State v. Duncan – immunity from prosecution when you kill someone who is forcing their way into your home

In State v. Duncan, decided May 9, 2011, the S.C. Supreme Court unanimously held that the Protection of Persons and Property Act provides immunity from prosecution where a person is killed while trying to force their way into a home, that the issue is properly decided by pre-trial motion, and that the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence. Duncan asked Spicer to leave his house, but then Spicer tried to come back into Duncan's house. Duncan's girlfriend was trying to get Spicer off the steps and porch as he tried to force his way past her, and Duncan came out and shot Spicer in the face, killing him. The Court held that the legislature intended to create a true immunity in the Protection of Persons and Property Act and not simply an affirmative defense, and therefore it is appropriate to determine the issue in a pre-trial motion so that the defendant is not exposed to a full-blown trial. The Act provides, "It is the intent of the General Assembly to codify the common law Castle Doctrine which recognizes that a person's home is his castle . . . ." S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-420(A) (Supp. 2010). The Act also states, "the General Assembly finds that it is proper for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves and others." S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-420(B) (Supp. 2010). The Act further provides: (A A person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself or another person when using deadly force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to another person if the person: (1) against whom the deadly force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcibly entered a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle . . . ; and (2) who uses deadly force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring or has occurred. . . . . (D) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person's dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60. S. C. Code Ann. § 16-11-440 (Supp. 2010). The immunity provision at issue provides: (A) A person who uses deadly force as permitted by the provisions of this article or another applicable provision of law is justified in using deadly force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of deadly force, unless the person against whom deadly force was used is a law enforcement officer . . . . S. C. Code Ann. § 16-11-450 (Supp. 2010) (emphasis supplied). The statute goes much farther than the affirmative defense of self-defense. It is important to note that there was no discussion of whether Spicer intended to cause bodily harm to Duncan, or whether Duncan was in fear of death or bodily injury – under the statute this is presumed when a person unlawfully and forcibly enters a dwelling, residence, or vehicle. Although this may be controversial with some, I support it 100% – if someone is breaking into my home or forcing their way into my car, I should not have to worry about being prosecuted or sued if I take full measures to defend myself and my family. And this cannot have been a difficult decision for the Supreme Court – the decision was made by the legislature and the statute's meaning is clear.

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