Is a Man's Home His Castle for the Purpose of Self Defense?
A highly publicized, tragic shooting in Billings has highlighted Montana law on homicide and self-defense. In May, 15-year-old MacKeon Schulte and another teenage boy went to surprise their friend Seth Culver by knocking on his bedroom window. It was well after midnight, and when they got no initial response, Schulte retrieved a cinder block on which to stand.
Schulte stepped onto the block, and Culver, not realizing it was his friend, shot Schulte, killing him. Shortly after the killing, in an interview with the police, Culver said that he would have done anything to have prevented his friend’s death, such as calling out before shooting or putting the gun down. The two had been close friends for years.
The county prosecutor, who is ultimately responsible for deciding whether to charge Culver with a crime, convened a coroner’s jury last month. The jury decided that the shooting was justifiable under the castle doctrine.
There are three types of homicide in Montana. The most serious is known as deliberate homicide, commonly called murder. A murder charge is warranted when one person knowingly causes the death of another. The second type of homicide is called mitigated homicide, which occurs when one person kills another while suffering from mental or emotional distress. The third type of homicide in Montana is known as negligent homicide. In negligent homicide, a person under causes the death of another while under stress.
Self-defense is a commonly recognized defense to homicide charges. This defense applies when one person reasonably believes that the use of force is necessary to defend himself or another person against the “imminent use of unlawful force.” Under Montana law, self-defense that “is likely to cause death or serious bodily harm” may only be used to prevent “imminent death or serious bodily harm.”
A common but lesser known mode of self-defense is known as the castle doctrine. The castle doctrine was originally enacted by the Montana Legislature in 1947. Under this law, murder may be justifiable to defend an “occupied structure,” but only when the person “reasonably believes” the force is necessary.
The attorneys at Tipp & Buley have over 55 years of collective experience defending those accused of crimes in Western Montana. We know criminal law inside and out, and we pride ourselves on providing compassionate, competent legal services to those charged with crimes. For a free initial consultation, call us today at 406-549-5186..