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Missouri’s Rules on Self Defense

Walker Law LLC Aug. 3, 2023

Woman using pepper spray while thief trying to steal her bag It is a person’s right to defend themselves or others from physical harm. In cases where someone is using self-defense as the grounds for harming someone else, the questions that arise concern location, imminent threat, type of force, and what or who was being defended.

Self-defense is rarely black and white. In fact, self-defense laws in Missouri are among the broadest interpretations in the country, giving significant latitude to the use of force – even deadly force – in defense of oneself or someone else. Still, the laws aren’t cut and dried. Court decisions continue to define what is and what is not allowed and it is likely that it will be this way for the foreseeable future.  

If you have been involved in a self-defense incident, or if you want to know what constitutes legal self-defense in Missouri, I can help. As a former St. Louis metro area police officer and a current criminal defense attorney, I have seen our self-defense laws in action. At Walker Law LLC, I represent clients in Chesterfield, Town and Country, and Cottleville, Missouri, and throughout St. Charles County and St. Louis County. Reach out to my firm today to set up a time to discuss your case.  

What Are the Self-Defense Laws in Missouri?

You have probably heard self-defense laws in media stories referred to as either the “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground.” Self-defense rules in Missouri observe both the castle doctrine and stand-your-ground. The primary difference between the two legal theories is where you’re at when you use self-defense.  

As the name implies, the castle doctrine holds that your home or property is your “castle” and you therefore have the right to defend it against intruders attempting to harm you, others, or your property. Stand your ground laws don’t limit your right to protect yourself or others to your home or property, but to any location where you have a right to be.  

What both theories have in common is that the person defending themselves does not have a duty to retreat. In other words, you can confront someone if you believe they are threatening you with imminent harm or reasonably fear that they will harm you without retreating from that harm first. For example, if someone enters your home without permission, armed with a weapon, you have no legal obligation to escape from the house if you choose to use force against the intruder.  

In Missouri, you can use force to defend yourself, others, and your property when in danger. However, the fear of harm must be reasonable, and the force used must be proportionate to the threat. For instance, if an unarmed person is putting graffiti on your car in the driveway, shooting them with a gun would not be justified as self-defense. But if an intruder approaches you in a threatening manner while pointing a gun at you, then you are justified in using deadly force to protect yourself. If you shoot an unarmed intruder in your home, you may also be able to prove self-defense if you can prove you experienced a reasonable fear of imminent harm.  

So, when is the use of deadly force justified in self-defense cases? Answer: when it’s necessary to reciprocate the force you believe necessary to defend yourself from an imminent threat.   

What Criminal Charges Arise From Self-Defense Incidents?

If there is doubt related to any element of your claim of self-defense, you can face criminal charges. Those charges will depend on the circumstances of the incident, but armed criminal action, felony assault, manslaughter, and murder may be among them.  

If the court does not believe you were in imminent danger, that your belief you were in imminent danger was reasonable, or that the force you used was disproportionate to the threat, you face criminal charges for the harm done to the other person. In other words, that person is deemed a victim, and you: the perpetrator of a crime.  

Despite Missouri’s self-defense laws, you also cannot pick a fight with someone, then claim self-defense. In this situation, again, you will be deemed the aggressor and the threat, not the other party.  

What Does It Take to Prove Self-Defense?

To prove that you acted in self-defense in a situation, you need to prove three key facts: 

  1. The threat must be imminent. You cannot respond to a threatening situation that occurred the day before or even an hour before. The other person’s actions or words must put you in immediate fear of harm.  

  1. The threat must be reasonable. The other person’s actions, age, size, and other factors must reasonably create a fear of imminent harm.  

  1. The force used in self-defense must be proportionate to the threat. You cannot use force far more lethal than the force being used against you.  

As you see, much of a self-defense claim rests on subjective information. That is why you should hire a criminal defense attorney who has successfully represented clients who faced charges after alleging they acted in self-defense. Otherwise, you become the criminal instead of your aggressor.  

Get Accurate Answers From Our Trusted Attorney

Self-defense claims are often not open-and-shut cases. So much is subject to interpretation and hindsight, even though you had to make quick decisions in a moment of danger.  

No matter the circumstances, being charged with a crime when you believed you were defending yourself, someone else, or your property is complicated and overwhelming. If you have been involved in a self-defense incident or have questions about situations that may or may not hold up under the law, call Walker Law LLC in Chesterfield, Missouri today. You can rely on me to fight for your rights and seek your best legal result.