1(4)).

So under what circumstances can the homeowner use deadly force against a fleeing burglar?

A person may not use deadly force upon another person unless he or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, or herself or her unborn child, or another against death, serious physical injury, or any forcible felony. (RSMO 563.031 2.(1)).

Unless the burglar is posing a threat to you or someone else, such as running towards you with a weapon in his hand like a screwdriver for example, then it may be hard to prove shooting him was justified.

While in some other jurisdictions, like Texas for example, you may be justified in shooting a burglar who is running away with your property if you reasonably believe the property cannot be recovered by any other means. Deborah Alessi cautions “this is not the law in Missouri.”